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Almost half of EU freshwaters suffer from chemical pollution

January 29, 2015

Almost half of EU freshwaters suffer from chemical pollution

The health of almost half of all European freshwaters is at risk from organic chemical pollution, finds new research. The study, a continental-scale risk assessment of the potential effects of toxic organic chemicals on freshwater ecosystems, based its conclusions on data for over 200 pollutants measured at 4000 monitoring sites across Europe.

Freshwater ecosystems provide a number of important ecosystem services to humans, such as clean drinking water, irrigation, food and recreation. They are also important habitats for wildlife which help to create and maintain these ecosystem services. These important environments can be damaged by organic chemical pollutants from human activities, such as pesticide use or fossil fuel use, which risks the loss of the ecosystem services and biodiversity.

This new study examined the risk posed by these chemicals to freshwater ecosystems at a continental scale. The researchers used monitoring data (collected in the European Environment Agency’s Waterbase database) from 4 000 sites spanning 91 river basins throughout Europe. These data contained information on the average and maximum annual concentrations of 223 organic chemical pollutants.

They set two ‘risk thresholds’ for three different groups of indicator species (fish, invertebrates and algae). The first was a high concentration ‘acute risk threshold’ (ART), likely to cause death, and the second was a lower concentration ‘chronic risk threshold’ (CRT), likely to cause long-term impacts, for example, decreased breeding rate or increased vulnerability to diseases.

Read more at "Science for Environment Policy": European Commission DG.

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