EU pollution standards still treading water

31st January 2012

Despite last minute internal opposition, the European Commission today launched proposals to tackle chemical pollution in Europe’s waters. Green group EEB said the proposals needed much strengthening to be successful.

EEB said the revised proposal of the environmental quality standards directive (EQS) remains too limited to ensure hazardous chemical pollution would be prevented. Too few substances have been selected for limitation, said EEB, and there are insufficient guarantees that the EU wide measures will be taken to phase out the release of the most dangerous substances.

“From a list of 2000 substances initially considered as potentially dangerous, it is worrying to see that the Commission has decided to target only 15 of these for pollution reduction. Considering they are supposed to take a precautionary approach to these matters, this seems reckless,” said Sarolta Tripolszky, EEB’s water policy officer of EEB.

The EEB did however welcome the introduction of a number of substances used in pharmaceuticals [1] as a long awaited recognition of the fact that these have disastrous environmental consequences and need tackling [2]. The group also welcomed the introduction of a watch list to support the future identification and monitoring of potentially toxic substances.

“Although the principle that water is a heritage which must be protected, defended and treated as such has been part of EU water policy for over a decade now, the Commission is yet to come up with effective measures to phase out the release of hazardous substances in water,” said Christian Schaible, EEB’s Chemical Policy officer.

The EEB calls for the establishment of a binding timetable and a straightforward framework for phase out measures within the EQS directive which is to be harmonised with other EU legislation [3]. Such measures would contribute to achieving the 2020 phase out objective for priority hazardous substances the EU committed itself to [4].

The EEB is also concerned that the directive fails to deal with chemical cocktail effects, the often unknown impact of a mix of two or more hazardous chemicals.


Sarolta Tripolszky, EEB Biodiversity Policy Officer,, +32 (0) 2 289 10 93

Notes to editors

[1] The three pharmaceuticals: 17 alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2), 17 beta-estradiol (E2) and  Diclofenac are all classified as “Hazardous’ which means that Member States must include measures for them in their second round of River Basin Management Plans (due in 2015) and as a result meet the defined environmental quality standards for them by 2021. .

[2] According to media reports Commissioner Ashton acted on concerns raised by the UK Water Industry who fear higher treatment costs in the absence of sufficient emission control measures and requested the removal and reclassification of certain substances.

[3] e.g. upstream control measures to be taken through REACH or pesticides and biocides legislation, EU product regulation, or point source legislation

[4] The European Union is party to international water protection treaties, e.g., the Helsinki Convention, the Barcelona Convention, and the Paris Convention which require the cessation of all hazardous substances within one generation (25 years), i.e. to be achieved by 2020. The EU was strongly criticized by other parties to the Paris Convention (Protection of the North-East Atlantic Marine Environment) for not implementing phase-out goals prior to the adoption of the Water Framework Directive in 2000, which reaffirms the phase-out obligations under the treaty obligations.

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