Aumento de los “micro-contaminantes” en Europa = aumento de la contaminación de aguas
Rising tide of drugs, medicines polluting EU waters
Published: 22 October 2010
Europe’s freshwaters are increasingly filled with pharmaceutical residues and other micro-pollutants, which are potentially harmful to human health and the environment, according to Friedrich Barth from the European Water Partnership (EWP), an industry-backed group.
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“One of the big problems in Europe will be micro pollution ” from pharmaceuticals, but also from pesticides and nutrients,” said Barth, whose organisation brings together water treatment industries, governments, researchers and NGOs.
Pollution from invisible emerging chemical pollutants like nanoparticles were highlighted as a growing concern at this year’s World Water Week in Stockholm.
The chemicals can range from pesticides to flame retardants, steroids and hormones from birth-control pills.
Residues from pharmaceuticals in particular are set become a hot topic in the future, Barth predicted, noting that there is currently no EU legislation that addresses the issue.
“This is an area that has to be addressed in much better way,” he stressed.
EFPIA, the voice of the European pharmaceutical industry, was not immediately available for comment.
Emerging pollutants include hormones from birth-control pills, which researchers say have feminising effects on the male fish population in rivers and lakes all over the world, threatening reproduction and food security.
They also include residues of antibiotics, anti-depressants, tranquilisers and cancer treatments, which find their way into the water cycle via different pathways.
Some of these pollutants might be carcinogenic or have environmental effects. “The worst is of course if it goes to drinking water,” Barth said.
“One immediate measure would be to address waste water from hospitals. It needs to be collected separately,” he suggested.
But this might not be the perfect solution as people use drugs at home as well, making micro-pollution a pervasive issue.
“Clearly, more research on the matter is needed, the ‘end-of-pipe’ water issue needs to be considered already during the pharmaceutical development phase, and the substances monitored already before the water enters a treatment plant,” Barth suggested.
Turning to the upcoming reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), Barth underlined that farm subsidies need to be linked to minimum standards of good water management.
“It is clear that at the moment water is not sufficiently addressed in the CAP,” he said, adding, however, that sustainable water management in agriculture is not only about better irrigation techniques to manage quantity.
“It is also about water quality and about how farmers use, for example, pesticides,” he said.
“While the pesticide as such could be fine, it goes through the soil, it gets degraded into other substances, ends into ground water and finally into drinking water. Chlorinating water during the production process of drinking water could then result in hazardous substances,” he explained.
Indeed, chlorinating water may result in chemical reactions between the micro-pollutants in water, as chlorine itself is a chemical compound.
“Here, we really need to look at product stewardship ” that not only the application of a product on the field is improved but also the pesticide as such. Water issues need to be looked at when developing pesticides,” he said.
The European Water Partnership has recently developed a standard for sustainable water management for farmers and is starting to test it with concrete farming communities.
“This can then be a tool to be applied in the CAP reform,” Barth suggested.
To read the interview in full, please click here.