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Eawag water pollution study: objective impact measurement

Today’s communication by Eawag regarding its study on the pollution of Swiss waters by the chemical and pharmaceutical industry gives rise to misconceptions. Measures already taken as a result of the study are also only mentioned in passing.

19.07.2022

Better analytics lead to more insights: with this in mind, scienceindustries welcomes the progress of science and technology in all areas. As part of the Responsible Care initiative, our members are constantly deepening their knowledge and promoting research into the possible effects of our processes, products and waste on people and the environment.

Industry makes its contribution

By dint of this definition, the study published by Eawag makes a contribution, which is why scienceindustries was represented in the project monitoring group and why some of our member companies contributed to Eawag’s measurements with information on the substances manufactured. However, this constructive cooperation did not receive adequate mention in the Eawag news article, which we very much regret.

The alarmist news article leads to the erroneous conclusion that the majority of modern sewage treatment plants do not adequately perform their task of removing chemicals. Furthermore, the results of the Eawag study were not presented in a context that is comprehensible and classifiable for a lay audience: for example, it does not explain what is meant by “toxic”, or the statement that “unregistered chemicals” have been found.

With this in mind, it is important to clarify the points mentioned in the Eawag news article:

  • More substances and higher concentrations than in domestic wastewater: Not surprisingly, industrial wastewater may contain more substances and a higher concentration of synthetic organic compounds than domestic wastewater. At the same time, the researchers found that production sites with good wastewater management have a lesser impact on wastewater treatment plants. Industry is already doing a great deal to follow such best practice examples.
  • Mirror of production processes: It is true that the chemical diversity of wastewater is very site-specific and is influenced by the type and extent of wastewater pre-treatment – i.e. how companies send their wastewater to the treatment plant or the operation of the treatment plants. As one of the measures already introduced, a guideline is being drawn up for state-of-the-art wastewater management in the relevant industries. In cooperation with other organisations, scienceindustries will work to ensure that this knowledge is put to effective use in practice. 
  • Complex mixtures: Industrial wastewater may contain a greater variety of substances. Among these, toxic compounds can pose a risk to aquatic organisms. The statement that unregistered chemicals were found cannot be categorised without context.

The researchers involved in the study conclude that current practice is insufficient for testing and possibly improving water quality. scienceindustries shares the view that tailor-made monitoring programmes and measures should be considered as an alternative approach. The water protection experts of our member companies are interested in developing rapid ecotoxicological and degradability tests. Thanks to the faster determination of toxicity – in combination with the relevant analysis – substances can be identified accordingly. Targeted measures, both in terms of wastewater management and production, can help protect water bodies even more efficiently.

Legal regulations or prohibitions as the last resort

The Eawag news article proposes strategies for reducing pollution that cover a very broad area. Measures to change wastewater treatment practices in companies have already been initiated, for example the adaptation of the pre-treatment system so that the substance responsible for increased algae toxicity is no longer produced. New legal regulations or even bans should come into play only as a solution of last resort.

scienceindustries and representatives of member companies work with researchers from Eawag and other institutes to explore new methods and participate in corresponding research projects. It is and will remain the declared objective of the industry to reduce the impact of its activities as much as possible. It will also participate in the development of the guideline on state-of-the-art wastewater management technology in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, which are being drafted by the Swiss Water Association (VSA).

Further information:

Pia Guggenbühl, Head of Public Affairs & Communications
pia.guggenbuehl@scienceindustries.ch, Tel. +41 79 566 60 10

Linda Kren, Head of Environment & Responsible Care
linda.kren@scienceindustries.ch, tel. +41 44 368 17 11

 


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