European Commission Proposal to Reduce Water Pollution Risks

Improvements in water quality in the EU could be at risk from new forms of chemical pollution. The European Commission is proposing to add 15 chemicals to the list of 33 pollutants that are monitored and controlled in EU surface waters. This is another step towards improving the quality of our river, lake and coastal waters. The 15 substances include industrial chemicals as well as substances used in biocides, pharmaceuticals and plant protection products. They have been selected on the basis of scientific evidence that they may pose a significant risk to health.

The update will be achieved through a revision of the Directive on priority substances in the field of water quality. The newly proposed substances are the outcome of a review that considered the risks posed by some 2000 substances according to their levels in surface waters, and their hazardousness, production and use. For six of the 15 new priority substances the classification proposed would require their emissions to water to be phased out within 20 years. The proposal also includes stricter standards for four currently controlled substances, and a requirement to phase out the emissions of two others already on the list.

The proposed 15 additional priority substances are:

* Plant protection product substances: Aclonifen, Bifenox, Cypermethrin, Dicofol, Heptachlor, Quinoxyfen;

* Substances used in biocidal products: Cybutryne, Dichlorvos, Terbutryn;

* Industrial chemicals: Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD);

* Combustion by-products: Dioxin and Dioxin-Like PCBs;

* Pharmaceutical substances: 17 alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2), 17 beta-estradiol (E2), Diclofenac.

Pharmaceuticals are proposed for the first time. The proposal does not put into question the medicinal value of these substances, but addresses the potential harmful effects of their presence in the aquatic environment. Concentrations above the proposed standards can affect fish health, reducing successful reproduction, for example, and harming other living organisms. Awareness of the impact of pharmaceuticals in the environment has grown considerably in recent years, and the proposal is based on the latest scientific knowledge.

The Commission also proposes improvements to the monitoring and reporting of chemical pollutants in water, as well as a mechanism to obtain better information on the concentrations of other pollutants that might need to be controlled in the future at EU level. The Commission proposal is accompanied by a report to the European Parliament and Council on the outcome of the review of the existing list of controlled substances.

The Commission is proposing the revised list as part of a Directive amending the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Environmental Quality Standards Directive (EQSD). The proposal will pass to the Council and the Parliament for discussion and adoption.

As a rule, Member States must meet environmental quality standards for new Priority Substances by 2021 (the deadline of the 2nd River Basin Management Plan). Longer timelines are possible in specific cases if the conditions for exemptions set out in the WFD are applicable.

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