Groundwater needs stronger protection from nitrates, says NGO

EU law on groundwater pollution must be strengthened to protect Europeans from nitrate pollution caused by intensive animal farming, an environmental group has said.

The warning comes ahead of discussions of the EU Groundwater Directive in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg on 12 June. In its current form, the directive puts a 50mg limit on nitrates per litre, and obliges EU member states to monitor and counter pollution of groundwater by toxic chemicals such as pesticides, heavy metals and pharmaceutical residues.

Friends of the Earth criticised the directive for its numerous exceptions that they say allow nitrates to penetrate into drinking water supplies. The NGO urged MEPs to vote against changes that would weaken the directive, which it said is already “inadequate” because of the loopholes included in it.

Water expert at Friends of the Earth Germany Sebastian Schönauer said: “Forty per cent of groundwater in Europe is already seriously polluted, especially in areas of intensive mass animal farming.”

“In Germany, nitrates in groundwater are in some cases seven times higher than limits allow, especially in areas of intensive mass animal farming.”

“The daily contamination of Europe’s groundwater must be stopped, in particular the nitrogen entry from intensive animal farming,” Schönauer demanded.

When ingested through drinking water, nitrate fertilizer can turn into toxic chemicals called nitrites, which increase the risk of cancer and lead to other health problems. Nitrates also cause the over-fertilisation of lakes and streams.

German campaigners sent a package of 40g of nitrate fertiliser to European Parliament president Joseph Borrell Fontelle to help him visualise the amount of fertiliser a German living in an area of high water pollution can consume in seven days, they said.

Introduced in 2003 as part of a drive to improve European water quality, the directive aims to “ensure a high level of protection based on a common European approach, at the same time leaving a considerable degree of flexibility to the Member States on how to achieve the environmental objectives,” according to the then environment commissioner Margot Wallström.

Further information on EU protection of groundwater can be found here.

Goska Romanowicz

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