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Chemical pollution: clean surface water by 2015

Parliament adopted a first-reading report toughening up proposed rules on improving the quality of surface water.

This represents another step on the road to cleaning up Europe's water, following the directives on bathing water in 2005 and groundwater in 2006. This report drafted by Anne Laperrouze (France) deals specifically with the quality of surface water (rivers, lakes and coastal waters) and is one of a number of daughter directives stemming from the framework water directive of 2000. In the two previous cases - bathing water and groundwater - MEPs were obliged to go all the way to conciliation in order to amend the legislation in ways they believed were important.

Almost 70 controlled substances
The Commission proposed fixing environmental quality standards (EQS) for 41 pollutants likely to be found in surface water: pesticides, heavy metals and others. These substances may endanger the survival of ecosystems, and via the food chain, human health itself. Parliament has now added a number of additional substances to the Commission's list or priority substances. It asks the Commission to ascertain whether these additional substances should not also be classified as "priority hazardous substances" and to make a proposal to Parliament for their final classification not later than 12 months after the directive enters into force.

The Commission had highlighted the co-existence of other legal provisions, in order to avoid getting into too much methodological detail. Parliament wants it specifically to carry out a formal assessment of the consistency and effectiveness of all Community legislative acts with a direct or indirect impact on water quality. And whereas the Commission suggested leaving national authorities more latitude with regard to control methods, MEPs ask it to propose techniques to be used by Member States. In the vicinity of pollution sources, it will not be possible to comply quickly with environmental quality standards. So the proposed directive provides for "transitional areas of exceedance" close to pollution sources and advocates their progressive reduction, without going into further detail.

MEPs demand more, saying that Member States must reduce these areas progressively in order to reach the quality standards by 2018 at the latest. In its initial proposal, the Commission had suggested limiting checks to surface water, i.e. not biotas (living organisms) and sediments, except for three substances that are more hazardous than others when they accumulate in the food chain: mercury, hexachlorobenzene, and hexachlorobutadien. Here MEPs would instead like the Commission to make a new legislative proposal on the standards applicable to biotas and sediments once Member States have listed the emissions and pollutants in their water. Under the directive, the environmental quality standards are to be met by 2015 and direct discharges of pollutants into surface water must cease by 2025. (EP Press)