6. European overview of chemical status, pressures and impacts

6.     European overview of chemical status, pressures and impacts

6.1.     Key Messages

The chemical status of more than 100,000 surface and groundwater bodies has been reported under the WFD. Poor status for each of the four surface water categories – rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal - does not exceed 10%, aggregated across Europe as a whole, although poor status rises to 25% for groundwaters.

Notably, the chemical status of many of Europe’s surface waters remains unknown, ranging between 39% for rivers and 59% in transitional waters. In addition, understanding of the link between pressures and chemical status remains incomplete.

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Sixteen Member States have more than 10% of groundwater bodies in poor chemical status whilst this figure exceeds 50% in Spain, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Belgium-Flanders and Malta. Excessive levels of nitrate are the most frequent cause of poor groundwater status across much of Europe. Agriculture is the primary source of this nitrate, deriving from the input of mineral and organic fertilizers and subsequent leaching to groundwater. Pesticides and a range of other chemicals such as heavy metals are also causes of poor groundwater status across Europe. The threshold values set to protect groundwater vary markedly between Member States for some pollutants.

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Nine countries report poor status in more than 20% of rivers and lakes whilst in Hungary, Belgium-Flanders, Poland and Sweden this figure rises to above 40%, reaching 100% in Sweden. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a widespread cause of poor status in rivers. PAHs result from incomplete combustion processes and are subject to long-range transport in the atmosphere. As a result, subsequent deposition and adverse impacts upon aquatic environments may occur a great distance from the original point of emission. Heavy metals are also a significant contributor to poor status in rivers and lakes, with levels of mercury in Swedish freshwater biota being the cause of 100% failure to reach good chemical status. Industrial chemicals such as the plasticiser DEHP, and pesticides, are also widespread causes of poor chemical status in rivers.

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Six Member States – France, Germany, Belgium-Flanders, Sweden, Romania and the Netherlands - report poor status in transitional waters to be 50% or more. PAHs, the antifouling biocide tributyltin (TBT) and heavy metals are the most common cause. TBT is now banned across Europe and high concentrations locally reflect the historical use and persistence of this substance.

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Six Member States report their coastal waters to be in 100% good status, although in four others – Netherlands, Sweden, Romania and Belgium-Flanders poor status exceeds 90%. A variety of pollutant groups contribute to poor status in coastal waters reflecting a diverse range of sources.

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Those waterbodies across Europe that exhibit particularly poor chemical status are, typically, subject to pollution from a range of different chemicals, including heavy metals, industrial chemicals and pesticides, that derive from a variety of sources.

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Some hazardous substances are hydrophobic and tend to accumulate in sediment and biota, with the result that their concentrations in these matrices are likely to be higher and, therefore, more detectable and measurable than in water. If measurements are made in the water column, the risk to the aquatic environment may be underestimated. At least one example exists of different matrices being used across different Member States for the same chemical, resulting in assessments of chemical water quality that are not directly comparable. A harmonisation at EU level is, therefore, needed.

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6.2.     Introduction

6.2.1.      Background

Chemicals are an essential part of our daily lives. They are used, for example, to produce consumer goods, to protect or restore our health, to boost food production and are involved within a growing range of environmental technologies. Europe's chemical and associated industries have developed rapidly in recent decades, making a significant contribution to Europe's economy and to the global trade in chemicals.

Whilst synthetic chemicals clearly bring important benefits to society, some of them are hazardous, raising concerns for human health and the environment depending on their pattern of use and the potential for exposure. Certain types of naturally occurring chemicals, such as metals, can also be hazardous. Emissions of hazardous substances to the environment can occur at every stage of their life cycle and arise from a wide range of land‐based and marine sources, including agriculture and aquaculture, industry, oil exploration and mining, transport, shipping and waste disposal, as well as domestic premises. In addition, concern regarding chemical contamination arising from the exploitation of shale gas has grown recently.

Hazardous substances are emitted to water bodies both directly and indirectly through a range of diffuse and point source pathways. Their presence in fresh and marine waters and associated biota and sediment is documented by various information sources, including national monitoring programmes, monitoring initiatives undertaken by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), reporting under the Water Framework Directive (WFD), international marine conventions (e.g. HELCOM and OSPAR) and European research studies. These substances comprise a wide range of industrial and household chemicals, metals, pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

Hazardous substances can have detrimental effects on aquatic biota at molecular, cellular, tissue, organ and ecosystem level. Substances with endocrine‐disrupting properties, for example, have been shown to impair reproduction in fish and shellfish in Europe, raising concerns for fertility and population survival. The impact of organochlorines upon sea birds and marine mammals is also well documented, as is the toxicity of metals and pesticides to freshwater biota. From a socio‐economic point of view, such impacts diminish the services provided by aquatic ecosystems, and consequently the revenue that can be derived from them.

