The manufacture, processing, use and disposal of chemicals can produce micropollutants which enter groundwater, river, lakes and oceans via different pathways, either through wastewater from sewage treatment plants, soil erosion, leaching from precipitation, seepage or even direct inputs. The German Environment Agency has analysed the input paths, identified critical substance properties, and drawn up recommendations for action on the basis of their findings. There are indications that only a combination of measures in production, applications and wastewater treatment can provide effective all-round protection.
Pharmaceuticals: Manufacturers must provide all the environmentally relevant data for a substance evaluation to enable effective management of the authorisation procedure. This is also true for active pharmaceutical ingredients which have already been on the market for a long time. Also, more research must be done on environmentally friendly active ingredients. Active agents in veterinary drugs which have harmful environmental properties (e.g. persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic) should not be authorised at all. Physicians and pharmacists must have better information about the environmental aspects of pharmaceutical drugs. Patients must be better informed, too – drugs must never be disposed of down the drain or toilet.
Plant protection products (PPP): The total amount of chemical plant protection products applied must be greatly reduced. To achieve this aim, organic farming must be scaled up and preventative measures in conventional agriculture such as expansion of crop rotation taken. To minimize any pollutant introductions into waters, well-vegetated riparian zones should be created along rivers and streams on which the application of PPP is prohibited. The technology used to spread PPP must ensure targeted, loss-free and clean application.
Biocides (chemicals used for pest control, disinfection and for material protection): In general the use of biocides should be reduced to the necessary minimum. A few individual limitations on their application and requirements to be met for their authorisation are not sufficient. In addition, reliable data on sales and application volumes must be collected, pollution must be monitored in a systematic way, and comprehensive guidelines for the environmentally appropriate and proper utilization of biocides must be issued.
Wastewater: Since many of the proposed measures require a great deal of lead time and not all inputs of micropollutants can be prevented, efforts must be focused on wastewater treatment. The chemicals used in various applications are entered into municipal wastewater treatment plants. A fourth purification stage could effectively reduce their input to waters. Calculations by UBA assume additional costs of an average 16 euros per person and year for the expansion of the large wastewater treatment facilities in Germany.
There must also be a societal dialogue which occurs above and beyond any funding and implementation of the measures recommended by the German Environment Agency. The stakeholder dialogue on trace substances which the German Environment Agency supervises is the appropriate platform for this purpose. Nevertheless, it must be stated clearly that the substance inputs of today threaten to become the costly pollution legacies of tomorrow.