ECETOC Task Force reviews scientific and legislative framework protecting Europe’s drinking water

Brussels, 27 May 2021 – An ECETOC Task Force has reviewed the current scientific and legislative framework, as well as the state of knowledge, used in protecting the sources of Europe’s drinking water from chemical contamination.

ECETOC Technical Report 139 evaluates the existing tools and theories for how and why contaminants may migrate into drinking water sources and examines the chemical monitoring data in the natural environment.

The Task Force considered the scientific basis of the persistent, mobile and toxic (PMT) and very persistent and very mobile (vPvM) criteria, proposed by the German Environmental Agency (UBA) for use in environmental assessment of REACH chemicals. These criteria aim to prevent substances and their degradation products from migrating into valuable drinking water resources. The Task Force developed UBA’s proposal into a tiered approach for assessing potential chemical risks to humans from drinking water. The tiered approach incorporates information on use and release of chemicals as well as how they partition within the environment. The Task Force identified research topics that would improve the reliability and applicability of the available tools.

A recently started European chemical industry council (Cefic) Long-range Research Initiative (LRI) project will address some of the research topics identified. The project will develop a modelling framework for assessing potential drinking water contaminants, including surface water contaminants in riverbank filtration systems.

Analysing existing EU legislation, the Task Force concluded that better harmonisation between different water policy legislations, especially between the Water Framework Directive and Drinking Water Directive, would be beneficial to ensure drinking water quality. Existing EU chemical regulations could also provide opportunities to improve the risk assessment of drinking water for humans. Taken together, this highlights a need for a more harmonised regulatory approach.

“Water is a precious resource and, in Europe, drinking water quality is amongst the best in the world,” said ECETOC Secretary General Olivier De Matos. “Since the 1980s, the EU has applied rules that require stringent water safety checks. However, there is no room for complacency – and this new ECETOC report highlights ways we can improve water quality even further.”