Implementation of EC rules for chlorinated chemicals in water

Regulations giving effect to the latest EC Directive on "black list" substances in the aquatic environment came into force on 20 March. The Department of the Environment (DoE) is still working up plans for pollution reduction programmes for small discharges of the four substances involved.

The EC Directive concerned was adopted in 1990. It sets discharge limits and environmental quality standards (EQSs) for ethylene dichloride, triand perchloroethyene, and tri-chlorobenzene. Member States were due to bring the Directive into force on 18 January, although the standards themselves need not be complied with until 1 January 1993 or, in some cases, later.

The regulations which give effect to the Directive apply only in England and Wales. They come in two sets.

The first effectively give statutory backing to the EQSs prescribed by the Directive for the four substances.1 The EQSs will apply in all surface waters, and will be incorporated in statutory quality objectives under section 83 of the Water Resources Act 1991 in due course. The Secretary of State will direct the National Rivers Authority to sample and analyse waters for the four substances in accordance with requirements outlined in the regulations.

The second set of regulations prescribes as "special category effluent" liquid discharges from any process which contain 30 kilograms or more per year of peror trichloroethylene. Ethylene dichloride and trichlorobenzene were prescribed as such in earlier regulations because they are "red list" substances, which the other two are not.

Provision for the regulation of "special category effluent" was made in the Water Act 1989, as replaced by Chapter III of Part IV of the Water Industry Act 1991. These provisions enable the Secretary of State, among other things, to review trade effluent agreements or consents for the purpose of fulfilling EC obligations.

The obligation in this case is for a competent authority to authorise discharges of the four "black list" substances to sewer. Water companies cannot be competent authorities, and hence any agreements or consents for discharges containing the four substances must now be referred to the Secretary of State - in practice, HM Inspectorate of Pollution - for this purpose. The Department of the Environment (DoE) says it does not know how many discharges will be affected.

Discharges smaller than 30 kilograms per year will not be subject to this regime because the Directive provides that they need not be explicitly authorised. However, it requires Member States to implement pollution reduction programmes for such discharges by 1 January 1993.

Discussions on what form these programmes should take are under way between the DoE and the industries concerned in a solvents consultation group. It is thought that a top priority will be a scheme to collect and recycle perchloroethylene from the UK's 6,000 dry cleaning premises.

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