Date: 01 Apr 2009

EU Water Framework Directive and Stockholm Convention

Abstract

Background, aim and scope

Water is a renewable resource and acceptable quality is important for human health, ecological and economic reasons, but human activity can cause great damage to the natural aquatic environment. Managing the water cycle in a sustainable way is the key to protect natural resources and human health. On a global level, the microbiological contamination of water sources is a major problem in connection with poverty and the United Nations Millennium Development Declaration is an important initiative to handle this problem. In terms of environmental health, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) circulate globally; as they travel long distances, they are found in remote areas far from their original source of application and can cause damage wherever they move to. On a global scale, United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) issued the Stockholm Convention to reduce POPs; in the European Union (EU), one intention of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) is to reach the good chemical status of waters; beside these regulations, there are other directives in support of these goals. The aim of this paper is to discuss whether the Stockholm Convention and the WFD allows meeting the targets of protection of human and environmental health, which are established in the different directives and how could we approach the targets.

Materials and methods

The aims and scopes of different directives are compiled and compared with the actual quality of water, different approaches of standard settings are compared and potential treatment options are discussed.

Results

Under the Stockholm Convention on POPs, which came into force in May 2004, governments are required to develop a National Implementation Plan (NIP) setting out how they will address their obligations under the convention and how they will take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment by the use of best available techniques (BAT) and application of best environmental practices (BEP). On a European level, the WFD has been in place as the main European legislation to protect our water resources and the water environment of Europe since 2000. It requires managing river basins so that the quality and quantity of water does not affect the ecological services of any specific water body. Nevertheless, the goals of other directives as for drinking water, bathing water and urban wastewater treatment are not yet harmonised mainly concerning microbiological, priority substances and priority hazardous substances (PS/PHS) contamination. Following the detection of substances, a risk assessment with sound effect data needs to be performed also for regulatory decisions and priorisation of measures to remove emerging contaminants. Beside personal care products and industrial contaminants, faecal pollution of recreational waters is one of the major hazards facing users, although microbial contamination from other sources as well as chemical and physical aspects also affects the suitability of water for recreation. As in arid and semiarid areas, wastewater is considered for irrigation with regulatory needs of hygienic and chemical parameters—health-based targets—to avoid the contamination of crops and food. In surface waters, currently, the relationships between physical and chemical properties and the biological state of surface waters were quite well-understood to enable the management of catchments and rivers to achieve ecological quality.

Discussion

Nevertheless, more work is needed to find out the actual impact of the regulations for single chemicals and complex mixtures, in terms of environmental quality standards to achieve a ‘good chemical status’, on the good biological status. In a next step after the adoption of the list of PS/PHS substances, which also includes the POPs, the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWWTD) needs to be adjusted and existing or new treatment options (BATs) should comply with the new requirements of the different directives.

Conclusions

Relevant substances threaten human health and the environment by new effects such as CMR, endocrine-disrupting effects or neurotoxicity which are not yet considered in an adequate way by assessment methods and regulatory standards and the application of abatement technologies. The Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals helps to control the sources, but WFD, the Stockholm Convention and UWWTD need to be harmonised and a rolling revision process should react on new developments. Finally, to answer the question if the Stockholm Convention and the WFD (2000/60/EC) could reach the target—I would state that they provide a very valuable frame to approach the targets, but there is still way to go to reach them on an EU level and on a global scale, also under the aspects of the Stockholm Convention and the Millennium Development Goals.

Perspectives

The compilation of the goals of different regulations and combined actions will save a lot of administrative efforts and money.