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Chemical pollution: clean surface waters in 2015

The European Parliament is carrying on the job of cleaning up Europe’s water. As it did for bathing water in 2005 and ground water in 2006, the Environment Committee means to toughen the requirements proposed in the new directive on surface waters.

The report by Anne Laperrouze (France) on the quality of surface waters was approved on 27 March with 50 votes in favor, none against and one abstention. The framework-directive on water, in 2000, was intended to give rise to daughter directives, including that now being examined. To impose their views on the two previous ones - on bathing water and ground water - MEPs were obliged to go all the way to conciliation. It is too soon to say whether this will again be the case with surface waters, but a broad consensus emerged among MEPs on the key points, which substantially strengthen the measures proposed by the European Commission.

Almost 70 controlled substances
The Commission would like to fix environmental quality standards (EQS) for 41 pollutants likely to be found in surface waters: pesticides, heavy metals and others. These substances may endanger the survival of ecosystems, and via the food chain, human health itself. The Environment Committee has added 28 substances to the proposed list of priority substances. It asks the European 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 here. MEPs ask 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 on the contrary ask it to propose techniques to be used by Member States. Close to 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 further detail. MEPs are more demanding: they say that Member States should reduce these areas progressively, so as to achieve the quality standards by 2018 at the latest. In its initial proposal, the Commission had suggested limiting checks to surface waters, 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 waters. The environmental quality standards should be complied with by 2015 at the latest and direct discharges of pollutants into surface water should cease by 2025. (EP Press)