July 4, 2017
The European citizens’ initiative to ban glyphosate has surpassed one million signatures, meaning the European Commission is obliged to respond to this initiative. The EU will also have to decide before the end of the year whether or not to extend the authorisation of glyphosate on the EU market and, if so, for how long.
We believe that the ban of substances should be decided according to a hazard based approach which means that the substance is evaluated on the basis of hazard (the inherent harmful properties) to humans and the environment, without taking exposure into account.
In the case of glyphosate, the decision on a possible ban should also take into account to what extent replacement molecules are more sustainable and to which degree water operators are able to detect and treat these alternative molecules.
Glyphosate is a synthetic compound often found in herbicides. It can get into the water cycle in various ways, for example from the soil or through urban, agricultural and storm water runoffs. Urban run-off represents the largest contribution of glyphosate to surface water contamination.
Water operators are following the EU-level debate intently. Glyphosate is widely found in raw water all over Europe. Drinking water operators are able to detect and remove it, but the costs of doing this are transferred to consumers through their water bills, which is clearly not in line with the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’. This urgently needs to be addressed.
If the glyphosate authorisation is renewed at EU level, Member States should strive to reduce the contamination of drinking water resources. This could be achieved for example by limiting its use to agriculture, while reducing its use in parks and sports grounds and restricting non-professional use (gardening). Moreover, non-chemical alternative treatments should be promoted.
Furthermore, the issue of pesticides in water resources will not be successfully resolved until farmers and other users adopt more sustainable practices according to the framework for the sustainable use of pesticides (Directive 2009/128/EC). The Common Agricultural Policy must provide both sticks and carrots to push this transition ahead. Generally speaking, there needs to be a balance between the benefits of plant protection products (PPPs) in delivering food to meet society’s needs, and the risks potentially posed to humans and the environment.
Reducing this source of contamination will help to fulfil article 7.3 of the Water Framework Directive (WFD), which recognises that water suppliers must have access to adequate and reliable sources that are protected from contamination. It obliges Member States to protect water resources from pollution in order to reduce the level of treatment applied by water operators when producing drinking water. This provision is yet to be fully implemented in Member States. Doing so will ultimately benefit consumers.
Protecting our water resources against contamination and other threats affecting quality is crucial for the supply of safe, wholesome and clean drinking water that complies with the requirements set by the Drinking Water Directive (DWD), now and for future generations.
EurEau has strongly and consistently advocated for a stringent authorisation process of PPPs: this is fundamental to ensuring the protection of water resources from these substances and to minimising or preventing their negative long term impacts. In this process, drinking water related criteria should be taken into account. The introduction of stringent cut-off criteria in the last revision of the PPPs Regulation reflects European legislators’ awareness of the need to tackle the impact of pesticides on the environment. Nevertheless, these requirements will be effective only when pesticide producers apply for authorisation for new active substances. EurEau regrets that the Member States have yet to agree on a full definition of endocrine disrupting properties.
By Arjen Frentz, Chair of the EurEau Committee on Drinking Water
 See e.g. RIWA Meuse annual report 2015, p. 18