Science communication

2021.02.11

Monitoring needs to be addressed in new Zero Pollution Action Plan

The Baltic Sea Centre welcomes the new EU Zero Pollution Action Plan. To fulfil its visions, monitoring of hazardous substances needs to be improved.

Text: Marie Löf

In 2021, the European Commission will adopt the action plan “Towards a Zero Pollution Ambition for air, water and soil – building a Healthier Planet for Healthier People” and the Baltic Sea Centre has commented on the consultation.

In the action plan pollution is broadly defined and encompasses eutrophication of excess nutrients, hazardous substances (e.g. heavy metals, pesticides, hydrocarbons and other industrial chemicals), air pollutants, marine litter, noise, microbiological and viral pollution, and other pollution sources. 

Overall, the Baltic Sea Centre welcomes a Zero Pollution Action Plan and the Commission’s ambition to find synergies with, and consider actions and results of, related strategies. When it comes to environmental monitoring of hazardous substances, the Baltic Sea Centre have suggestions on improvements that should be addressed in the context of the Zero Pollution Action Plan.

Monitoring should be better designed to enable evaluation of effectiveness of specific measures and temporal trends in emissions of hazardous substances and environmental levels. 

Environmental monitoring should also include chemicals of emerging concern and unknown chemicals. This means that monitoring should have a broader scope than single known chemicals, i.e. that captures both known and unknown substances, and their combined effects. 

Monitoring of chemicals in urban wastewater is lacking. Current legal incentives to obtain this information are weak. With the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD) up for likely revision, an important part of the Zero Pollution Action Plan would be to investigate the importance of wastewater as a transport pathway for chemicals from the technosphere to the aquatic environment.

Eutrophication is also addressed in the Zero Pollution Action Plan. Seas and coastal areas are negatively affected by excess nutrients, resulting in e.g. increased algal blooms, regime shifts and lower fish productivity. It also has negative social and health impacts. Eutrophication is a priority area in marine environmental work but more can be done to mitigate these negative effects. The Baltic Sea Centre highlights the importance of minimizing diffuse pollution of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous from all sources and their transport to fresh- and marine waters.

Further reading

Read the Baltic Sea Centre’s full answer to the consultation.

Read about the action plan Towards zero pollution in air, water and soil and the consultation at the European Union official webpage.