10.4.5. Multiple exposure: bathing water and soil contamination/waste
WISE Water Information System for Europe
Although being beneficial to health,
recreational waters such as rivers, lakes, streams and coastal waters are known
to harbour enteric and other pathogens derived from sewers, animal waste, the
environment or through contamination by the bathers themselves. Outbreaks
associated with recreational activity in these environments have been reported
in developed countries. The source of contamination can sometimes be determined
by tracking the specific pathogen type causing the illness to an upstream host.
toxic algal blooms, caused by the increasing eutrophication of coastal and
inland waters and possibly by climate changes, not only reduce the water’s
attractiveness, but may cause skin dermatitis in association with swimming and
other diseases if ingested.
Use of recreational waters provides opportunities for
multiple exposure of human beings when bathing, e.g. by dermal contact with
water, ingestion of small amounts of water or inhalation of aereosols.
This review is based on the WHO Guidelines for bathing water (WHO,
2003). Another important source is the Water Information System for Europe
(WISE), which covers the European Water Framework Directive (European
Commission, 2000) and additional European water-related directives including
background information. Additional information has been collected from the
fourth assessment report - the “Belgrade Report” (EEA, 2007) - of the European
Environment Agency and the State of the Environment in Europe 2005 report
(SOER, 2005) (EEA, 2005) as well as from the European Environment Agency (EEA)
Data description and analysis
At present, the general quality of bathing waters, as
measured by the presence of faecal indicators and pathogens, poses limited
health risks; in fact, due to investments in waste water treatment facilities,
bathing water quality has improved since the 1990s. In 2003, as much as 97% of
the monitored coastal bathing waters and 92% on inland bathing waters complied
with the mandatory European standards (Figure 10.4.5.1.1. A and B) (EEA, 2008).
10.4.5.1.1.a. Bathing water. Compliance with the old and new EU bathing
water directives in coastal water
10.4.5.1.1.b. Bathing water. Compliance with the old and new EU bathing
water directives in inland water.
Some of the parameters listed in the old Directive are
robust, although analytical methodology has not been fully developed yet (e.g.
for monitoring viruses). Therefore, compliance with the mandatory standards
does not necessarily mean that there is no risk to human health. The new
Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC) introduces a higher health standard than
the old directive which should reduce the likelihood of illness. In the new
Bathing Water Directive two mandatory standards of microbiological indicators
for faecal contamination, E. Coli and Intestinal Enterococci, are going to be
used. This simplification reflects recognition that faecal material, for
instance due to inadequate sewage treatment and pollution from animal waste, is
the primary health threat to bathers. Therefore, compliance with the mandatory
standards will give better information with regard to the risk to human health.
The new Bathing Water Directive will repeal the old one (Directive 76/160/EEC)
by the end of 2014 at the latest.
One such factor is toxic algae are among the
factors which could potentially affect public health. Algal blooms in the sea
have occurred throughout recorded history but have been increasing during
recent decades. The main cause is assumed to be the increasing eutrophication of
coastal- and inland waters but also climate change factors, such as increased
average annual temperatures may be involved. In several areas
(e.g., the Baltic and North seas, the Adriatic Sea) algal blooms are a
recurring phenomenon. Algal blooms make recreational waters less attractive
because of reduced transparency, discolouring of water, scum formation and
unpleasant odours. Several human diseases have been reported to be associated
to the exposure to toxic algae but primarily when the toxin is ingested, for
example through contaminated shellfish (paralytic shellfish poisoning,
diarrheic shellfish poisoning etc). Several spices of blue-green algae cause
skin dermatitis when swimmers are exposed to high concentrations, but the
reactions depend very much on the species. Another potential risk for exposure
is via the lungs when sea spray is inhaled during windy days.
“Swimmers Itch” is a dermatitis caused by trematode
parasites of aquatic/migrating birds. It occurs in both freshwater and in
marine coastal waters in the Northern parts of Europe and can be very annoying.
The life cycles of these parasites involve snails as the first host and aquatic
birds or some mammals as the final host. The larval parasite called
"cercaria" is released by aquatic or amphibious (i.e moving both on
land and water) snails and causes dermatitis when it mistakenly penetrates a
person's skin rather than that of its rightful host, usually a duck. “Swimmer's
itch” is increasing probably because of the increasing annual temperatures and
Concerns have been expressed on the safety for
recreational purposes of water bodies disseminated along the migration pathways
of birds, responsible for the spreading of highly infectious avian flew viruses
through their faeces ( ECDC, 2005).
