World Water Day: How politicians are allowing our water to be contaminated with pesticides

Tomorrow is the UN World Water Day (22nd March) and 3rd day of the Pesticide Action Week 2018[1]. PAN Europe takes the opportunity to highlight the widespread pesticide contamination of European waters and the urgent need for decision makers to take action and finally protect our water supplies and the environment.

According to the United Nations, water quality is a human right. However, more and more frequently wells in Europe are being taken out of use because they are contaminated by agricultural pesticides[2].

A recent report[3] from PAN Europe and Ecologistas en acción revealed that Spanish rivers are highly contaminated by hormone disrupting pesticides. Worryingly, 70% of the pesticides detected have been banned in the EU, due to their high toxicity, some examples are DDT (banned in 1986), atrazine (2003) and lindane (2008).

The Water Framework Directive and its daughter Directives on groundwater and priority substances[4], the EU’s pillars for fresh water policy, provide specific limits for pesticides in water resources to protect human health and the environment. Similarly, the pesticide regulation (1107/2009/EC) aims to protect human health, the environment and its ecosystems from the harmful effects of pesticides. Despite the legislation, water monitoring data clearly indicate that the state of our blue gold is in a bad state. In the EU, 7% of ground waters exceed the pesticides limits[5].

In certain areas of Europe, concerns over water contamination by pesticides have lead decision-makers to take action and protect their waters. For example, in Denmark where drinking water supply is based entirely on groundwater, the use of pesticides on thousands of hectares has been banned in order to sustainably protect the quality of ground water supplies[6]. This is because pesticides banned a decade ago are still detected in ground waters and water purification from pesticide residues represents an enormous cost for companies and for citizens.

Martin Dermine, PAN Europe’s project coordinator said “Apart from the cost of pesticides on health and ecosystems, water is a very good example showing the enormous cost of agrochemicals for society. First farmers receive taxpayers’ money through the common agricultural policy to make use of pesticides in intensive agriculture. Then taxpayers have to pay for water purification to obtain tap water that in the end still contains small amounts of pesticides. And finally they have to pay again to support farmers to convert to organic, as  is the case in Paris, to preserve groundwater[7]. Why not directly subsidise more organic agriculture?”.

Angeliki Lyssimachou, PAN Europe’s ecotoxicology expert added: “42% of EU’s freshwater ecosystems suffer from chronic toxicity mainly due to pesticide pollution[8]. Our authorities turn a blind eye on this environmental catastrophe. They continue to use mathematical models that fail to predict reality and pesticides are detected in groundwaters above the permitted limits. This was recently revealed for glyphosate. European Regulators should take action and protect substantially our blue gold for the benefit of our health and that of our environment that are closely interconnected”.


Contact: PAN Europe, Martin Dermine, +32 486 32 99 92, martin [at]





[4] Groundwater Directive (2006/118/EC) and the Environmental Quality Standards Directive (2008/105/EC)


[6], p.6-7


[8] MalajE, von der OhePC, Grote M, KuhneR et al. (2014).  Organic chemicals jeopardize the health of freshwater ecosystems on the continental scale. PNAS111: 9549-9554

© Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe), Rue de la Pacification 67, 1000, Brussels, Belgium, Tel. +32 2 318 62 55

Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) gratefully acknowledges the financial support from the European Union, European Commission, DG Environment, LIFE programme. Sole responsibility for this publication lies with the authors and the funders are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.