Persistent hazardous substances found in aquatic environments can bio‐accumulate throughout the food chain, raising implications for human health with respect to the consumption of seafood (fish, crustaceans, molluscs and marine mammals) and freshwater fish. The bio‐accumulation of mercury and various POPs in particular can cause health concerns for vulnerable population groups (EC, 2004; EFSA, 2005). The exceedance of regulatory levels in seafood is documented for several hazardous substances in the seas around Europe (Isosaari et al., 2006; Kiljunen et al., 2007; HELCOM, 2010; Bilau et al., 2007).

 

Human exposure to hazardous substances can also potentially occur through the ingestion of contaminated drinking water. The Drinking Water Directive sets quality standards for water at the tap, based on guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), for a range of microbiological and chemical parameters. Much of Europe is now connected to municipal systems supplying treated water under quality‐controlled conditions. However, reporting under the Directive (for the period 2002–2004) indicates some non‐ compliance with respect to a range of chemical parameters (EC, 2007). In recent years, concern has been raised with respect to the presence of some emerging pollutants within treated municipal drinking water. Understanding of the effects of long‐term human exposure to trace amounts of such substances — in concentrations of parts per billion or trillion — remains incomplete.

In some, typically rural, areas of Europe, the local population relies upon small individual or community‐managed non‐piped supplies of water, usually wells or boreholes. Such small‐scale supplies are not covered by the Drinking Water Directive and the provision of safe drinking water can present a challenge: any chemical (or microbiological) pollution of groundwater in the vicinity of such wells will pose a threat to public health. The World Health Organization reports that chemical contamination of drinking water across the (WHO) pan‐European region, whilst restricted to specific local areas, can have a significant impact upon human health (WHO, 2010).

This assessment describes the chemical status of Europe’s inland and coastal waterbodies as reported through the river basin management plans of the Water Framework Directive. It draws also on other supporting information. In addition to highlighting current chemical status, this assessment also describes the factors causing degradation in chemical water quality, including the sources of such pollution and their emissions to water.

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6.2.2.      Sources, pathways and emissions

Emissions and releases of hazardous substances can occur at all stages of their life‐cycle, from production, processing, manufacturing and use in downstream production sectors and by the general public to their eventual disposal. Such substances can arise from numerous sources and are emitted to fresh and marine waters via numerous pathways. The key sources and their pathways of emission are overviewed below.

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Urban environment

Hazardous substances arise from various sources in the urban environment. These include household chemicals such as personal care products and medicines, a wide range of industrial chemicals, substances such as hydrocarbons and heavy metals released by the transport sector, building and construction materials, and pesticides used to control unwanted plant growth on sports grounds and buildings, in public parks and private gardens, and on roads and railways. Certain hazardous substances are released to air from industrial and waste facilities and vehicle emissions. Subsequently, their deposition to water bodies can occur both directly and indirectly, for example via soil and urban drainage systems.

Residential wastewater in Europe is predominantly collected by a sewer network and directed to municipal wastewater treatment plants. Industrial wastewaters are also typically treated, either on‐site or by transfer to a municipal plant. Other urban pollutants, however, particularly those deposited from the atmosphere or released from vehicles (e.g. from wear on brakes and tyres) are, originally at least, diffuse in nature, as they are washed from impervious areas by surface run‐off. Their subsequent fate depends upon whether the run‐off is collected and directed to a treatment plant or discharged untreated to a receiving water body. Whilst household and industrial wastewater treatment has been implemented progressively across Europe, the process does not remove all hazardous substances, with household and industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals, for example, being detected in treated effluent that is subsequently discharged to surface waters (Ashton et al., 2004; Gros et al., 2010; HELCOM, 2010; Miège et al., 2009; Reemtsma et al., 2006).

In many cities across Europe, the sewage collection system has also been designed to collect run‐off from streets, roofs and other impervious surfaces. The collection pipes and treatment plants of such combined systems are designed to be able to handle both sewage and urban run‐off generated during rain storms, but only up to a certain level. During larger storm events, the combined flow generated can exceed the capacity of the system. When this happens, relief structures are built into the collection system to prevent sewage back‐up into streets and homes, enabling the flows to bypass the treatment plants and discharge the combined waste more or less untreated to a receiving watercourse. Such combined sewer overflows (CSOs), together with discharges from separate stormwater systems, typically discharge a range of pollutants including hazardous substances (Chon et al., 2010; Gounou et al., 2011; Sally et al., 2011) and can cause rapid depletion of oxygen levels in receiving waters (Even et al., 2007). In addition, the quality of coastal waters near such discharges can deteriorate very quickly.

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Agriculture

Pesticides used in agriculture are widely detected in freshwater, often transported by diffuse pathways via surface run‐off and leaching. Point discharges of pesticides are also important, however, and occur through accidental spillage, sprayer loading and wash‐down, and inappropriate storage and disposal. Just how much pesticide pollution of freshwater occurs depends on a range of factors including the chemical nature of the pesticide, the physical properties of the landscape, and weather conditions.