Control tools and policies
A new EU Bathing water Directive (European
Commission, 2006b) was published in 2006. Under the Directive, the tests for
bathing waters have been simplified to E. coli and intestinal
enterococci, instead of the 19 different tests used previously. This
simplification reflects the recognition that faecal material, for instance due
to inadequate sewage treatment and pollution from animal waste, is the primary
health threat to bathers. Therefore, compliance with the mandatory standards
will give better information on the risk to human health. The new Bathing Water
Directive will repeal the old one (Directive 76/160/EEC) (European Commission,
1976) by the end of 2014 at the latest and classifies beaches as 'excellent',
'good', 'sufficient' or 'poor'. The extra classification of 'sufficient'
quality comes below 'excellent' and 'good' but still allows a beach to qualify
as a bathing water. Standards have been raised so that the estimated health
risk to bathers is reduced. There will be more tests carried out more
frequently when a beach is classified as 'poor' or only 'sufficient'.
Information on water quality will be provided on the internet in a timely
fashion. New standard signs will be used on all bathing beaches to show the
quality of recent tests. Under this new regime, we hope that infections linked
to recreational activity will be reduced. This bathing water management
programme will be introduced over a 13 year period, starting in 2008.
Most European bathing waters are hosted in coastal regions
and covered by the Water Framework Directive. However, coastal waters are part
of the larger marine environment and affected by human marine activities. The
European Union is preparing a Thematic Strategy on the Protection and
Conservation of the Marine Environment which aims at achieving a good
environmental status of the EU's marine waters by 2021 and to protect the
resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend.
European Commission (2000): European Water Framework Directive
2000/60/EC. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32000L0060:EN:HTML
European Commission (2006a): The Commission proposal setting
environmental quality standards for surface waters of 41 dangerous chemical
substances includes the 33 priority substances and 8 other pollutants.
COM(2006)397 final. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/prelex/detail_dossier_real.cfm?CL=en&DosId=194497
European Commission (2006b): Bathing water Directive, Directive
2006/7/EC of the European parliament and of the Council of 15 February 2006
repealing Directive 76/160/EEC. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2006:064:0037:01:EN:HTML
European Commission (2007): Communication from the Commission to the
European Parliament and the Council: Challenge of water Scarcity and Drought in
the European Union. COM (2007) 414 final. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:52007DC0414:EN:HTML
European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005): The European Environment.
State and outlook 2005 (SOER 2005). Available at: http://reports.eea.europa.eu/state_of_environment_report_2005_1/en/EN-summary.pdf
Environment Agency (EEA) (2007): Europe’s Environment. The fourth assessment. (“Belgrade
Report” 2007). Available at: http://reports.eea.europa.eu/state_of_environment_report_2007_1/en
European Environment Agency (EEA) (2008): Bathing water
assessment (draft). EEA - IMS Indicators - Bathing water quality (CSI 022) -
Assessment DRAFT created Mar 2008. Available at.
WHO (2003): Guideline for safe recreational water environments. Volume
1: Coastal and fresh waters. Available at: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/bathing/srwe1/en/
pollution and waste disposal
Contamination from local sources and air deposition of
traffic and industrial effluents affect soil and groundwater quality throughout
Europe. The main local sources include
losses of contaminants during industrial and commercial operations; inadequate
disposal and treatment of municipal and industrial waste; oil extraction and
production; and inadequate storage of chemicals (see Figure 10.4.5.2.1; EEA,
Soil contaminated with hazardous substances can have
serious effects on human health through direct contact, aerosols inhalation and
ingestion, for example through drinking water from sources that flow through
contaminated areas, through the food chain, and even by the ingestion of
contaminated soil by children in playgrounds (EEA, 2007b).
