European Court of Justice: Germany condemned for water pollution by nitrate

Too much nitrate, mostly from agricultural fertilization, is damaging to the environment. The European Court of Justice certifies Germany not to have done enough about it.

European Court of Justice: Germany condemned for water pollution by nitrate

The European Court of Justice has condemned Germany to have undertaken too little against nitrates in groundwater. As judges noted, Germany would have had to take additional or reinforced measures to protect its waters. Billions in fines could now be implemented by EU Commission in a second step.

The commission had 2016 against Germany because efforts to combat water pollution by nitrate had not been reinforced. Background are too high values in groundwater and surface water, i.e. streams, rivers and seas. A concentration of more than 50 milligrams of nitrate per liter of water is considered alarming.

The drinking water is not contaminated except for a few exceptions. The groundwater is different: at 28 percent of measuring sites in Germany, according to a report of 2016, more than 50 milligrams of nitrate were measured. Groundwater is most important source of drinking water. If re is too much nitrate, it must be more filtered or diluted. Or wells need to be drilled deeper, and that's expensive.

The fertilizer ordinance is based on 2012

The commission accused Germany of violating nitrates Directive and Water Framework Directive. It referred to measured values of 2012. The Farmers ' Association and federal government have applied that since n Germany has done a lot to improve situation. In Germany, after complaint was filed, a new fertilizer act and a new fertilizer ordinance were adopted; These have been in force since 2017. It lays down new limit values for nitrogen fertilization, time limits for fertilizer bans and fertilizer-free areas around water.

The ECJ did not, however, apply argument. According to settled case-law, situation should be assessed at time of action. The basis of saying is refore Fertilizer Ordinance as amended by 2012. That is why consequences of judgment are difficult to judge at first. The EU is reviewing 2020 again to see if values are improving.

Nitrate is mainly fed into water through fertilization in agriculture. Plants need nitrate for ir growth, and substance is also harmless to humans at first. However, chemical decay processes can result in harmful nitrites.

For adults, absorption of water more contaminated with nitrate is considered harmless over a limited period of time; Limited to 130 milligrams per liter as tolerable. If concentration is too high, intestinal bacteria may convert nitrate into nitrite. In infants, this can damage oxygen supply of cells and in some cases cause circulatory problems in adults. Furrmore, nitrite can form in stomach nitrosamines with secondary amines, which are contained in many foodstuffs or in digestive tract – some nitrosamines have turned out to be carcinogenic in animal experiment.

Updated Date: 21 June 2018, 12:02

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