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Dangerous Substances: Discharge Into Aquatic Environment

Volume 490: debated on Thursday 19 November 1987

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asked Her Majesty's Government:What conclusions they have reached concerning the need for a broader approach towards controlling inputs of the most dangerous substances to the aquatic environment.

The Government have been giving careful consideration to the proposals made in the 15th Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities (Session 1984–85), and in particular to the Committee's view that EC member states should work towards a unified approach to controlling discharges of dangerous substances, which would involve both meeting prescribed quality standards in the receiving waters and minimising discharges from individual sources. A similar view was expressed in the recent report on the Pollution of Rivers and Estuaries by the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment. Ministers from participating countries also agreed to work towards developing such an approach at the 1984 ministerial conference on the North Sea at Bremen.The Government agree that EC member states should seek to develop a unified approach to the control of the most dangerous substances, whose long-term effects on the environment are uncertain. We propose to do so in the United Kingdom.The Government consider that the main elements of the unified approach in this country should be:

  • —to identify a limited range of the most dangerous substances, on the basis of strict scientific criteria, to be termed the "Red List".
  • —to set environmental quality standards, wherever scientifically possible, for all "Red List" substances;
  • —to set emission standards based on the best available technology not entailing excessive cost for industrial processes discharging significant quantities of these substances
  • —to take further measures where necessary to control inputs of "Red List" substances from diffuse sources.

The new policy on point source emissions will directly affect the small number of industrial plants which discharge in their waste water heavy metals or organic chemicals of a particularly dangerous character. The initial focus will be on new and refurbished plants; this will allow any increases in industrial costs to be phased in over a number of years and planned for. The policy is not expected to impose significant additional costs on water authorities, or other sewerage undertakings.

In relation to those "Red List" substances which enter the aquatic environment from indirect and diffuse sources, the Government recognise the need for effective controls over the supply, storage and use of these substances.

The new approach will require legislation, including amendments to Part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. We shall be publishing detailed proposals and consulting industry and others on these in due course. The Government will also be outlining this more precautionary approach to environment ministers attending the second International Conference on the North Sea in London on 24th and 25th November.