EU sewage treatment law compliance assessed

Report finds mixed picture, predicts implementation delays in many countries

Several European countries are certain to miss key legal deadlines for implementing the EU's urban wastewater treatment directive, according to a report commissioned by European polyphosphate manufacturers. The study predicts that it will take years for a clear picture to emerge due to the complexity of the directive's requirements and delays in official progress reporting.

Prepared by UK-based consultancy, the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), the report attempts to provide an update on implementation of the directive following a European Commission assessment published earlier this year (ENDS Daily 26 January). This included data only up to 1992, whereas the IEEP report includes information up to 1994 for the whole of the EU and beyond for certain countries.

In a statement, the European polyphosphate manufacturers' group CEEP said the study showed that a directive requirement for nutrients to be stripped out of urban wastewater in designated "sensitive" zones was "not adequately applied".

EU countries should have introduced tertiary treatment capable of stripping phosphates and nitrates out of sewage from all larger settlements located in sensitive zones by the end of December last year. Some northern EU countries are likely to have met this requirement, the report concludes. Others, including France, Spain, the UK, Greece and Italy, will certainly miss it.

Polyphosphates are widely used in detergents. They are estimated to contribute about one-third of the phosphate load of sewage and approximately 11% of all phosphates entering the environment in the EU. Some European countries have limited or banned the use of phosphates in detergents. More widespread phosphate "stripping" at sewage treatment works would reduce the environmental case for these policies.

According to the report, 39-45% of phosphates in European sewage was removed at treatment works in 1994. Based on an unpublished assessment by the European Environment Agency, the study says that full application of the directive would increase this figure to 56-62%.

The study predicts that, as the wastewater directive begins to be properly implemented, political pressure for further pollution reductions will be felt more by agriculture, one of the other main sources.

Looking to the future, the report says that phosphate stripping will be necessary in most of the central and eastern European countries due to join the EU over the next decade. It suggests that derogations will have to be granted due to the high costs of upgrading sewage treatment plants.

Follow Up:
CEEP, tel: +32 2 676 7211 (Cefic); IEEP, tel: +44 171 799 2244. References: "Implementation of the 1991 EU Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive and its Role in Reducing Phosphate Discharges."

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