Water quality in the loop of European Standardization 

Can we say ‘Happy World Water Day’ thanks to European Standardization? We can surely be optimistic; standardization intends to make this day a happy one. This year’s World Water Day theme is wastewater as a valuable resource and the contribution of standardization to the use of this resource is on the way!

“An important part of our activities at CEN is to encourage, via focused networking among the scientific community, industry, policy-makers,…a more rapid uptake of the latest technological improvements delivered by research, into the future standards supporting the environmental policies and regulation. In line with this, we have adopted a series of recommendations concerning standardization needs in the water field to support phosphorus recycling from wastewater.” Valeria Dulio, Chairman of the ENV Team from the CEN Strategic Advisory Body on Environment (SABE).













Why improve phosphorus use for cleaner waters?

Emissions of phosphorus raise major environmental issues, as phosphorus (together with nitrogen) is one of the principal substances contributing to eutrophication and surface water quality failure (the excessive richness of nutrients leads to overgrowth of algae resulting the oxygen depletion of the water body that will eventually cause the death of fish). At the same time phosphorus is a non-renewable resource, essential and non-substitutable for fertilizers and animal feeds, and so for food production. Almost all phosphorus raw material used in Europe is imported.

Improving phosphorus use, reducing releases to surface waters and developing recycling can deliver improvements in water quality and reduce European dependency on phosphate imports. There are, however, significant challenges to phosphorus-recycling known as P-recycling, including the absence of a harmonized European legislative framework, and the fact that materials derived from sewage sludge and compost are legally considered as waste.

Recommendations for standardization work on wastewater

CEN adopted a series of recommendations for standardization in the short term. This includes firstly a mapping and analysis of:

  • existing standards,
  • public and private certification schemes relevant to phosphorus-recovery,
  • and an inventory of legislative processes where integration of phosphorus-recovery into standards is needed such as the Circular Economy Package, the EU Fertilizers Regulation, the Industrial Emissions Directive (BAT for waste treatment, water treatment, incineration, etc.).

Moreover, areas have been identified where standardization work is needed in the medium/long term. Standards are needed to:

  • evaluate the bioavailability of phosphorous,
  • define the technical characteristics and water content of recycled products,
  • assess the contaminant levels from the input materials to the recycled nutrient materials and soils.

Future standardization work for water quality: continuous water monitoring

Further topics are in the pipeline in order to better anticipate future standardization work. For example, CEN is currently studying the standardization needs in continuous water quality monitoring.

The added-value of continuous water quality monitoring devices is that they provide information on the evolution of water quality in a continuous way, thus allowing enhanced decision-making.

However, this leads to the need to ensure control of the information chain, from validation of raw data, retrieval, transmission, to processing in order to have coherent and reliable information.

A position paper with recommendations on strategic standardization needs in the area of continuous water monitoring will be delivered by the end of 2017.

Stronger harmonization in standardization activities benefits the creation of a more consistent and efficient implementation of European legislation.  Moreover, a closer exchange with the research community, industry and end-users proves to be an effective way to understand the demands of those needing to fulfil environmental requirements. At the same time, it encourages a more rapid uptake of improvements, such as better methods, new technologies, and innovative monitoring strategies, flowing from research into the standards.