Metal emissions from agriculture include cadmium, found naturally in the phosphate rock used to make fertilizer. In addition, both zinc and copper are added to animal feed as essential trace elements, and hence a proportion can be excreted and susceptible to being washed into rural streams. While metals are generally well retained in soil, there is evidence that agricultural sources can make a significant contribution to freshwater loads (RIVM, 2008a and 2008b).

Following use in livestock treatment, veterinary medicines and any metabolites may be released to soil directly, by animals at pasture, or indirectly through the application of animal manures and slurries to land as a fertilizer (Boxall et al., 2004). As a consequence, veterinary medicines may subsequently be transported to surface waters via runoff or field drains (Burkhard et al., 2005) or leach to groundwaters (Blackwell et al., 2007).

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Mining

Mining exerts a localised but significant pressure upon the chemical and ecological quality of water resources in parts of Europe, particularly with respect to the discharge of heavy metals. Abandoned mines represent a particular threat since, in the absence of continued pumping, groundwater levels rise and, ultimately, discharge contaminants within the mine workings. Mine discharges threaten the attainment of good water quality in a number of locations across Europe.

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Landfills and contaminated land

Landfill sites can be a source of pollution to the aquatic environment. Precipitation percolates down through the waste, picking up a range of pollutants including hazardous substances whilst water is also released from the waste itself as it degrades (Slack et al., 2005). The leachate subsequently collects at the base of the landfill where it can, potentially, contaminate groundwater. In modern landfills, leachate is collected by pipes and either treated on site, with the effluent discharged to a neighbouring watercourse, or transported to a sewage treatment plant for processing. Older landfills, however, do not incorporate such measures and as a consequence, contaminated leachate is free to flow downwards unrestricted (Baun et al., 2004). Aside from landfill sites, land can be contaminated by a range of hazardous substances released from historical industrial activities or, more recently, from unintentional leaks and spills. Such substances can include solvents, oil, petrol, heavy metals and radioactive substances. Without appropriate remedial action, ground and surface waters can also be polluted.

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Transport of hazardous substances to coastal waters

Once released to rivers, hazardous substances can be transported downstream and ultimately discharged to coastal waters, although numerous processes can occur 'in‐stream' to attenuate this transport. Of particular note is the deposition of substances onto the river bed. Hazardous substances attached to other particles, such as organic material and eroded soil, are particularly susceptible to this sedimentation process and, once settled on the river bed, can pose a threat to benthic biota. During periods of higher river flow, however, bed sediments and their associated contaminants can be re‐suspended into the water column and transported downstream until flow declines and sedimentation occurs again. The proportion of a hazardous substance load that is ultimately discharged to estuarine and coastal waters remains susceptible to sedimentation once more. Re‐suspension of hazardous substances can also occur when sediments are disturbed and displaced, for example, through dredging.

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Sources emitted directly into the marine environment

In addition to the waterborne transport of substances emitted from land‐based sources and deposition from the atmosphere, hazardous substances are also released directly into the marine environment. Shipping, harbour and port activities, offshore oil exploration and aquaculture all emit a variety of hazardous substances, whilst the discharge of sewage and industrial wastewater directly (i.e. not via rivers) into coastal waters can also occur.

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6.2.3.      Protection of Europe’s fresh and marine waters from chemical pollution

The chemical status of Europe's surface waters is addressed by the EQSD, a 'daughter' directive of the WFD. The EQSD defines environmental quality standards (EQSs) in fresh and coastal waters for pollutants of EU‐wide relevance known as priority substances (PSs). The EQSs associated with the PSs are defined both in terms of annual average and maximum allowable concentrations, with the former protecting against long‐term chronic pollution problems and the latter against short‐term acute pollution. Member States are required to monitor the PSs in surface water bodies and to report EQS exceedances. PSs designated thus far include metals, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, biocides, volatile organic compounds, alkylphenols, PAHs and phthalates. The European Commission is required to review the list of PSs every four years and identify, where appropriate, new PSs or PHSs and any need to revise the EQSs or the status of existing PSs.

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The EQSs must not only protect freshwater and marine ecosystems from possible adverse effects of hazardous substances; they must also safeguard human health, which potentially can be put at risk via drinking water or the ingestion of food originating from aquatic environments. In this way, all direct and indirect exposure routes in aquatic systems are to be accounted for when establishing the EQSs. For example, the setting of an EQS for the water column alone may be insufficient with respect to a chemical with a tendency to bioaccumulate and one that may therefore pose a risk through secondary poisoning resulting from food chain transfer. Instead, in this case, a biota standard may be required alongside the water column EQS.

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Some pollutants have been designated as priority hazardous substances (PHSs) due to their toxicity, their persistence in the environment and bioaccumulation in plant and animal tissues, or an equivalent cause for concern. The cessation or phase‐out of discharges, emissions and losses of PHSs to the aquatic environment is required within 20 years of the date of the adoption of measures.

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For substances identified as being of concern at local, river‐basin or national level (known as river basin specific pollutants) but not as a PS or PHS at EU level, standards are set by national governments and the results of monitoring are considered in the assessment of ecological status under the WFD.

