Commission is told: "Don't allow chemicals to foul our water"
(Brussels, 28 March, 2007) - Yesterday evening the European Parliament's Environment Committee voted nearly to double the Commission's modest list of 33 pollutants which must be limited in any surface water that is assessed as having 'good chemical status'. The Committee's decision effectively rejects the Commission's proposal on banned chemicals in water as insufficiently stringent. The European Environmental Bureau, Europe's largest federation of environmental citizens' organisations, welcomed the vote. "This shows Parliament is steadfast in ensuring the EU respects its international commitments. It highlights the inadequacy of the Commission's earlier proposal", said John Hontelez, EEB's Secretary General. "We can't expect MEPs to carry out the scientific work which the Commission and Member States have signally failed themselves to do over the past six years." The Committee made special reference to Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) chemicals, which featured in the OSPAR 'list for priority action' and asked the Commission to confirm the expanded list within a year.
PBTs are substances with three main qualities: They are persistent since they do not break down and thus circulate freely in the environment for long periods. They are bio-accumulative since they build up in the food chain so that they have, for example, been found in eels, polar-bears and even human blood and breast-milk. "By voting as it did", said Ursula Vavrik, EEB's EU Policy Director, "the Environment Committee reminded the Commission it ought also to have proposed quality standards for biota (the plant and animal life of a region) like fish and sediment, which often reflect the state of pollution more accurately than water samples alone." Finally, PBTs are responsible for a raft of harmful effects including being toxic for water organisms or human health, or they may cause cancer or alter genes.
Not just PBT substances, but also substances of 'equivalent concern' are at the centre of the Water Framework Directive which requires their phase-out, and should have been part of the proposed Daughter Directive. "Tuesday's vote shows Parliament's continued commitment to the generational goal of cleaning up our water by 2020," said Ursula Vavrik. "MEPs have voted to align the timing of the EU's phase-out of these substances with the OSPAR Convention and HELCOM in both of which the EU committed itself to stop discharging these substances into the sea by 2020."
Some of the pollutants fall under the new REACH (Regulation Evaluation & Authorisation of Chemicals) regulation, some under pesticides laws, and others are discharged from plants that require an integrated permit , but many water-pollutants are still unregulated, for instance those originating from the use of medicinal drugs. "Further improvements of the legal framework are necessary to limit the chemical contamination of water bodies," said Mecki Naschke, EEB's Chemicals Policy Officer. "The Daughter Directive should enable EU countries to prevent discharges of the pollutant in question, although the relevant pollutant may have been authorised at EU level under REACH or pesticides laws, for example. EU governments should follow the MEPs' example and not tolerate the Commission's negligence in failing to propose harmonised emission control measures".
For further information please contact:-
Mecki Naschke, EEB Chemicals Policy Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org
; Tel: 32 (0)2 289 10 94
Peter Clarke, Press & Publications Officer, EEB: email@example.com
; Tel: 32 (0)2 289 1309
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