Stronger groundwater protection for Europe

A group of Euro MPs voted to keep a law requiring states to prevent dangerous chemicals from leaking into groundwater, resisting pressure from member states and business to weaken the EU Groundwater Directive.

The European Parliament Environment Committee rejected proposed changes to the Directive, saying they would lift the duty on member states to prevent groundwater pollution.

The Groundwater Directive, first introduced in 1980, has so far required states to keep pesticides, nitrates and other chemicals out of groundwater resources. Although the obligation has stayed largely theoretical for most of its 26 years in existence, recent years brought progress in enforcing it.

The European Environmental Bureau, Europe’s green NGO coalition, welcomed the Committee’s vote, saying that compulsory measures to prevent groundwater pollution were needed if producers of chemicals were ever to develop alternatives to toxic substances.

Stefan Scheuer of the EEB said: “Groundwater is of strategic importance for humans and the ecology alike; it would be irresponsible to sacrifice its protection to narrow and short-sighted business interests.

“Instead national authorities have to start working with product and market control mechanisms to get a grip on diffuse and widespread pollution.”

The Directive in its most recent form introduces uniform standards across the EU for nitrates and pesticides only. It leaves regulating levels of other dangerous chemicals including arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and sulphates up to individual EU states.

European Parliament rapporteur Christa Klauss said: “Groundwater is our most important natural resource. Over half of the EU’s groundwater sources are polluted. Once polluted they can no longer be cleaned up. Hence the importance of protecting them.”

The Environment Committee could not agree on how far standards should be uniformised across Europe, however. French MEP Marie-Noëlle Lienemann called for “a system of gradually converging standards, as one of the goals of the framework directive on water is to make groundwater drinkable.”

The EU Parliament is to hold its vote in mid-June.

More information on the EU Groundwater Directive can be found on the European Union website.

Goska Romanowicz

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