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The WFD objective of good groundwater chemical status is directly supported by the Groundwater Directive (GWD), which has established EU‐wide groundwater quality standards for two (Annex I) groups of pollutants; nitrates and pesticides. Annex II of the GWD sets a minimum list of other pollutants (such as heavy metals) for which Member States have to consider establishing threshold standards in terms of concentration. The establishment of standards at Community level for these other pollutants has not, however, been adopted, due to the inherent high natural variability caused by hydrogeological conditions, background levels, pollutant pathways and interactions with different environmental compartments. Instead, the GWD requires Member States to establish their own groundwater standards for the Annex II pollutants, to be set as threshold values. These thresholds are primarily based on two criteria, which respectively address the protection of associated aquatic ecosystems and groundwater‐ dependent terrestrial ecosystems, and the protection of water used for drinking and other purposes. To date, the thresholds established for some pollutants (e.g. arsenic, cadmium and mercury) vary markedly between Member States.

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A suite of other European legislation lends support to the attainment of good chemical status under WFD. This includes REACH (EC Regulation 1907/2006 on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) which aims to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks of chemicals. REACH attributes greater responsibility to industry with regard to managing risks and providing safety information on substances used. It also calls for the progressive substitution of the most dangerous chemicals once suitable alternatives have been found. Other legislation is specific to a particular substance or group of substances. This includes the Pesticides Framework Directive which calls for the establishment of national action plans to set objectives in order to reduce hazards, risks and dependence on chemical control for plant protection. 

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6.2.4.      Chemical Status – reporting requirements

Surface Water

Whilst the EQS Directive designates a number of priority substances, finalisation of the legislation occurred relatively late with respect to the monitoring of chemical water quality and its reporting within the river basin management plans. As a consequence a majority of member states reported surface water chemical status using a grouping, recommended in WFD reporting guidance, into four categories; heavy metals, pesticides, industrial pollutants and ‘other pollutants’. The latter category included a mix of individual chemical types including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and tributyltin compunds. Inconsistency in reporting was apparent between countries, however, with some reporting a mix of pollutant groups and individual pollutants, whilst others reported either individual pollutants or groups only. Moreover, different matrices (i.e. water column, sediment and biota) have sometimes been used to assess the risk of particular chemicals across different Member States, meaning that the results arising are not always directly comparable.

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Groundwater

Reporting with respect to WFD groundwater chemical status required a grouping into three categories; nitrate, certain pesticides and the Annex II pollutants including Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, Mercury, Ammonium, Chloride, Sulphate, Trichloroethylene and Tetrachloroethylene. Inconsistency in reporting was apparent between countries, however, with some reporting a mix of pollutant groups and individual pollutants, whilst others reported either individual pollutants or groups only. Moreover, the defining of pollutants and their associated threshold values (as required under the GWD) vary markedly between Member States (EC, 2010). Failure to achieve groundwater chemical status is not solely dependent upon the excedance of threshold standards but upon a number of other factors too, including the occurrence of saline intrusion and significant damage to terrestrial ecosystems that depend directly upon a groundwater body.

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6.3.     European Overview of chemical status

The chemical status of more than 12,000 groundwater bodies has been reported across Europe, encompassing 24 different Member States (Figure 6.1) . Good status is apparent in more than 70% of them (by surface area) whilst about 25% are in poor status. Approximately 5% are classified as unknown. The dominant reason for poor status (63%) is the exceedance of a threshold value for one or more pollutants. Other causal factors include the deterioration in quality of waters for human consumption and the occurrence of saline intrusion.

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The chemical status of nearly 80 000 surface freshwaters has been evaluated across more than 20 countries across Europe, with 53 % of rivers and 48 % of lakes (by count) being classified as good, with 8 % and 2 %, respectively, being in poor status. Notably, the chemical status of 39 % of rivers and 49 % of lakes remain unknown. These overall statistics do not, however, include the results from Sweden that contributed a disproportionately large amount to the total information reported across Europe for surface waters. Additionally all such waters in Sweden are classified as being in poor status due to the levels of mercury found in biota (see textbox).

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Text box 7.1: Importance of the matrix used to evaluate chemical status

Some hazardous substances are hydrophobic and tend to accumulate in sediment and biota, with the result that their concentrations in these matrices are likely to be higher and therefore, more detectable and measurable than in the water column. If measurements are made in the water column only, the risk to the aquatic environment may be underestimated. Mercury is an example of a hydrophobic substance and its high level in freshwater biota in Sweden has led to a nationwide classification of poor chemical status. WFD reporting shows, however, that at least one other Member State has monitored mercury levels in the water column only. This has resulted in a substantially lower percentage of water bodies being classified in poor chemical status compared to Sweden, despite a comparable problem with mercury in soils and freshwater.

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Chemical status for nearly 1000 transitional and more than 2,000 coastal waterbodies has been reported across 15 and 18 Member States, respectively. Marked variation in the surface area of these is apparent both within and between countries, although since this information was not reported consistently, the results are presented here by count. Poor chemical status is reported in 10% of transitional and 3% of coastal waterbodies, whilst good status is achieved in 31% and 51%, respectively. Of note is the amount of unknown status reported, 59% of transitional and 45% of coastal waterbodies are classified in this category.

