Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Chemical pollution of European waters is worse than anticipated

Date:
June 17, 2014
Source:
Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research - UFZ
Summary:
Substantial improvements in freshwater quality by 2015 have been a declared objective of the EU member states, manifesting itself by the requirements of the Water Framework Directive. A recent study shows that this target is unlikely to be met due to the high levels of toxicants in the water bodies. One of the reasons: current measures for the improvement of water quality do not account for the effects of toxic chemicals. The study demonstrates for the first time on a pan-European scale that the ecological risks posed by toxic chemicals are considerably greater than has generally been assumed.

Rivers such as the Danube are fascinating ecosystems. They provide important ecosystem functions and services such as recreation, fishing and drinking water for millions of people. Unfortunately, these ecosystems are subject to chemical inputs from adjacent urban areas, agriculture and industry. This leads to a chemical cocktail that adversely affects algae and freshwater animals and carries potential risks for humans.
Credit: André Künzelmann, UFZ

Substantial improvements in freshwater quality by 2015 have been a declared objective of the EU member states, manifesting itself by the requirements of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). A recent study conducted by the Institute for Environmental Sciences Landau together with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and fellow scientists from France (University of Lorraine and EDF) and Switzerland (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology -- EAWAG) shows that this target is unlikely to be met due to the high levels of toxicants in the water bodies. One of the reasons: current measures for the improvement of water quality do not account for the effects of toxic chemicals. The study demonstrates for the first time on a pan-European scale that the ecological risks posed by toxic chemicals are considerably greater than has generally been assumed.

Related Articles


Up to now environmental authorities and parts of the scientific community have considered toxic chemicals to be rather a local problem affecting only a few bodies of water. The current study, however, reveals for the first time on a large scale the ecological risks emanating from chemical toxicants for several thousands of European aquatic systems. Chemical toxicity represents an ecological threat to almost half of all European bodies of water, and in approximately 15% of cases, the biota in freshwater systems may even be subject to acute mortality.

Actual state of European aquatic ecosystems is presumably even worse

Together with their French and Swiss fellow researchers the scientists from Landau and Leipzig have investigated the exceedance of risk thresholds in the river basin of major stream networks, such as the Danube and the Rhine River at a pan-European level. For the first time, the extent to which risk thresholds were exceeded for three groups of organisms, namely fish, invertebrates and algae / primary producers, was estimated for these major river basins. The data used originated from official water monitoring activities of recent years. The scope of sampling consequently varied significantly in terms of spatial coverage, as well as timing, therefore, direct comparison(s) between different countries proves rather difficult.

For example, the study finds, that water quality is worst in France, presumably due to the fact that authorities in this country installed a dense monitoring network and analyzed water samples for a multitude of substances, including the ecotoxicological relevant compounds. In other countries, by contrast, risks may remain unrecognized due to inadequate sensitivity in chemical analysis or an incomplete list of ecotoxicologically relevant monitoring compounds. "Generally speaking we probably underestimated rather than overestimated the risks in our analyses," comments the head of the research study team, Jun.-Prof. Dr. Ralf B. Schäfer from the Institute for Environmental Sciences Landau. "The actual state and condition of European freshwater ecosystems is probably even worse."

The primary factors contributing to chemical contamination of aquatic ecosystems are the discharge from agricultural activities, urban areas and municipal sewage treatment plants. Pesticides were by far the major toxicants of freshwater systems, although, organotin compounds, brominated flame retardants and combustion-derived polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also occurred at critical levels of concentration. EU requirements and targets regarding water quality currently focus primarily on the occurrence of the so-called priority substance, i.e. around 40 chemicals classified as being particularly hazardous to the aquatic environment. "Fortunately the use of many of these priority substances is no longer permitted and therefore, their concentration levels are steadily decreasing in many parts of the European streams. The real problem, however, is that a large number of chemicals which are currently in use are not taken into account at all in the context of water quality monitoring," states Dr. Werner Brack from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig. Additionally, recent findings show that for certain substances the assumed level(s) of effect concentration might be too high.

Improved definition of framework objectives and coordination are essential

In order to cope with the multitude of potentially hazardous substances , the scientists participating in this study recommend the introduction and intelligent linking of ecological and effects-based chemical screening methods as the only financially viable way of capturing the whole spectrum of ecotoxicologically relevant substances. "In this way," Werner Brack points out, "hazardous substances can be detected even before they have been placed on the priority list." The current study, shows that there is an urgent need for action, especially with respect to the current chemical monitoring activities. "In practical terms, this means that urgent action is required at all levels, to ensure the sustainable protection of our aquatic ecosystems," says Schäfer.

The necessary steps to be taken range from general prevention of excessive chemical inputs into water bodies and the banishment and substitution of particularly problematic substances, up to a reduction in the application of agricultural chemicals and an improvement of sewage and wastewater treatment methods and technology. There is consensus among the members of the research team that, unless there is noticeable change to the current situation, the objectives and targets of the Water Framework Directive will not be met, due to toxicity from chemicals in the freshwater ecosystems. In the long term this may also lead to risks for humans, caused by possible failure of ecosystem services, such as impairment of the self-purification capacity of water bodies.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research - UFZ. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. Malaj, P. C. von der Ohe, M. Grote, R. Kuhne, C. P. Mondy, P. Usseglio-Polatera, W. Brack, R. B. Schafer. Organic chemicals jeopardize the health of freshwater ecosystems on the continental scale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1321082111

Cite This Page:

Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research - UFZ. "Chemical pollution of European waters is worse than anticipated." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140617093224.htm>.
Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research - UFZ. (2014, June 17). Chemical pollution of European waters is worse than anticipated. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140617093224.htm
Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research - UFZ. "Chemical pollution of European waters is worse than anticipated." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140617093224.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) — EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) — Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) — A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) — Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins