Nanomaterials and the European Water Framework Directive

Steffen Foss Hansen, Anders Baun, Catherine Ganzleben


Besides the European Union (EU) Directive on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of CHemicals (REACH), the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) is probably the single most important piece of environmental legislation in Europe when it comes to dealing with nanomaterials in the future given their widespread and dispersive use. Despite of the importance of the WFD, the WFD has come under little academic scrutiny in this regard.

While REACH deals with the manufacturing and import of chemicals, the Water Framework Directive is directed towards reducing the presence of dangerous chemicals (i.e. “priority substances”) in European waters.

In this article, we first introduce to the key elements of the WFD and we analyze and discuss the challenges that hamper the implementation of the WFD, if nanomaterials were to be covered by the WFD as effectively as e.g. xenobiotic organic chemicals and heavy metals.

These challenges include whether nanomaterials could be considered as possible candidates to be selected as priority substances, how European Member States are to establish Environmental Quality Standards (EQSs) for nanomaterials, how European Member States are to undertake environmental monitoring of nanomaterials and finally, the applicability of Best Available Techniques and associated emission limit values when it comes to reducing point and diffuse sources of nanomaterials. We recommend that emerging (eco)toxicological evidence as well as the possibility of widespread environmental contamination of certain nanomaterials is used to select priority substances and that resources are allocated toward obtaining a deeper scientific understanding of the environmental processes that form the basis for deriving EQSs today. Instead of focusing on environmental monitoring downstream, “upstream monitoring” should be implemented by systematically mapping nanomaterial production volumes, product concentrations, market penetration, dispersive vs. non-dispersive uses, etc. to map out the trends of environmental exposure in a given river basin district and finally, that focus is increased on engineering environmentally benign nanomaterials in order to prevent future point and diffuse sources of pollution.

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