MEPs vote to reduce water pollution from pesticides

The European Parliament has today (Tuesday, September 12) adopted its position on reducing groundwater and surface waters pollution, including through the use of pesticides.

Stricter standards for several pesticides, including glyphosate and atrazine, and pharmaceuticals are included in the report which was adopted by 495 votes to 12 and 124 abstentions.

Producers selling products that contain polluting chemical substances should help finance the monitoring costs, an activity currently financed only by member states, according to MEPs.

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Pesticides can contaminate surface waters and groundwater and if their concentrations are above critical thresholds, they can be harmful to the environment, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said.

The EU Green Deal sets targets to reduce the use of and risks from chemical pesticides by 50% by 2030. The environmental quality standards for pesticides in surface water are set in the Water Framework Directive.

Pesticides were assessed by the EEA against effect or quality thresholds between 2013 and 2020. One or more pesticides were detected above its effect threshold at 10% to 25% of all surface water monitoring sites in each year of assessment.

Source: European Environment Agency

Speaking after the vote, rapporteur Milan Brglez said: “The revision of EU water legislation (…) 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 freshwater resources.”

In October 2022 the European Commission tabulated a proposal to revise the lists of surface water and groundwater pollutants that need to be monitored and controlled to protect the EU’s freshwater bodies.

Water pollution

MEPs want the EU watch lists – which contain substances posing a significant risk to human health and the environment – ​​to be updated regularly to keep pace with new scientific evidence and new chemicals.

They also want a subset of specific per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are also known as “forever chemicals”, and their maximum concentration to be added to the lists for both groundwater and surface water pollutants.

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PFAS include thousands of synthetic chemicals that are used in society. However, they are increasingly detected as environmental pollutants and some are linked to negative effects on human health, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) said.

PFAS have been observed to contaminate groundwater, surface water and soil. If releases continue, they will continue to accumulate in the environment, drinking water and food, the ECHA said.

Several other substances, including microplastics and antimicrobial resistant microorganisms, should also be added to these watch lists as soon as suitable monitoring methods are identified, MEPs said.

The European Parliament is now ready to start the talks on the final shape of the legislation once the Council agrees on its position.


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