New EU Water Quality Standards Due This Month
Monday 9 January 2012 - The EU executive will propose environmental quality standards (EQSs) for about 15 priority substances in January, according to an official. The substances, which have not yet been named, would be regulated under the water framework directive.
The law currently covers 33 substances. An initial list of 41 additions was whittled down to a shortlist of 19. Cyanides, zinc and non dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have since been dropped.
The shortlist now includes: brominated flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD); dioxins, furans and dioxin-like PCBs; anti-inflammatory drugs ibuprofen and diclofenac; the synthetic contraceptive pill ethinylestradiol; naturally occurring oestrogen oestradiol; and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS).
A number of pesticides are also on the list: dichlorvos, heptachlor, cypermethrim, quinoxyfen, docofol, cybutryne, bifenox, aclonifen and terbutryn.
The EU's scientific committee on health and environmental risks (SCHER) was asked to review the draft EQSs and has approved most, with minor changes suggested. It also approved revised EQSs for the existing priority substances lead, nickel, fluoranthene, anthracene and certain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
But SCHER is critical of a draft EQS revision for polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), disagreeing with the method used to assign a single EQS to the entire group of 206 individual chemicals. The possible listing of ibuprofen has also proved controversial with disagreement over one key study. The scientific committee agreed with stakeholder experts that the study is not a suitable basis for an EQS.
It is still unclear whether the European Commission's proposal expected this month will reflect SCHER's opinions. For green group EEB, not enough new priority substances are being added to the list. It believes member states such as the UK have persuaded the EU executive to restrict the number of additions.
Pharmaceuticals are a particular concern for industry, noted EEB's policy officer Sarolta Tripolszky. If substances such as ibuprofen are not included in the new listing "it will be an uphill battle to get them reintroduced," she warned.
Water UK, which represents the British water industry, questioned the benefits of revising EQS regulation. In its latest sustainability report published last week, the trade association said additional EQSs would lead to higher financial and environmental costs due to the additional energy required to treat the water.
"It is an increasing concern of ours that we may end up with unsustainable sustainability standards," said Sarah Mukherjee, the association's environment director.
*A wide range of drugs have been found in a survey of Swedish lakes and streams commissioned by Sweden's environment agency. The study suggests sewage treatment works are not effective at removing many pharmaceutical products from effluent or sewage sludge. The drug present in the highest concentrations was diclofenac.
Water UK's sustainability report (http://www.water.org.uk/home/news/press-releases/indicators2010-11) .
See also press release (http://www.naturvardsverket.se/sv/Start/Tillstandet-i-miljon/Miljogifter/Organiska-miljogifter/Kallor-till-miljogifter/Hoga-halter-av-lakemedelsrester-i-vattendrag/) from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (in Swedish) and the report
(http://www.naturvardsverket.se/upload/02_tillstandet_i_miljon/Miljoovervakning/rapporter/miljogift/B2014_NV_Screen_2010_Pharma.pdf) (in English)