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European Parliament advances water quality standards to safeguard freshwater bodies

  • European Parliament advances water quality standards to safeguard freshwater bodies

About the entity

European Parliament
The European Parliament is an important forum for political debate and decision-making at the EU level. The Members of the European Parliament are directly elected by voters in all Member States to represent people’s interests.

 The European Parliament, the EU’s only directly-elected institution and one of the legislative bodies of the European Union, announces that the Environment Committee of the European Parliament has adopted its position on safeguarding groundwater and surface waters, focusing on enhancing water quality standards and mitigating pollution risks.

The newly proposed law, approved by MEPs with 69 votes in favor, four against, and 15 abstentions, entails revisions to the Water Framework Directive, the Groundwater Directive, and the Environmental Quality Standards Directive (Surface Water Directive). The objective of these amendments is to provide improved protection for human health and natural ecosystems against pollutants.

Heightened monitoring of substances

MEPs recommend expanding the “watch list,” which currently includes substances or groups of substances posing significant risks to human health and the environment, beyond the maximum limit proposed by the Commission. The committee emphasizes the necessity for regular updates to the list to keep pace with emerging scientific evidence and the rapidly evolving landscape of new chemicals.

MEPs recommend expanding the “watch list,” which currently includes substances or groups of substances posing significant risks to human health and the environment

The Environment Committee calls for the addition of specific substances to the watch list as soon as viable monitoring methods are identified. These substances encompass microplastics, antimicrobial resistant microorganisms, selected antimicrobial resistance genes, and potentially sulfates, xanthates, and non-relevant pesticide metabolites.

Prevention of groundwater pollution

To enhance protection of the EU’s groundwater, MEPs advocate for groundwater threshold values to be ten times lower than those set for surface water. Additionally, the committee proposes the inclusion of a subset of specific PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and the PFAS total (an aggregate parameter for PFAS with maximum concentrations) in the list of groundwater pollutants. These substances have been detected in over 70% of groundwater measurement points in the EU. Furthermore, MEPs advocate for stricter standards concerning glyphosate, bisphenol (bisphenol total), atrazine, pharmaceuticals, and non-relevant pesticide metabolites.

Promoting accountability for polluters

Currently, member states solely bear the cost of monitoring substances. However, with the constant discovery of new chemicals, monitoring expenses are expected to rise. To address this, MEPs propose that producers of products containing polluting substances contribute to monitoring costs. The committee has urged the Commission to assess the feasibility of implementing an extended producer responsibility mechanism.

Following the vote, rapporteur Milan Brglez (S&D, SI) stated, “The revision of EU water legislation, including the Water Framework Directive and its two daughter directives, is one of the key policy tools to implement our commitments under the Zero-Pollution Action Plan. Enhanced protection of EU waters is extremely important, especially in the context of the ever more pressing impacts of climate change – combined with industrial and agricultural pollution – on our fresh water resources.”

Next steps

During the September 2023 plenary session, Parliament is set to adopt its negotiating mandate. Subsequently, discussions with national governments will commence to finalize the law’s form, following the Council’s adoption of its position.

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