European Union member states attempt to address standardization to ensure safety and access.
by Thomas Angle & Julien Chalet
May 2, 2019

Most people in the European Union (EU) have access to high-quality drinking water. According to a report by the European Environment Agency in 2016, more than 98.5 percent of tests carried out on drinking water samples between 2011 and 2013 met EU standards. The EU Drinking Water Directive (DWD) sets minimum quality standards for water intended for human consumption (drinking, cooking and other domestic purposes) in order to protect consumers from contamination.

Today, the water sector in Europe consumes the equivalent of about 3.5 percent of the electricity consumption. At the local level, power charges account for 30 to 50 percent of municipalities’ bills. The commission study revealed that Europe has a massive issue regarding water leakage in the infrastructure. According to the analysis, the average leakage rate in Europe stands at 23 percent of treated water.

The commission’s solution to address this issue has been to include transparency requirements for the biggest water suppliers to publish information on their water leakage and energy consumption.

Encouraging Drinking of Tap Water

On Oct. 23, 2018, the European Parliament officially commented on the European Commission proposal to further improve the quality of, and access to, drinking water for all people and reduce plastic waste from water bottles. This update of the rules is intended to increase consumer confidence and encourage the drinking of tap water.

EU countries are requested to “promote universal access” to clean water for everyone, especially vulnerable groups with no or limited access.

This legislation aims to further increase tap water quality by tightening the maximum limits for certain pollutants such as lead (to be reduced by half) or harmful bacteria and introduces new caps for certain endocrine disruptors. Levels of microplastics will also be monitored. The new rules would also increase transparency and provide consumers better access to information.

Drinking tap water is inexpensive and environmentally friendly. Members want measures such as installing free fountains in public places—including shopping centers and airports—and encouraging restaurants to provide tap water.

According to the European Commission, access to better quality water could reduce bottled water consumption by 17 percent. Less bottled water would help people save money and have a positive impact on the environment, by reducing CO2 emissions and plastic waste.

Water bottle

The European Parliament website shows the following regarding the use of bottled water:

  • Consumption of bottled water per person per year is 106 liters.
  • Amount that could be saved yearly by households if tap water is substituted for bottled water is €600 million (approximately $686 million).

Materials in Contact with Drinking Water

This is a subject of interest to not only pump manufacturers, but also everyone who provides equipment used in the production and transportation of drinking water. The history of the regulations in this area is long and convoluted with difficulties and frustrations for all producers.

In the EU, general materials requirements are regulated in Article 10 of the EU DWD (Directive 98/83/EC), and the enforcement and monitoring process is transferred to individual member states. National lawmakers are obliged to implement all measures required to ensure materials and products used in drinking water treatment and distribution do not have a direct or indirect adverse effect on human health.

This is good in theory, but the majority of the EU member states currently do not coordinate their implementation efforts. The result is different national requirements for the marketing of materials and articles that make contact with drinking water.

As of today, there are more than 15 certification and test organizations within the EU that regulate licensing of products and materials suitable for use with drinking water. This has resulted in the lack of a common EU standard for human health protection.

Compliance with all test criteria in the respective member states is complex and time-consuming for product manufacturers and often results in a significant financial burden. In addition, member states often deny market access to products that are lawfully marketed in other member states, in contradiction with the mutual recognition principle as established by EU treaties.

All of these aspects ultimately result in significant barriers to the free circulation within the EU of products in contact with drinking water.

History of Material Regulations

In 1998, the European Commission promoted the development of a European Acceptance Scheme (EAS), and a standardized European approval system for products in contact with drinking water began. The intention of this scheme was to replace individual national approval systems with one EU approval scheme and to remove trade barriers within the region.

Due to technical and political obstacles, the EAS project was abandoned in 2006 without achieving substantial results.

To a limited extent, the project was continued as part of the work on standardization under the Construction Products Directive (CPD). In 2001, the European Commission requested standardization bodies in the EU to support the EAS in providing European standards for construction of products in contact with water intended for human consumption. This resulted in the production of a few test standards, but never achieved the expected result.