EU must guarantee the safety of materials and products in contact with drinking water

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Products that come into contact with drinking water should provide hygienic safety during their whole lifetime. [darwin Bell/Flickr]

Materials that come into contact with drinking water must be fit for purpose. A common, EU-wide approach is needed to protect health and break down barriers to the single market, writes Claudia Castell-Exner.

Dr Claudia Castell-Exner is the vice-president of EurEau, the association of Europe’s drinking water and waste water service operators.

On Wednesday (11 May) in Brussels, stakeholders, national regulators and European institutions’ officials met to discuss how to safeguard the quality of the drinking water that flows through a range of products and materials from water works to our taps.

Since the Drinking Water Directive (DWD) entered into force in 2000, products and materials in contact with drinking water must meet the drinking water hygiene requirements as stated in Article 10, with member states being responsible for implementing the directive.

But there is no EU-driven, Europe-wide acceptance scheme for these products and materials. Several member states have agreed upon common procedures to test and allow these materials to be on the national market. Others fulfil the DWD’s demands in their own way while some have not introduced any specific requirements at all.

Unfortunately, this patchwork of national approaches creates differences in the level of consumer health protection, and they are a barrier to trade.

This situation is not acceptable. We need to be certain that the materials and products manufactured for the European market, bought by water utilities and making up the water supply infrastructure are safe; not only ‘fit for purpose’ in technical terms but that they also provide hygienic safety during their whole lifetime.

A common European approach will protect our health and save producers money from not having to re-test products when they sell them into another country in the European single market.

The first conference on materials in contact with drinking water, held in May last year, opened the discussions to finding a solution to this problem.

More than 160 stakeholders from the European Commission to member states’ health authorities, industry and water utilities from 22 countries participated and clearly signalled the need for a real, common European approach. Since then stakeholders have clearly defined problems and gaps.

DG Environment is re-examining Article 10 DWD and establishing an overview of the different implementation methods chosen by member states since 2000. EurEau is actively helping the Commission with this work.

The free movement of goods according to Article 34 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union implies that member states must not impose obstacles to trade within the Union unless they have strong reasons to do so. Bearing this in mind, the only constructive and pragmatic approach would be to set EU-level hygienic and technical requirements for materials and products.

EurEau recommends that while evaluating and reviewing the directive, the Commission takes the opportunity to be inspired by the legislation on materials and articles intended to come into contact with food as a basis upon which to build the drinking water requirements. In this context the procedures for acceptance and the positive lists for materials elaborated by the Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK (the “Four Member States Initiative”), as well as the harmonised European standards dealing with hygienic and technical requirements, should be taken into consideration. All this valuable work can be used to properly implement Article 10 DWD. This is food for thought for Wednesday’s conference and the next steps to be taken.

We want to keep protecting consumers’ health in a sustainable way by supplying safe and wholesome drinking water. Therefore materials and products have to be fit for purpose over their whole lifecycle.

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