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Figure 6.1. Percentage of rivers, lakes, groundwater, transitional and coastal waters in good, poor and unknown chemical status.

Note: Number of Member States contributing to the dataset: Groundwater (23); Rivers (22); Lakes (20); Transitional (15) and Coastal (18).  Percentages shown for rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal are by waterbody count. Groundwater percentages, however, are expressed by area. The total number of water bodies is shown in parenthesis.

Data from Sweden are excluded from surface water data illustrated in the figure. This is because Sweden contributed a disproportionately large amount of data and, classified all its surface waters as poor status since levels of mercury found within biota in both fresh and coastal waters exceed threshold standards.

Source: Based on data available in WISE-WFD database primo February 2012- country results on chemical status is available here http://wfd.atkins.dk/report/WFD_aggregation_reports/gwb_status   and http://wfd.atkins.dk/report/WFD_aggregation_reports/swb_status

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6.3.1.      Chemical groups causing poor status – an overview

Excessive nitrate concentration is the cause of more than 40% of those groundwater bodies classified as being in poor chemical status across Europe, whilst the Annex II pollutants account for more than 25%. It should be noted; however, that more than one chemical group can cause failure to reach good status in any single water body. Pesticides are the cause of more than 15% of groundwater bodies in poor chemical status. In general, shallow groundwater horizons are more likely to exhibit poor chemical status than lower horizons.

‘Other pollutants’ are the causal factor for nearly 50% of European rivers classified as being in poor chemical status, whilst heavy metals account for nearly 20% and pesticides about 15%. For lakes, heavy metals are the dominant pollutant, accounting for more than 50% of those in poor status. ‘Other pollutants’ are the causal factor for nearly 45% of those transitional water bodies classified as being in poor chemical status, whilst heavy metals account for more than 30%. Both pesticides and industrial pollutants each account for around 10%. In coastal waters, ‘other pollutants’ account for more than 70% of poor status, with heavy metals and industrial pollutants also of importance.

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6.4.     National and River Basin District Chemical Status

6.4.1.      Groundwater

Only Latvia and Lithuania report 100% of groundwater bodies to be in good chemical status whilst 16 member states have more than 10% of groundwater bodies in poor status. In Spain, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Belgium-Flanders and Malta, more than 50% of groundwater bodies are in poor status. (Figure 6.2, Map 6.1).

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Figure 6.2. Percentage of groundwater bodies in poor and good status, by area.

Note: Groundwater bodies in unknown status are not shown in this figure. In parenthesis is shown per Member State the total area covered by ground water bodies in 1000 km2

Source: Based on data available in WISE-WFD database primo February 2012- country results on chemical status is available at http://wfd.atkins.dk/report/WFD_aggregation_reports/gwb_status  

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Excessive nitrate concentration is at least a contributing factor in all but one of those Member States that report some (>0%) poor status in groundwater, and is the major cause of failure to reach good status in 10 countries – Austria, Malta, Luxembourg, Spain, UK, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Romania.  In Spain, for example, in the Catalan and Guadiana RBDs, together with some southern coastal river basins, excessive nitrate accounts for at least 30% of poor groundwater status, whilst in the Jucar, Ebro, Segura and Guadalquivir RBDs, the contribution ranges between 15 and 30%. In much of England, Bulgaria, Hungary and central Italy, nitrate levels also contribute 15-30% of those groundwaters in poor status, whilst the problem is greater still in all 3 of the Czech Republic RBDs. Nitrates in groundwater are problematic across France but especially so in the Loire and Scheldt, Somme and North Sea coastal waters RBDs. Groundwater nitrate is primarily attributable to agricultural sources (see textbox).

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In France pesticides are the most significant casual factor of poor status in groundwater, contributing at least 30% to failing to achieve good chemical status (poor status) in all RBDs, with this figure rising to more than 50% in the Seine. Pesticides are also problematic in the Ems RBD in Northern Germany and the Mino-Sil RBD in northern Spain. Pesticides contribute between 5 and 15% of groundwater poor status across much of central and eastern Europe, together with Italy, England, southern Sweden, southern Finland and coastal groundwater in southern Spain. Atrazine and isoproturon are the most commonly identified individual pesticides in groundwater across all Member States. In Belgium-Flanders, Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia, the Annex II pollutants are the most frequent cause of poor status in groundwater. Across all Member States, the Annex II pollutants most commonly identified are chlorides, ammonium, sulphate, tetrachloroethylene, lead and arsenic.

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Map 6.1 Chemical status of groundwater per RBD – percentage of groundwater area not achieving good chemical status

Note: Groundwater bodies in unknown status are not included in calculating percentage of poor chemical status. River Basin Districts with high proportion of groundwater bodies with unknown chemical status is hatched..

