HC Deb 23 July 1985 vol 83 cc457-8W
Mr. Bright

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement on the implementation of the European Community directive on the "Quality of Water Intended for Human Consumption", 80/778/EEC.

Mr. Gow

The EC directive on the "Quality of Water Intended for Human Consumption" was notified to member Governments on 17 July 1980. They were required to comply with it within five years.

The directive lays down standards for concentrations of chemical, toxic or microbiological material present in drinking water; and for its other qualities. It allows member states, in defined circumstances, to authorise departures from some of these standards, by granting derogations, provided that these do not constitute a public health hazard (article 9). It also provides for member states to obtain the agreement of the Commission to an extended period within which to achieve the directive's standards by means of a timetabled programme of action (article 20).

In order to implement the directive, water authorities and water companies were asked in August 1982 to review their water supplies in the light of the directive's standards. Ninety per cent. of public water supplies meet the directive's standards in all respects. The Department has considered 350 applications in respect of parameters in particular water supply zones in conjunction with medical officers of the Department of Health and Social Security.

In the coming weeks, the Government will take the following action: —We have been committed since August 1983 to reducing the lead content of drinking water by December 1989. We shall seek the agreement of the Commission, under article 20, to the completion of the necessary treatment programmes by that date. —In respect of nitrate, we shall grant time-limited derogations if, and only if. the concentration of nitrate ion in supply does not exceed a three-monthly average of 80 mg/litre and a maximum of 100mg/litre save in exceptional and transitory circumstances. In those circumstances, and generally, water undertakers will be required to comply with the advice given by the Joint Committee on the Medical Aspects of Water Quality in April 1984. I have placed in the Library of the House a memorandum on nitrate in drinking water. This includes correspondence which I have had with the Chief Medical Officer, DHSS, who confirms that my policy is consistent with the current state of medical knowledge. —The directive lays down a single standard for pesticides. However, this is now inappropriate, in the light of the greater diversity of pesticides now available, and greater knowledge of their effects. We shall request the EC Commission to review the pesticide parameter. —After taking medical advice, we shall grant derogations in respect of some 150 supplies which exceed other standards laid down in the directive, most commonly in respect of the concentrations of manganese and iron. —Private water supplies have not hitherto come within the full statutory framework governing the wholesomeness of drinking water and we shall seek EC Commission agreement to a 10-year delay in the implementation of the directive in relation to private supplies serving fewer than 500 people. —Derogations are not available in respect of toxic or microbiological parameters. The review has shown that some supplies fall marginally short of microbiological standards and we shall seek EC Commission agreement to the necessary programme of improvement which will be carried out urgently.

In applying the directive we are allowing no relaxation in present standards of drinking water quality and have identified such further programmes of action as are needed. Water undertakers follow guidelines laid down by the World Health Organisation in 1970, on which the directive's standards are based. For that reason, the recent review of public water supplies has not given rise to substantial new programmes of remedial work.

Nevertheless, the Government, in common with other European Community states, welcome the adoption of explicit and ascertainable criteria for the wholesomeness of drinking water, and the extra protection of public health afforded by the directive.

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