10.4.5.2.1. Overview of the activities causing soil contamination in Europe
Inadequate waste disposal is one of the main causes of
soil pollution. Large amounts of municipal solid, special and hazardous waste
is generated in all Member States of the European Union. The trend in waste
production is that it increases with the economic activity. Data derived from
19 EU Member States indicate that 31% of the generated waste is disposed of by
land-filling, 42% is recycled, 6% is incinerated with energy recovery and 21%
is unspecified. Therefore, land filling is still the most common waste
management method used across Europe. Incineration has generally evolved since
the 60s with a reduction of emissions. Further insights on possible health
effects are likely to be gained only from studies that consider exposure
pathways and biomarkers of human exposure and effect, and compare waste-related
exposures with those due to other sources of pollution.
Even though waste prevention is a top priority across Europe,
there is a large gap between the political goals and the continued growth in
waste generation which is still rising, with forecasts calling for further
increases, along with the increasing environmental impacts from waste. For
instance, the inappropriate disposal and treatment of waste from municipal and
industrial sources, is one of the major sources of soil and groundwater
contamination in South Eastern Europe (EEA 2007b). There are no adequate waste
management systems in most countries of this region, where illegal dumping is
widespread, especially in rural more than in urban areas.
Many health endpoints have been considered in
epidemiological studies; including cancer incidence and mortality and
reproductive outcome such as birth defects and low birth
weight. Despite some indications of an association between residents
living close to specific landfills and adverse health effects, the current
evidence is not sufficient to establish the causality of the association.
Increases in relative risk are difficult to detect as they are caused by long
term low-level exposures. In addition, the new generation incinerators are less
polluting, considering both public health and contribution to greenhouse gases.
The current evidence of adverse health effects possibly associated to well
managed landfills and incinerators is currently inconclusive.
Usually, increasing economic activity means more waste
generation. Since economic growth is the predominant policy goal right across
Europe, it is often difficult to find politically acceptable instruments which
can successfully limit waste generation. Nonetheless, experience shows that
successful prevention is possible with the use of several instruments. The
objectives of waste prevention are:
reduction of waste generation;
reduction of hazardous substances in material streams and of their dissipation;
improvement of resource efficiency.
Thus, the priority waste streams to be addressed are those
with big mass flows and hazardous waste streams.
Contaminated soils can be a legacy stretching back many
decades or centuries. As a consequence, the responsibilities for pollution and,
therefore, remediation are often difficult to identify as the polluters are
often no longer in business or cannot be made liable. This in turn contributes
to make the clean-up of the sites difficult to manage, time-consuming and
costly on the public budget. In EEA countries42, potentially polluting
activities are estimated to have occurred in nearly three million sites.
Investigation is needed to establish where remediation is required.
Investigations carried out up to 2006 identified over 1 800 000
potentially contaminated sites, of which 250 000 are in need of remedial
treatment. These estimates have increased considerably over the past years, due
to the progress in investigation, monitoring and data collection, and are
expected to continue to rise in the future. On the other hand, in those
countries for which remediation data are available, about 80 000 sites
have been cleaned up in the last 30 years (EEA, 2007a).
A wide range of EU policies (for instance on water, waste,
chemicals, industrial pollution prevention, nature protection, pesticides,
agriculture) are contributing to soil protection. But, as these policies have
other aims and scopes of action, they are not sufficient to ensure an adequate
level of protection for all soil in Europe. Nevertheless, up to date, there is
still no agreement among EU countries on the measures needed to ensure the
protection of soil at European level.
On the other hand, at national level, most of the
countries have established inventories or registers of contaminated sites and
are making progress to various degrees in reducing the risks of pollution to
human health and the environment.
This review is primarily based on the European
Environmental Agency (EEA) 2007 assessment of the core set indicator “Progress
in management of contaminated sites” (EEA, 2007a) and the “the report “Europe’s
Environment: the fourth assessment” (EEA, 2007 b), chapters on Sustainable
Consumption and Production, Waste, and Environment and health and the quality
Environment data and
assessments about contaminated sites are available on http://themes.eea.europa.eu/IMS/ISpecs/ISpecification20041007131746/IAssessment1152619898983/view_content
Environment data including waste data is
available on the EUROSTAT website http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page?_pageid=0,1136239,0_45571447&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
EC and EUROSTAT publication “Waste generated and treated
in Europe – Data 1995-2003” contains statistics about generation of hazardous
waste in European countries and in different economic sectors.
DG Environment’s web site http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/index.htm contains information
about waste, especially relevant for this chapter is hazardous waste, EU waste
legislation and landfill of waste.
WHO Europe has produced a review “Population health and
waste management: scientific data and policy options” available on http://www.euro.who.int/documet/E91021.pdf
Data description and analysis
Based on the data available and on estimates, the EEA
assessment reports that:
waste generation in the EU-25+EFTA is estimated at between 1 750 and 1 900
million tonnes, or 3.8 - 4.1 tonnes of waste per capita.
Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) countries are estimated to
generate about 3 450 million tonnes of wastes. On average, this equals 14
tonnes/capita but there are significant differences between countries – from
0.3 tonnes per capita in Moldova to 18 tonnes per capita in Russia.
SEE countries are estimated to have an average waste generation of 5- 20 tonnes
per capita per year. This figure has been calculated based on information from
Bulgaria and Romania, which account for about 25% of the region’s population.
A rough estimate is that the total annual waste generated
in the pan-European region is more than 6 billion tonnes. The amount of waste
generated is still increasing in absolute terms, but trends differ from
region to region. For example, while total waste generation increased by 5%
between 1996 and 2004 in the EU-15+EFTA, it declined by 6 % in the same period
in EU-10 countries. However, there are large differences between individual
countries, and significant annual variations within a country, due to changes
in wastes generated in the mining industry.
Furthermore, despite the political importance of waste
prevention, the amount of waste generated in the EECCA and SEE countries is
growing due to the increase in economic activity. Economic growth has proven to
be a much stronger driver for waste generation than different prevention
initiatives, including recommendations for the development of waste prevention
programmes in the Kiev Strategy.
Waste generation rates vary strongly between sectors and
waste types, reflecting the different socio-economic drivers. Many EECCA and
some EU-10 countries, for example, have large amounts of mining waste – in
EECCA, between half and three quarters of total waste is generated by mining,
quarrying, and the production of metals – while countries, such as the
EU-15+EFTA, with high levels of household consumption have greater volumes of
municipal waste (Figure 10.4.5.2.2). However, the single largest waste stream
in EU-15+EFTA is construction and demolition waste, mostly generated by
intensive construction activities following the re-unification of Germany.
Figure 10.4.5.2.2a. Total waste generation per sector, 2004 (EECCA
Figure 10.4.5.2.2b. Total waste generation per sector, 2004 (EU-10,
Figure 10.4.5.2.2c. Total waste generation per sector, 2004 (EU-15 +
In the EU, 31 % of total waste generated is
landfilled, 42 % is recycled, 6 % is incinerated with energy recovery
and 21 % is unspecified (data from 19 Member States). Consistent
information on waste disposal methods in EECCA and SEE is also not available.
However, in the Russian Federation, between 40 % and 57 % of total
waste generated from industry was landfilled in the 2002–2004 period (MNR,
More than 250 millions tonnes of hazardous waste,
3%-4% of the total, is generated in Europe every year, mostly in the EECCA
countries, with Russia the dominant producer (Figure 10.4.5.2.3). The large differences
in generation statistics are due varying classification in the EU and EECCA
countries, where more waste types are classified as hazardous. Therefore, the
figures on hazardous waste are not entirely comparable.
Hazardous waste generation in selected
EU-25+EFTA, SEE and EECCA countries 1996-2004
Hazardous waste generation in the EU-25+EFTA increased 20%
over the 1996-2004 period. The increase in the EECCA countries until 2003
resulted from increasing economic activity since the mid nineties, although
improved registration probably also played a role. The available information
doesn’t explain the decline from 2003 to 2004.
Many EECCA countries are experiencing environmental
problems arising from the long-term storage of hazardous waste generated during
the Soviet era. Different pollutants were accumulated, including radioactive,
military and industrial wastes. The breakdown up the Soviet Union, the
formation of new independent EECCA countries and the changes of ownership means
that much of this waste has no legal owner. To make things even worse, the
smaller EECCA countries often have little capacity to improve the situation.
There are also large stockpiles of obsolete pesticides
containing persistent organic pollutants (POPs) which date back to the Soviet
era, and which now have become a serious risk to the environment. Supply of
pesticides to State-owned collective farms was administered centrally, and
substantial amounts were sent to farms each year regardless of need. Stockpiles
gradually grew, with farmers storing them as best they could. Although
following the break-up of the Soviet Union the supply of pesticides stopped,
these stock-piles have increasingly become a problem as many storage facilities
have no legal owner. In Uzbekistan about 18,000 tonnes of banned and obsolete
pesticides have been kept in underground depositories since 1972, while in
other areas pesticides and their packaging materials were buried in landfills.
All European countries have experienced significant growth
in imports and exports since the 90s. In the EU-25, the share of both imports
and exports in GDP grew from 27% in 1990 to 33%-34% in 2005, with exports being
one of the main drivers of economic growth in the EU-15. In the three largest SEE countries, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, share of exports in GDP
increased from 16%-31%, while the share of imports was even higher, growing
from 21%-35%. In Eastern European countries, the GDP share of imports grew from
20%-29% while exports increased from 20-39%.
Overview of progress in the management of contaminated sites in Europe
Breakdown of activities causing local soil contamination per country
10.4.5.2.6. Detailed analysis of industrial and commercial activities
causing soil contamination per country
10.4.5.2.7. Overview of contaminants affecting soil and groundwater in
Overview of contaminants affecting soil and groundwater sites per country
In EEA member countries, potentially polluting activities
may have occurred at about three million sites. National estimates show that
more than 8 % (or nearly 250 000 sites) are contaminated and need to
be remediated. These estimates have increased considerably over the past years,
due to the progress in investigation, monitoring and data collection. This
trend is expected to continue in the future. On the contrary, remediation is
progressing relatively slowly: in the last thirty years, only just over
80 000 sites have been cleaned-up in the countries where data on
remediated sites are available (Figure 10.4.5.2.4).
The distribution of the sources of soil pollution across
economic sectors differs from country to country, reflecting their industrial
structure, the level of implementation of pollution prevention measures and the
various risk assessment and management approaches adopted. Nevertheless,
industrial and commercial activities, as well as the treatment and disposal of
waste, remain the most important sources throughout Europe. On the other hand,
contamination from oil storage is relatively important in some countries, such
as Latvia, Estonia and Croatia, where it respectively covers 46 %,
42 % and 36 % of all identified contaminating activities. In
Bulgaria, the storage of obsolete chemicals covers more than 30 % of all
activities. In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, mining sites
represent 27 % of all sources of contamination, while in Estonia military
sites cover 14 % of the total investigated sites (Figure 10.4.5.2.5).
At industrial and commercial sites, handling losses,
leakages from tanks and pipelines, and accidents are the most frequent sources
of soil and groundwater contamination. Industrial sources mainly come from the
chemical and metal working industries, energy production and oil industry.
Gasoline and car service stations are reported as the most frequent sources of
soil contamination in Luxembourg (84 % of all sources), Latvia
(61 %), Italy (52 %) and Finland (51 %). In Austria and Belgium
(Brussels region) the frequency of dry cleaning as a source of contamination is
high, accounting for more than 20 %. In other countries, gasoline stations
and dry cleaners have not been included in national inventories ((Figure
The range of contaminants found at the investigated sites
varies from country to country. However, overall estimates identify heavy
metals and mineral oil as the main soil contaminants in Europe (Figure
10.4.5.2.7). These estimates are based on the frequency with which a specific
contaminant is reported to be the most important in the investigated sites.
Other contaminants include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), aromatic
hydrocarbons (BTEX), phenols and chlorinated hydrocarbons (CHC) (Table
10.4.5.2.1). Mineral oil and chlorinated hydrocarbons are reported as the most
relevant contaminants for groundwater.
The health impact of soil pollution varies considerably
with the specific contaminant, site specific conditions and exposure of the
receptors. In fact, the risks are determined by the physical chemical
properties of the contaminants such as: solubility, mobility, volatility,
sorption capacity, persistence etc; the pathways to potential receptors (e.g.
the existence of an impermeable layer, the permeability and thickness of the
unsaturated zone etc.) as well as the exposure of the receptors (e.g. humans or
animals). Therefore, the assessment of the impacts of contamination has to be
evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The protection of groundwater resources and the exposure
of humans via drinking water from ground sources are reported as being by far
the most important reasons for the application of risk-reduction measures,
whereas the protection of the soil per se has a relatively lower
importance. This may be due to the lack of specific regulations covering the
soil media, but also due to the wider dispersion of contaminants in groundwater
compared to soil.
An assessment of the impacts of the various contaminants
in soil and groundwater would require a detailed knowledge of the local
situation in each site and therefore cannot be carried out at European level
A considerable amount of private and public money has
already been spent on remediation activities. However, this is relatively small
compared to the total estimated costs. Annual expenditure on the management of
contaminated sites is on average about 2 % of the estimated overall
management costs in the countries for which these estimates are available.
Although most of the countries in Europe have legislative
instruments which apply the "polluter-pays" principle to the
management of contaminated sites, large sums of public money are provided to
fund remediation activities. This is due to the limited applicability of the
principle in case of remediation of historical contamination, as many of the
legally responsible polluters either no longer exist, cannot be identified or
are insolvent. This is a common trend across Europe. On average, approximately
35 % of total expenditure in the surveyed countries derives from public
budgets. However, it must be taken into account that information on private
expenditures is largely incomplete for most countries (EEA, 2007a).
Most epidemiological studies on health effects of
land-filling lack direct exposure measurements of emitted gases (mainly methane
and carbon dioxide with other gases, including hydrogen sulphide and mercury
vapour, emitted at low concentration together with a mixture of volatile
organic compounds) and rely on residential distance from the site or, in some
cases, on exposure modelling; a number of health end-points have been
considered, including cancer incidence and mortality and reproductive outcomes
such as birth defects and low birth weight. Despite the
methodological limitations, the available scientific literature on health
effects of waste landfills provides some evidence of the association between
residing near a landfill site and adverse health effects. The evidence,
somewhat stronger for reproductive outcomes than cancer, is, however, not
sufficient to establish the causality of the association. This is an issue that
requires further investigations due to the large population potentially exposed
to landfills in Many EU Member States. (WHO, 2007).
Incinerators have been operating in many European
countries since the 1960s and their technology has evolved over time, in
general with a reduction of emissions to the nearby communities. As to the
possible impact on health of incinerators, reasons for concern are inhalation
of airborne pollutants resulting from combustion of incomplete combustion,
consumption of contaminated food and water, or contact with contaminated soil.
While some studies indicating possible health effects (i.e. an increase of soft
tissues sarcoma and non Hodgkin’s lymphomas, possibly related to exposure to
2,3,7,8-TCDD and related compounds) mainly of old generation incineration
plants, the evidence is, overall, not conclusive to establish the occurrence
and magnitude of risks. Moreover, new generation incineration plants are based
on emission-abating technology enforced by the EU that has resulted in a
significant decrease of airborne pollutant levels.
Considering the current increase of waste production and
incineration in many countries, the global impact of incinerators and other
disposal methodologies on human health and on the general environment through
greenhouse gases and persistent pollutants has not been evaluated yet (WHO/EURO,
Environmental monitoring of all potential sources of
pollution from different waste management options has been, and is still
continuously carried out. Thus, a great deal is known about the types and
amount of substances emanating from these sources. Whatever the waste
management option, there are usually a large number of different substances,
with only few of them produced in large quantities and many at extremely low
Gas emitted from landfill sites mainly consists of methane
and carbon dioxide with other gases, such as hydrogen sulphide and mercury
vapour being emitted at low concentrations, and a mixture of volatile organic
compounds comprising approximately 0.5%. In 2003, the WHO exposure assessment
expert group suggested that priority pollutants should be defined on the basis
of toxicity, environmental persistence and mobility, bioaccumulation and other
hazards such as explosiveness. In addition to the substances above, they
suggested that landfill site investigations should consider metals, polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), chlorinated
hydrocarbons, pesticides, dioxins, asbestos, pharmaceuticals and pathogens
(Rushton (2003):. British Medical Bulletin, Volume 68: 183-197).
Control tools and
There is no specific EU legislation on soil protection,
despite the fact that a wide range of activities rely on soil and contribute to
the depletion of soil resources. Unlike water and air, the protection of soil
is addressed indirectly through measures primarily aimed at the protection of
other media or developed within sectoral policies. These include, for example,
measures on water, waste, chemicals, industrial pollution prevention, nature
protection, pesticides, agriculture. However, since these measures have been
developed for other aims, they are not sufficient to ensure an adequate level
of protection for all soil in Europe.