Source: Based on data available in WISE-WFD database primo February 2012- RBD results on chemical status is available at http://wfd.atkins.dk/report/WFD_aggregation_reports/gwb_status 
 

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Text box 6.2 Nitrate in Groundwater

Map 2 Percentage of groundwater area not achieving good chemical status due to nitrate

Map 3: Annual diffuse agricultural emissions of nitrogen to freshwater (kg nitrogen per hectare of total land area)

Note: Groundwater bodies in unknown status are not included in calculating percentage of poor chemical status due to nitrate.

Source: Nitrate in groundwater map based on data available in WISE-WFD database primo February 2012- RBD results on chemical status is available at http://wfd.atkins.dk/report/WFD_aggregation_reports/gwb_status

Source: Bouraoui, F, Grizzetti, B and Aloe, A. 2009. Nutrient discharge from rivers and seas JRC EUR 24002 EN, 72 pp

Pollution from nitrate is a major cause of poor chemical status in groundwater across Europe, with agricultural sources typically of the greatest significance. While nitrogen fixation, atmospheric deposition and the application of treated sewage sludge can all be important, the major nitrogen inputs to agricultural land are generally from inorganic mineral fertilisers and organic manure from livestock. Today, the highest total fertiliser nitrogen application rates — mineral and organic combined — generally, although not exclusively, occur in Western Europe. Ireland, England and Wales, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, north-western and southern Germany, the Brittany region of France and the Po valley in Italy all have high nitrogen inputs (Grizzetti et al., 2007; Bouraoui et al., 2009). Application rates are generally in excess of what is required by crops and grassland, resulting in a nitrogen surplus (Grizzetti et al., 2007). The magnitude of the surplus reflects the potential for detrimental impacts on the environment since it is available for gaseous loss to the atmosphere as ammonia, transport to the nearest surface waterbody or, leaching to groundwater as nitrate. It is the process of leaching of nitrate that gives rise to the poor groundwater chemical status illustrated above. Improvement in groundwater nitrate water quality will take some time because of transport processes in soils and groundwater. As a result, reported timescales for substantial restoration of water quality reflect this time lag, with recovery times ranging from 4–8 years in Germany and Hungary to several decades for deep groundwater in the Netherlands (EC, 2010a).

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6.4.2.      Rivers and lakes

Only Latvia and Austria report 100% good chemical status across all rivers and lakes although a further 10 countries report combined poor status across both rivers and lakes to be no greater than 10% (Figure 6.3, Map 6.2). Nine countries report poor status in more than 20% of rivers and lakes whilst in Hungary, Belgium-Flanders, Poland and Sweden this figure rises to above 40%, reaching 100% in Sweden.

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Figure 6.3 Percentage of river and lake water bodies in poor and good status, by count of water bodies

Note: Water bodies in unknown status are not shown in this figure. Number of water bodies per Member States are shown in parenthesis.

Source: Based on data available in WISE-WFD database primo February 2012- country results on chemical status is available at http://wfd.atkins.dk/report/WFD_aggregation_reports/swb_status  

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Excluding data for Sweden to avoid a distortion of results indicates that the ‘other pollutants’ group is the most frequent overall cause of poor status in rivers, but particularly in Belgium-Flanders, Germany, France and the UK. A substantial number of rivers also fail to reach good status due to this pollutant group in the Czech Republic, Netherlands and Romania. Within the ‘other pollutant’ grouping, PAHs are identified as being problematic by nine Member States including most of the RBDs in France, all UK RBDs except for Scotland, the Belgian Schelde and the Czech and German parts of the Elbe. PAHs result from incomplete combustion processes such as those related to the production of electricity, the transport sector, various industrial sectors and waste incineration. They are released to the atmosphere and are known to be subject to long-range transboundary atmospheric transport. As a result, subsequent deposition and adverse impacts upon aquatic environments may occur a great distance from the original point of emission, including remote mountainous regions. Addressing the impacts of such pollutants requires political initiative at the regional and global scale. Tributyltin (TBT), used primarily as an anti-fouling biocide for boats and ships, is one of those ‘other pollutants’ identified as problematic. Despite now being banned in Europe, high levels in rivers are found locally, reflecting the historical use and persistence of this substance. TBT is a particular issue in the Belgium-Schelde, the Rhone in France and the Humber and Thames RBDs in the UK.

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Map 6.2 Chemical status of rivers and lakes and transitional and coastal waters per RBD – percentage of water bodies not achieving good chemical status are shown.

 

Note: Surface water bodies in unknown status are not included in calculating percentage of poor chemical status. River Basin Districts with high proportion of water bodies with unknown chemical status is hatched..

