EU Commission Proposes Major Clean-up of Air and Water


The EU Commission’s proposed new rules to limit air and water pollution target a wide range of common chemicals and their producers, while making it easier for citizens to sue polluters for the health impacts of air pollution.

For some, the proposed rules go too far—and for others, not far enough.

The draft rules, released on October 26th, cut limits on air pollution by more than half, to align more closely with World Health Organization guidelines.

They would also enshrine in regulation the right for citizens to claim damages for the health effects of air pollution and to be represented collectively by NGOs. Air pollution and nanoparticles are known to contribute to a host of health problems including increasing the risk of stroke.

The rules would also update the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive first put in place in 1991.

Most significantly, the draft rules add 25 substances to the list of pollutants, extends the ‘polluter pays’ principle to their removal of waste water, and requires tracking of industrial pollution “at the source.”

The new pollutants include Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS)—a large group of ‘forever chemicals’ common in cookware, clothing, furniture, and cosmetics—as well as many pesticides, the plasticiser Bisphenol A, and common drugs such as painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and antibiotics. According to the commission, 92% of toxic micro-pollutants in wastewater come from pharmaceuticals and cosmetic products.

The commission estimates that by 2040, 27% of the €3.8 billion annual cost of managing urban wastewater would be covered by industrial polluters, principally pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies.

The rules also mandate significant changes to the way wastewater is processed and monitored, requiring monitoring for microplastics and viruses such as COVID-19, recapturing phosphorus to be reused in fertilisers, and promoting the reuse of treated wastewater.

For wastewater companies, the measures are a step in the right direction, but aren’t tough enough on chemical producers. Companies responsible for wastewater also warn that implementing the new rules will be expensive.

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European Conservative, 05-11-22