Wastewater and air treatment proposals introduced as part of “Zero Pollution” Package

On 26 October Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius presented the European Commission’s “Zero Pollution Package”, which included proposals on strengthening the rules on ambient air, surface and groundwater pollutants, and treatment of urban wastewater to improve human health and ecosystems. The proposed rules, which are part of the European Green Deal’s zero pollution ambition, are tighter on the allowed levels of pollutants as a response to specific demands of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The proposed revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives will set  air quality standards, aligned with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, and establish a trajectory to achieve zero pollution for air by 2050. The annual limit value for the main pollutant – fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – is proposed to be cut by more than half.

The revised Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive pushes for cleaner rivers, lakes, groundwaters and seas, and making wastewater treatment more cost-effective. It is also relevant from an energy-neutrality and circular economy point of view: the wastewater sector has significant untapped renewable energy production potential.  EU countries will be required to track industrial pollution at source to increase the possibilities of re-using sludge and treated wastewater, avoiding the loss of resources.

The Commission proposed several improvements to support health and environmental protection including recovery and water treatment obligations. In addition microplastic concentration will be monitored. New standards for micropollutants will also be introduced, as well as an updated list of water pollutants, to which 25 new substances will be added.

The European Chemical Society contributed to this topic by providing expert opinions on the Review of Annexes I and II of the Groundwater Directive as well as on the Revision ofthe Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.

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