Source: Based on data available in WISE-WFD database primo February 2012- RBD results on chemical status is available at http://wfd.atkins.dk/report/WFD_aggregation_reports/swb_status  

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Heavy metals are the dominant cause of poor status in rivers across nine countries, but markedly so in Sweden, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Spain, Finland, Northern and Central Italy and Romania. In the Czech Republic, for example, nickel, cadmium, lead and mercury are problematic in all 3 RBDs – the Danube, Elbe and Oder, whilst nickel contributes to poor status in four UK RBDs – the Humber, South West, Severn and Western Wales. Heavy metals are also a significant cause of poor status in the German Rhine. Fifteen Member States highlight cadmium as a cause of poor status. Due to its threat to both environmental and human health cadmium is classified as a priority hazardous substance. Cadmium is primarily produced as a by‐product from the extraction, smelting and refining of zinc and other non‐ferrous metals, although it is also found in phosphate rock used to manufacture fertilizer. Emissions of cadmium to water occur, therefore, via both diffuse and point source pathways. Mercury is also a priority hazardous substance and is identified as problematic in 11 Member States. The exceedance of regulatory levels of mercury in aquatic biota is the cause of 100% poor status in Swedish rivers and lakes. Mercury is also a major issue in the Slovak Republic part of the Danube River.

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Industrial Pollutants are the predominant reason for poor chemical status in rivers within Estonia, Lithuania and the Slovak Republic but are a significant factor in a number of others including Belgium-Flanders, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania, Sweden and the UK. Within this group, DEHP, widely used as a plasticiser (see textbox) is identified by nine Member States as being problematic. DEHP is a particular issue in the Danube RBD in the Slovak Republic and the Meuse, Rhine and Loire RBDs in France. In the Czech Danube, octylphenol, used as an intermediate in the production of chemicals used in rubber, pesticides and paints, is an issue. Nonylphenol, an industrial surfactant and a known endocrine disruptor, contributes to poor status in 12 RBD’s across Europe and is a particular problem in rivers of the Belgium Scheldt and the Catalan RBD in Spain.

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Pesticides are the predominant cause of poor chemical status in rivers in Luxembourg, whilst a substantial number of waterbodies also fail to reach good status due to pesticides in France, Belgium-Flanders, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Romania and the UK. Diuron is identified as a cause of poor status in 9 Member States including the North West and Thames RBDs in the UK, the Belgium Scheldt and the Seine in France. Whilst diuron has been banned as an active substance in plant protection products across most of Europe, it is still widely used as a biocide agent in construction materials and cooling systems. Other problematic pesticides identified include the herbicides alachlor and isoproturon, which contribute to poor status in six  Member States. In the Ebro RBD (Spain) the organochlorine insecticides – endosulfan and hexachlorocyclohexane – are significant contributors to poor status.

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Those RBD’s illustrating particularly poor riverine chemical status are generally subject to pollution by a range of different chemicals. This is the case, for example, in the German Rhine where ‘other pollutants’, pesticides and heavy metals each cause poor status in more than 100 waterbodies and industrial chemicals contribute to poor status in 14 waterbodies. Similarly, 14 different chemicals contribute to poor status in the Jucar RBD in Spain. Poor status is relatively high across the Polish Oder RBD although the causes are not reported.

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Text box 6.3: Emissions of DEHP to water

Source:

Di(2‐ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) is an organic compound classified as a Priority Substance under the WFD and as a substance of very high concern under REACH. It is used as a plasticiser in polymer products (mainly in flexible PVC) including pipes and tubes, flooring and wall lining, sealants, food packaging, cables and wire sheathing, underseal for cars, guttering, tarpaulins, clothing and footwear, toys, office supplies and medical products such as blood bags and catheters. The content of DEHP in polymer products varies but typically approximates 30 %, although it migrates slowly from such products over their lifetime. A proportion of the DEHP released to the aquatic environment stems from discharge of effluent from municipal sewage treatment plants, deriving originally from the wide use of PVC in residential, commercial, medical and industrial premises and their direct connection to a sewer system. DEHP is also released into urban run‐off. In this case, it originates from building materials and vehicles and is subsequently discharged to a water body directly or indirectly, via a municipal treatment plant. Storm water overflows are also a significant emission pathway (OSPAR, 2006). Data reported to the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Registry (E-PRTR) and mapped above, show that 17.9 tonnes of DEHP were emitted to water from 180 facilities in 2008, 97 % of which was emitted via 143 urban wastewater treatment plants. However, given its widespread use and the high likelihood of DEHP discharges from all large municipal wastewater treatment plants, the map above suggests that reporting under E‐PRTR is incomplete. Estimates from other sources indicate that diffuse emissions — not reported under E‐PRTR — are also a significant source of DEHP (OSPAR, 2006).

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Data reported for lakes is relatively limited across Europe with the exception of Sweden. Seven countries report 100% good chemical status in lakes whilst in a further four countries poor status applies to less than 10%. Poor chemical status of 10% or greater is only observed in lakes in the Netherlands, Italy, Romania and Sweden. Heavy metals are identified as the dominant cause of poor status in lakes in Italy, Netherlands, Romania and Finland, whilst pesticides are the dominant cause in France only. Industrial pollutants are not a dominant cause within any Member States but are identified as causing poor status in France and the Netherlands. ‘Other pollutants’ are a dominant cause only in the Czech Republic but are identified as being problematic in six other Member States, particularly the Netherlands. A recent survey of PAH levels in mountain lakes in Europe showed total concentrations in all lakes monitored to be above the no-effects threshold (Quiroz et al., 2010). This finding highlights the challenge of addressing substances that are largely ubiquitous, subject to transport over large distances in the atmosphere and detectable in remote regions away from human activity.

