Ecological targets of the Water Framework Directive will presumably not be met.
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).
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.
Photo: André Künzelmann/UFZ
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.
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.
„Organic chemicals jeopardize the health of freshwater ecosystems on the continental scale", Egina Malaj, Peter C. von der Ohe, Matthias Grote, Ralph Kühne, Cédric P. Mondy, Philippe Usseglio-Polatera, Werner Brack, Ralf B. Schäfer. The study has been published initially online in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, Early Edition), on 16. June 2014 and can be accessed via the following link:
This study was funded by Electricité de France (EDF), the French National Research Agency (ANR) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).
Institute for Environmental Sciences Landau at the University of Koblenz-Landau, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Electricité de France (EDF) and the University of Lorraine in France and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG) in Switzerland.
University of Koblenz-Landau
Institute for Environmental Sciences Landau
Jun.-Prof. Dr. Ralf B. Schäfer
Telephone: +49 6341 280-31536, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
Department of Effect-Directed Analysis
Dr. Werner Brack
Telephone: +49 341 235-1531, http://www.ufz.de/index.php?de=17477
University of Koblenz-Landau
Kerstin Theilmann (University Press Office)
Telephone: +49 6341 280-32219
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research
Tilo Arnhold, Susanne Hufe (UFZ Press Office)
Telephone: +49 341 235-1635, -1635
Controlling Chemicals' Fate:
EU Project SOLUTIONS:
The Institute for Environmental Sciences Landau is engaged in basic and applied research focussing on the multitude of interaction between humans and the environment. The institute combines the expertise of nine interdisciplinary working groups, covering current research into areas ranging from molecules to ecosystems and up to human society related issues. The Institute for Environmental Sciences Landau was established in 2004 at the University of Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau. Further information is available under: www.umwelt.uni-landau.de
In the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), scientists conduct research into the causes and consequences of far-reaching environmental changes. Their areas of study cover water resources, biodiversity, the consequences of climate change and possible adaptation strategies, environmental technologies and biotechnologies, bio-energy, the effects of chemicals in the environment and the way they influence health, modelling and social-scientific issues. Its guiding principle: Our research contributes to the sustainable use of natural resources and helps to provide long-term protection for these vital assets in the face of global change. The UFZ employs more than 1,100 staff at its sites in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is funded by the federal government, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. http://www.ufz.de/
The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major and urgent issues in society, science and industry through scientific excellence in six research areas: Energy, earth and environment, health, key technologies, structure of matter as well as aviation, aerospace and transportation. The Helmholtz Association is the largest scientific organisation in Germany, with 35,000 employees in 18 research centres and an annual budget of around €3.8 billion. Its work is carried out in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894). http://www.helmholtz.de/
Kerstin Theilmann/Tilo Arnhold | UFZ News
Joint research project on wastewater for reuse examines pond system in Namibia
19.12.2016 | Technische Universität Darmstadt
Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon
09.12.2016 | Wildlife Conservation Society
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration
"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.01.2017 | Machine Engineering
17.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy