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Innovative solutions to improve water quality and reduce bills are needed

13 June 2013

Pollution of surface waters by pharmaceuticals is cause for concern and the water industry should prepare for possible regulation of these chemicals, the Science and Technology Committee has warned.

Commenting on proposals from the EU to regulate specific chemicals, Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said

"Chemical pollution can poison aquatic organisms, damage ecosystems and threaten human health. The European Commission is right to consider regulating pharmaceutical products which can affect the health of the UK’s fish and rivers. However, further evidence is required before strict environmental quality standards for oestrogen-based pharmaceuticals can be applied. Whilst this evidence is being gathered, the Government and water industry should take steps to prepare for priority substances."

The Committee was critical of the water industry’s approach to innovation, which has been the subject of previous Government reviews.  Andrew Miller MP added:

"The water industry has threatened to increase its customers’ bills by £100 per year if these chemicals are regulated. There have previously been criticisms of the water industry’s approach to innovation and we have seen no evidence that this has improved in recent years.  We are not convinced that the industry is giving enough priority to developing innovative solutions to improving water quality. It seems content instead to simply pass the burden of increased costs to its customers. In addition, the Government should be more pro-active in providing clear information to Parliament about the potential financial impact of such proposals."

The Committee also commented on concerns about the presence of micro-plastic waste in the aquatic environment.  These are small plastic particles which form from the fragmentation of larger waste or direct release of small particles, often from the cosmetics or chemical industries.  The Committee welcomed steps taken by Unilever and Lush UK to phase remove micro-plastics from their products and urged the Government to help industry maintain momentum towards phasing them out.

Andrew Miller MP concluded

"Priority substances legislation might be a relatively small part of the Government’s overall water policy, but it highlights broader issues, such as monitoring emerging pollutants, the role of innovation in the water industry and political support for negotiations on water policy in Europe. A more strategic approach to water policy is needed to ensure the UK’s future water security."

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