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6.4.3.      Transitional and Coastal Waters

Latvia and Bulgaria report their transitional waterbodies to be in 100% good status, whilst in Italy, Spain and the UK poor status is below 20%. Six countries – France, Germany, Belgium-Flanders, Sweden, Romania and the Netherlands - report poor status to be 50% or more (Figure 6.4, Map 6.2). ‘Other pollutants’ are the most frequent cause of poor status in transitional waters overall, but particularly in Belgium-Flanders, Germany, France, Netherlands and the UK. TBT is one of those ‘other pollutants’ identified as problematic and is the main cause of poor status in transitional waters in the Thames, Anglian, Humber, Northumbria, Southwest and Northwest RBDs of the UK, and a contributing factor in the Belgian-Schelde, the Nemunas in Lithuania and the Loire in France. PAHs also contribute to poor status in transitional waters in Romania.

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Heavy metals are the most frequently reported cause of poor status in Spain but are a particular issue in the Tinto-Odiel-Piedras RBD with mining discharges being the primary cause. Mercury is a cause of poor status in Swedish transitional waters, although the problem is not as widespread as for Swedish freshwaters and is limited in transitional waters to the Skagerrak and Kattegat, and North Baltic Sea RBDs. In France, heavy metals cause poor status in transitional waters of the Rhone, Loire and Seine RBDs. Heavy metals are also problematic in the Northern Apennines RBD in Italy and the Romanian Danube.

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Figure 6.4 Percentage of transitional (left panel) and coastal (right panel) water bodies in poor and good status, by count of water bodies

Note: Water bodies in unknown status are not shown in this figure.

Source: Based on data available in WISE-WFD database primo February 2012- country results on chemical status is available at http://wfd.atkins.dk/report/WFD_aggregation_reports/swb_status  

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Six Member States report their coastal waters to be in 100% good status, although 4 – Netherlands, Sweden, Romania and Belgium-Flanders indicate that poor status exceeds 90% (Figure 4d, Map 2b). In the coastal waters of the Belgium Noordzee RBD a range of different chemicals contribute to poor status including mercury, pesticides, industrial chemicals and PAHs. In the coastal waters of the Danube RBD in Romania, the heavy metals – cadmium, lead and nickel – all contribute to poor status, as with the transitional waters in this RBD. Pesticides and PAH’s are also problematic here.

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Some industrial pollutants are also identified as a cause of poor status in transitional waters but only in France does this apply to more than two water bodies in any individual Member State. DEHP, for example, is a cause of poor status in the Rhône and Loire RBDs in France and the Nemunas RBD in Lithuania.

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Those transitional waters with the poorest chemical quality across Europe are typically subject to pollution from a range of individual pollutants. The Seine in France, for example, reports heavy metals, pesticides and PAHs to be an issue, whilst in the Belgium-Schelde, 12 chemicals including mercury, pesticides, PAHs, TBT and the industrial chemical nonylphenol are all a cause of poor status. Similarly, the Romanian part of the Danube RBD is polluted by the heavy metals - cadmium, lead and nickel - a range of PAHs and some pesticides.

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In Sweden, cadmium, lead and mercury, although predominantly the latter, contribute to poor status in the coastal waters of 6 RBDs. Heavy metals also cause poor status in the Galician coast and Tinto-Odiel-Piedras RBDs in Spain.

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In Dutch coastal waters, ‘other pollutants’ are the sole cause of poor status. TBT causes poor status in the coastal waters of the Southwest, Northwest and Southeast RBDs in the UK, and the Loire and Rhône in France. In the latter, pesticides and industrial chemicals also contribute to poor status.

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Text box 6.4: Riverine Loads - Linking Fresh and Coastal Waters

Figure Input of chemical pollutants (via riverine loads and direct discharges) into the North-East Atlantic during the period 1990 to 2008

Source:

Riverine loads and direct discharges of chemical pollutants to coastal waters are not, as a rule, widely reported across Europe, although the OSPAR regions of the North Atlantic form an exception. Here data are available for five chemicals, which include three metals (cadmium, mercury and lead), the insecticide lindane and PCBs, a group of chemicals previously widely used in electrical equipment. Despite some uncertainties in the data and the need for caution in interpretation, downward trends are detected for all five substances as regards their total inputs to the OSPAR region. For example, statistically significant downward trends in combined riverine inputs and direct discharges of mercury to the Greater North Sea and Celtic Sea regions, of about 75 % and 85 % respectively, are reported for the period 1990–2006. These trends observed in the OSPAR regions are attributable to a decline in emissions to water, both through the implementation of best available abatement techniques at industrial facilities and improvements in municipal wastewater treatment (OSPAR, 2009).

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