BRUSSELS, Belgium, September 22, 2003 (ENS): The proposal
for a new law to limit groundwater pollution across
Europe was adopted today by the European Commission.
The measure introduces monitoring requirements and water
quality objectives that would oblige member states to
assess groundwater quality and to identify and reverse
trends in groundwater pollution. But environmentalists
said the proposal relaxes pesticide limits and does
not cover hormone disrupting chemicals.
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said, "Water
is a divine gift, but much abused. We depend on groundwater,
and we must safeguard it. At the moment, we do not even
have enough data about the quality of this vitally important
resource in Europe. The proposed directive will help
us find out more and make sure that our groundwater
is not being polluted.”
For the first time the Commission has proposed legislation
that establishes groundwater quality standards for pesticides.
The measure specifies threshold levels to be set by
member states for nitrates and pesticides in groundwater
in line with parallel EU water laws - 50 milligrams
per liter for nitrates and 0.1 micrograms per liter
for pesticidal active ingredients.
But the proposal leaves member states to establish
their own standards for other pollutants.
Europe’s largest federation of environmental
citizens’ organizations, the European Environmental
Bureau (EEB), says the proposed legislation falls short
of tackling the "alarming state and trends of our
The EEB opposes the proposed pesticides standard "as
it relaxes the existing groundwater directive which
prohibits entry to groundwater and thereby gives agricultural
businesses a special right to pollute up to the standard,
with no effective controls to prevent this from happening."
“A general 0.1 microgram per liter pesticides
standard for groundwater is meaningless for human and
ecological health.”, says Robert Cunningham from
The Wildlife Trusts, UK. “The 1991 EU principal
decision not to allow market approval for any pesticides
showing up in groundwater will be undermined.”
Still, if signed into law, the directive will ensure
that groundwater quality is monitored and evaluated
across Europe in a harmonized way, the Commission said
today. When 10 new countries officially are admitted
to the European Union on May 1, 2004, laws such as this
will apply across 25 countries, from Ireland to Poland.
In the proposal, compliance with good chemical status
is based on a comparison of monitoring data with quality
standards existing in EU legislation on nitrates, plant
protection and biocidal products, which set maximum
permissible concentrations, or threshold values, in
groundwater for a number of pollutants.
By December 22, 2005 member states must set national
threshold levels for ammonium, arsenic, cadmium, chloride,
lead, mercury, sulphate, trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene,
plus any other chemicals they deem are posing a threat
With regard to pollutants that are not covered by current
EU legislation, the proposed measure requires member
states to establish threshold values by June 2006.
Taking into account the great diversity of groundwater
characteristics across the EU, these threshold values
have to be defined at the national, river basin or groundwater
The proposal sets out specific criteria for the identification
of significant and sustained upward trends in pollutant
concentrations, and for the definition of starting points
for when action must be taken to reverse these trends.
Significance is defined both on the basis of “time
series” and “environmental significance,”
the Commission said.
Time series are periods of time during which a trend
is detected through regular monitoring, and “environmental
significance” describes the point at which the
concentration of a pollutant starts to threaten to worsen
the quality of groundwater. That point is set at 75
percent of the quality standard or the threshold value
defined by member states.
“The Commission has not taken its responsibility
to provide appropriate EU actions for a very serious
European health and environmental threat, but rather
leaves it up to member states to deal with,” says
Stefan Scheuer from the EEB.
“A system based on EU or national quality standards
is not a good idea," Scheuer said. "We do
not know enough about groundwater and compliance checking
is extremely inaccurate. Instead of waiting until it
is too late, and large parts of our groundwater are
polluted, common action above the ground would be required.”
Groundwater acts as a reservoir from which good quality
water can be drawn for drinking and for use in industry
and agriculture. It maintains wetlands and river flows,
acting as a buffer through dry periods.
Groundwater provides base flow to surface water systems,
feeding surface water systems all through the year.
So, groundwater quality has a direct impact on the quality
of those surface waters as well as that of associated
aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
There is much more groundwater than surface water -
it accounts for more than 97 percent of freshwater resources
available on Earth - excluding glaciers and ice caps.
The remaining three percent consists of lakes, rivers
But groundwater is often difficult to access, which
makes it hard to restore its purity once polluted. Even
once a source of pollution has been removed, it can
be difficult to clean up groundwater.
As groundwater moves slowly through the ground, the
impact of human activities can last for a relatively
long time, the Commission said, so it is necessary to
focus on preventing pollution in the first place.
But the EEB expressed disappointment that "after
two years of consultation with experts from member states,
industry and nongovernmental organizations that the
Commission has presented a text which "misses the
opportunity to protect our remaining unpolluted groundwater"
or set a harmonized EU approach to deal with hazardous
or potentially hormone disrupting chemicals that can
persist for decades in the groundwater.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights