New indicator on pesticides in European waters

9 December 2021

Pesticides can end up in rivers, lakes and groundwaters, with potential to harm aquatic ecosystems and water quality. The European Environment Agency’s (EEA) new indicator, which aims to track Europe’s progress in reducing pesticides in waters, shows that excessive levels of pesticides have been recorded in a considerable share of European freshwaters.

The EEA has published a new indicator that tracks findings of pesticides in Europe’s rivers, lakes and groundwatersThe data, collected from EEA member countries across Europe, shows the share of water bodies where excessive levels of pesticides have been recorded from 2013 to 2019. The data are limited to those pesticides reported by countries to EEA for which exceedance thresholds have been set in Europe.

The new EEA indicator shows that levels of pesticides exceeding thresholds were measured in a quarter of all reported monitoring sites in European surface waters in 2019. From 2013 to 2019, this share varied between 13% and 30%. The share for groundwater with exceedances was considerably lower, at between 3% and 7%.

The dataset, reported by countries voluntarily, still has considerable gaps and it is too early to detect a stable trend in pesticides pollution in European waters.

Pesticides differ from many other pollutants as they are designed to have effects on organisms, such as plants, insects and fungi, and therefore can  have an impact on the environment. In the EU, pesticides are regulated on the basis of high protection goals for human health and the environment, with being authorised only after a comprehensive scientific risk assessment. Nevertheless, pesticide contamination of surface waters and groundwater can still occur and could affect aquatic fauna and flora.

The EEA aims to update the indicator next year and it will be part of a wider set of indicators that track progress on the European Commission zero pollution ambition, “Farm to Fork” and Biodiversity strategies that are part of the European Green Deal.

Pesticides in rivers, lakes and groundwater in Europe

Pesticides were assessed against effect or quality thresholds between 2013 and 2019. One or more pesticides was detected above its effect threshold at 13-30% of all surface water monitoring sites each year. Exceedances were mainly caused by the insecticides imidacloprid and malathion in surface waters, and the herbicides MCPA, metolachlor and metazachlor. Exceedances of one or more pesticides were detected at between 3% and 7% of groundwater monitoring sites, mainly by atrazine and its metabolites. No trends can be derived at this time and between-year changes may not be significant.


Figure 1. Percentage of reported monitoring sites with pesticides exceeding thresholds in a) surface  waters and b) groundwater in Europe weighted by country area


Pesticides can contaminate surface waters and groundwater and if their concentrations are above critical thresholds, they can be harmful to the environment.

The European Green Deal sets targets to reduce the use of and risks from chemical pesticides by 50% by 2030 in the zero pollution action planfarm to fork strategy and biodiversity strategy, with a focus on protecting ecosystems and improving biodiversity.

The Water Framework Directive (WFD)  sets environmental quality standards for pesticides in surface water. To assess the chemical status of groundwater, a precautionary quality standard of 0.1µg/L is set for pesticides according to the Groundwater Directive, reflecting the desire to keep pesticide concentrations in groundwater at low levels.

Figure 1 shows that in 13% to 30% of all surface water monitoring sites, one or more pesticides were detected above effect threshold each year between 2013 and 2019. Exceedances of one or more pesticides were detected at between 3% and 7% of groundwater monitoring sites.

Pesticides most often causing exceedance in surface waters are the insecticides imidacloprid and malathion, and the herbicides MCPA, metolachlor and metazachlor, all of which were approved for use in plant protection products during the monitoring period, though some are no longer approved. In groundwater, the herbicide atrazine and its metabolites cause most exceedances. Atrazine was not approved for use in plant protection products during the monitoring period. Despite restrictions on atrazine since 2007, it continues to be found in groundwater because it is very persistent.

It is not yet possible to determine a trend in Figure 1. Losses from the application of pesticides may vary considerably between years, depending upon, for example, crop type and the weather, while the frequency of monitoring of pesticides in surface waters can be limited to one year out of three. Changes to the approval status of pesticides influence their use and presence in water, which can also lead to difficulties in interpreting trends over time. For these reasons, changes between years may not be significant. It is anticipated that a trend will become apparent in the next few years.


Figure 2. Percentage of reported monitoring sites with pesticides exceeding thresholds in surface waters, different sized rivers, lakes and groundwater in European countries, 2013 – 2019


Between 2013 and 2019, pesticides were reported from a total of 9,327 monitoring sites for surface waters and 13,544 sites for groundwater. The number of monitoring sites reporting data for surface waters varies by country from less than 10 sites (Hungary, Iceland, Luxembourg, Switzerland) to more than 1,000 sites (France, Italy, Poland, Spain). There is similar variation in groundwater monitoring sites: numbers range from 39 sites in Lithuania to more than 3,000 sites in Italy (and more than 1,000 sites in Austria, France, Germany, Spain).

The number of pesticides reported in surface waters ranges from fewer than 10 substances (Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland) to more than 100 substances (Czechia, France, Germany, Italy). For groundwater, the lowest number of pesticides was reported from Austria (6) and the highest number from France (215).

Exceedance rates of more than 30% were reported in 14 out of 29 countries for surface waters and in one out of 22 countries for groundwater. High exceedance rates were mainly reported at monitoring sites in small and medium-sized rivers.

Source: https://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/new-indicator-on-pesticides-in?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=New%20indicator%20on%20pesticides%20in%20European%20waters&utm_content=New%20indicator%20on%20pesticides%20in%20European%20waters+CID_8b65c70e3b75b743489ebbc38faa0ac0&utm_source=EEA%20Newsletter&utm_term=Find%20out%20more

Yorumlarınızı Bizimle Paylaşın

Sadece üyelerimiz yorum yapabilir, hemen ücretsiz üye olmak için Tıklayın

(E-Posta adresiniz yayınlanmayacaktır)
Yorumu Gönder
Henüz Yorum Yapılmamış