Progress has been registered in the past five years.
Namely, the European Commission’s thematic strategy on soil, which focuses on
its protection as an essential element of sustainable development, has marked
an important first step in EU soil policy. This strategy was adopted in
September 2006 and incorporated a legislative proposal. The draft legislation
included the obligation for countries to identify sites at risk of
contamination and establish national inventories. However, the Commission’s
proposal was rejected by a qualified majority of the European Council in
December 2007. There is currently no agreement among EU countries on a common
legislation on soil protection.
Nevertheless, the implementation of the EU and national legislative
and regulatory frameworks already in place (e.g. Landfill Directive and other
waste legislation, Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, Water
Framework Directive, Environmental Liability Directive) should result, in the
future, in a more efficient prevention of the releases of contaminants into the
environment, and in particular into soil. As a consequence, most of the efforts
for remediation are expected to be concentrated on historical contamination.
Contaminated sites management
At national level, inventories or registers of
contaminated sites represent an important tool for the effective management of
soil contamination from local sources. As of 2006, inventories or registers had
been established in most EEA countries at national or regional level. On the
other hand, in most countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the real
extent of contamination is unknown because systematic inventories do not exist
or cover only specific sites — for example mining or waste disposal sites — and
some specific regions, such as those affected by the Chernobyl accident.
Activities to rectify this are only at an early stage of development (EEA, 2007b).
Due to economic and logistical reasons, the management
of contaminated sites follows a tiered approach with increased efforts and
expenses at each step. In most EEA countries, initial steps in the sequence,
such as preliminary investigations, are in an advanced phase, whereas the final
steps, such as detailed investigation and remediation, are progressing slowly.
Based on information from national inventories, the progress in the management
of contaminated sites varies significantly across Europe, depending on the
different national management approaches and legal requirements. In most of the
countries for which data are available, site identification activities are
generally in an advanced phase. As a result of preliminary surveys, just over
60 % of the sites - or 1 800 000 sites - have already been
confirmed as potentially contaminated and need to be submitted for detailed
investigations. Detailed investigations and remediation activities are
generally progressing slowly.
In conclusion, more is being learned on the size of the
problem but the speed of the clean-up is slow. As long as observed trends
continue in the future, more efforts will be needed to clean-up a legacy of
contamination (EEA, 2007a).
The general principles of waste management are embodied in
the so-called waste management hierarchy. The top priorities are to prevent the
generation of waste, and to reduce their harmful effects. Alternatively, waste
materials should be reused, recycled or used as a source of energy. As a final
resort, waste should be disposed safely, which in most of European region means
land filling. Since the beginning of the 1990s, a number of EU directives and
national policies have been developed. These have set targets
for recycling and recovery, as well as put limits on the amount of waste
that can be sent to landfill.
Full compliance with EU legislation and implementation of
national waste strategies is expected to lead to further reductions in
landfill, with an estimated 25 million tonnes of waste that will be diverted
away from landfill to recovery between 2005 and 2016 .
The prevention of soil pollution by waste is covered by
different directives such as:
Waste legislation on hazardous waste (Directive 91/689/EEC), as amended by
Directive 94/31/EC (European Commission, 1994). It provides additional record
keeping, monitoring and control obligations from the “cradle to the grave”, the
waste producer to the final disposal or recovery.
Directive 99/31/EC of 26 April 1999 on the
landfill of waste entered into force on 16.07.1999 (European Commission,
1999). The deadline for implementation of the legislation in the Member
States was 16.07.2001. The objective of the Directive is to prevent or reduce
as far as possible negative effects on the environment from the landfilling of
waste, by introducing stringent technical requirements for waste and landfills.
The decision-making process on the location and operation
of waste facilities should be transparent and fair, and aim at replacing poor
or even illegal waste management practises with legal and safe operations, and
avoid long delays.
It is also important that the adverse effects on health due
to nuisance (smell, noise, litter, effect on property values, stress for lack
of regulatory response etc) are considered. These endpoints often escape formal
epidemiological analysis but are relevant for the health of communities.
