During this week's plenary session in Strasbourg, a majority of MEPs supported the move despite fears about the cost to member states of removing lead pipes. Conservative UK MEP Caroline Jackson said it would cost at least UK£6bn (Ecu8.9bn) in the UK alone.
The Parliament's amendment to the drinking water directive would set a five-year deadline for EU countries to provide the Commission with details of how they plan to remove lead piping from homes. The measure won the support of environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard.
Ms Bjerregaard also promised to support a vote demanding a legal limit for radioactivity in drinking water. An amendment tabled by Belgian Green MEP Paul Lannoye and passed by MEPs would set limit values for tritium, or heavy water, which is discharged from nuclear power stations. The limit value proposed by parliament is based on the standard risk assessment of one case of cancer extra in one million cases and would initially be 100 Becquerels per litre, falling to 20 Becquerels in seven years' time.
Ken Collins, chairman of the parliamentary environment committee failed to persuade his colleagues that chemicals which affect human hormone levels should be included on the directive's list of pollutants to be kept in check. However Ms Bjerregaard agreed with the Parliament that the Commission should study the impact of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the water supply.
She stressed that this would require EU funding, something that the Parliament would have to support when it looks at the budget for 1999. An assistant to Mr Collins told ENDS Daily that he would be working to persuade MEPs of the importance of funding such a project.
Parliament said it wanted to speed up the directive's impact on water quality, and that the limit values on impurities should be met within ten years of the law coming into force, rather than within 15 years, as proposed by the Commission. But this was opposed by Ms Bjerregaard and is also unlikely to find favour with EU governments, according to a Council of Ministers spokesperson.
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