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Methods to take action against contaminants in aquatic environments

The "Chemical contaminants and aquatic environments" symposium, held on 17-18 June, presented an update on five years of study and research that were funded by Onema and the Water agencies. The agenda dealt with the status of water bodies, emerging substances, new diagnostic tools and a very useful session was devoted to controlling the sources of pollution.

Reducing pollutants at the source is a major component in the 2009-2013 national micropollutants plan. Given the vast number of sources (industrial sites, urban wastewater, urban run-off), how should priorities for work be set? Ineris has developed a means to inventory discharges to surface waters. The quantities of known pollutants are calculated for each source over a given river basin. If the data are unavailable, statistical discharge models are used. The initial surveys are being run by the Water agencies and will serve later in defining strategies to reduce pollutants.

3 000 industrial sites studied in detail

At the same time, Ineris put considerable effort into identifying for each sector of activity the main pollutants and their sources (not including agricultural nonpoint-source pollution which is addressed by the Ecophyto plan). For example, since 2010 regulated installations for environmental protection (ICPE) have been precisely targeted and over 3 000 installations have already been audited, representing a total of 600 000 analyses. If significant discharges are observed, studies targeting a reduction may be launched and that was the case for 28% of the sites monitored in the paper industry and 17% of sites in surface-treatment and coatings industries. For the latter industries, the CETIM (technical centre for mechanical industries) ran a study on 495 industrial companies and identified dozens of correlations between the pollutants detected and the processes employed.

Improve treatment of wastewater

According to a study by Irstea using data from the Water agencies, in spite of "standard" average values, untreated wastewater in small towns varies significantly in terms of both its quality and composition. Extensive research has been put into assessing treatment processes. For example, the Armistiq project made considerable progress in assessing innovative processes, e.g. ozone techniques, activated carbon, adsorbent materials, improved degradation of micropollutants by activated sludge, etc. .

The trades, urban pollution and a call for projects

A study by the CNIDEP (National innovation centre for sustainable development and the environment in small companies) looked at pollutants released by artisanal companies. To date, analyses have been carried out in various companies in four sectors, i.e. auto mechanics, printers, dry cleaners and painters. Some 30 substances were quantified at levels exceeding 100 times the quantification limit, including seven WFD priority substances. More generally, nonpoint-source urban discharges constitute a major and poorly controlled source of pollutants for aquatic environments. What are the most important substances? What changes in work habits, what innovations could limit discharges? Those questions were the topic of a call for projects launched by Onema and the Water agencies (see the article below). .

For more information, contact:
pierre-francois.staub@onema.fr