Consideration of all relevant health elements may be achieved through
integrated and participatory approaches, such as health impact assessment
(HIA), which has proven effective in some cases in waste management policies.
HIA can be done at a policy, program or project level, and help judge the
potential effects of a proposal as well as the distribution of those effects.
Understanding and managing the potential or likely health impacts of waste
management is likely to be best addressed through either HIA or strategic
environmental assessment (SEA). In view of the various limitations hampering
our ability to characterize all risks, such assessments should be inspired by a
precautionary approach, with respect both to the creation of new facilities and
the mitigation of exposure to emissions and leachates of existing sites. In the
case of remediation schemes of existing contaminated sites, priorities should
be based on hazard detection, estimation of the size of the exposed population
(including vulnerable groups) and appreciation of inequity in the distribution
of exposure among population subgroups.
Further insights on health effects of landfills and
incinerators are likely to be gained only from studies that consider exposure
pathways and biomarkers of exposure and effect, and compare waste–related
exposures with those due to other sources of pollution. The evidence of adverse
health effects related to landfills and incinerators, although not conclusive,
adds to other environmental concerns in directing waste management strategic
choices towards the reduction of waste production, re-use and recycling
schemes, as prescribed by the EU Directives. National and local authorities
should oppose and eliminate poor, outdated and illegal practices of waste
disposal, which still affect some local communities, support regulation and
enforcement, and invest in state-of-the-art technology for lowering emissions.
The decision-making process on the location and operation
of waste facilities should be transparent and fair, and aim at replacing poor
or even illegal waste management practices with legal and safe operations, and
avoid long delays.
The decision to adopt epidemiological surveillance
programs in areas impacted by landfills or incinerators should be taken on the
basis of a feasibility analysis aimed at avoiding the execution of
non-informative studies. In the cases in which epidemiological surveillance
appears to be appropriate, suitable protocols should be adopted, including
protocols on evaluation research after major interventions.
Priority needs for research include development and
application of biomonitoring, both in human observational studies and in
toxicological research, the use of pharmacokinetic models to assess the
influence of factors such as metabolism and timing of exposures, and the
analysis of all relevant environmental matrices in order to evaluate chemical
exposure pathways and assess the exposure for specific subsets of the
Regardless of the final decision on the appropriateness of
a local epidemiological study, actions aimed at addressing a population’s
concerns should be considered and adopted where necessary, namely:
information on technological standards, process characteristics and
environmental mitigation strategies. Resources should also be concentrated on
establishing the real level of risk associated with sites, including improved
understanding of exposure pathways, before considering site specific
information on environmental monitoring;
monitoring programs where applicable; and
communication and participatory activities in order to promote community
autonomy and build consensus.
Since the cost of hazardous waste disposal is much lower
out of Europe, there is an economic incentive to export hazardous waste. All
EECCA and SEE countries are party to the Basel Convention on the control of
Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and by the end
of 2005, had implemented most of the principles of the Convention in their
national legislation. However, only few countries have the technical facilities
for the safe disposal of hazardous waste and, therefore in most cases, waste
must be land filled or stored within the country itself, or exported for proper
European Commission (1994): Council Directive 94/31/EC of
27 June 1994 amending Directive 91/689/EEC on hazardous waste. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31994L0031:EN:HTML
European Commission (1999): Council Directive 1999/31/EC
of 26 April 1999 on the landfill of waste. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31999L0031:EN:HTML
European Environment Agency (2007a): EEA 2007
assessment of the core set indicator “Progress in management of contaminated
sites”. Available at:
European Environment Agency (2007b): Europe’s State of
the Environment – the Fourth assessment. Available at: http://reports.eea.europa.eu/state_of_environment_report_2007_1
Lesley Rushton (2003): Health hazards and waste
management. British Medical Bulletin , Volume 68: 183-197.
Martine Vrijheid (2000): Health effects of residence
near hazardous waste landfill sites: A review of the Epidemiological
literature. Environmental Health Perspectives 108 (Suppl. 1):101-112
MNR (2004) State of Environment in Northwest Federal
District of Russia. Available at: http://enrin.grida.no/soe.cfm?country=RU
WHO Europe (2007): Population health and waste management:
scientific data and policy options. Report of a Who Workshop. 29-30 March 2007
Rome. Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/documet/E91021.pdf