Charter for the approach to exceedances of reference levels of pesticides in surface water in Belgium

Pesticide active substances have been encountered in Belgium's surface water in concentrations that exceed the environmental quality reference levels. In order to meet the obligations under Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC, these concentrations should be brought back down below the reference levels as defined. The intention of the authorities and the pesticides industry is to work collectively to achieve this by drawing up Emissions Reduction Plans (ERP) for identified problem substances.

For pesticide active substances where a link is suspected between exceeded reference levels and the application of pesticides, the authorisation holder (who can be both authorisation holder and license holder) will draw up an Emissions Reduction Plan and involve the relevant parties in this. The ERP will propose measures as necessary to reduce the emissions, following a thorough analysis of the emission routes. These measures may focus on taking usage measures, carrying out initiatives to improve the compliance and behaviour of users, or further restricting the authorisation.

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Reference levels

In order to determine whether a reference level has been exceeded, the measured concentration in surface water is compared with an established environmental quality reference level.

For priority substances, the European Union has established standards (Subsidiary Directive 2013/39/EC). The regional authority is obliged to supervise the status of the surface water as regards these substances and report on this to the EU. Where these standards are not met, measures may be announced. Regulation 1107/2009/EC allows for the possibility of intervention in the issuing of authorisations of plant protection products containing these priority substances.

The substances relevant to the river basin are defined by the regional authorities on the basis of their toxicity to aquatic life and level of incidence in the surface water. An ecotoxicological reference level for these substances is defined based on the Technical Guidance Document for the derivation of Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) (Guidance Document No 27). The authorities within the Pesticides Working Group preferably consult on this with the authorisation holders of products containing the applicable substance in the Working Group on ERP (WERP) at the start of this process; both will take account of the available data package (public and authorisation-related) in doing so. The tailored proposal will be recorded in the WERP and formalised in the Working Group on Standards of the Water Steering Group. This harmonised reference level will be borne in mind by the regions in the implementation of their policy. Where the environmental quality reference level for river basins is found to have been exceeded in relevant substances, the regional authorities may impose measures regarding the application in (parts of) their region. Intervention in the authorisation is not possible in accordance with Regulation 1107/2009/EC. This charter has been drawn up with the aim of promoting and bringing about emissions reduction.

Selection of substances

A starting point for the approach to exceedance of reference levels of pesticides is that the substances with the highest priority are selected first. Given their status, the priority substances from Subsidiary Directive 2013/39/EC are suitable for this. Alongside the priority substances, those relevant to the river basin with the most or highest levels of exceedance are suitable for selection. In this case, it therefore only concerns substances that are already being monitored by the regional authorities. The basis for this is the available monitoring data that is shared with the industry. The intention is to have this data available within 6 months from the end of a measuring year. This dataset must be reliable and consistent over a relevant period of time, preferably over a period of at least 3 (ideally successive) years. For a 3rd category of substances that often exceed the preliminary PNEC, the reference levels should first be recorded, after which the situation deemed to be in excess should be re-evaluated. Where the excessive reference levels remain frequent or high enough, such a substance becomes a potential candidate for selection. A review of existing/published reference levels can be requested should new information become available.

In the WERP under the Pesticides Working Group, which also includes representation from Phytofar, the substances are selected for which an Emissions Reduction Plan for the surface water should be drawn up by the industry. The location(s), level of excess, frequency, authorisation history and - insofar as is known - any defence of the authorisation for this substance in the future - are among the factors considered during this selection.
Once implementation of the ERP has commenced, its progress will be reported on annually in the WERP.

Two trimesters are allotted to reach an agreement on the reference levels for the substances concerned. If no agreement is reached, work continues on one or more reserve substances, for which a reference level is immediately determined. The following year, the substances that were dropped can be included again, if relevant.

Any new selection of substances can take place after the Emissions Reduction Plan from the previous round has been drawn up by the industry within 1 year and sent to the WERP for its consideration. It is the intention to select 3 substances annually per round. There is an intention to ensure an equal balance of authorisation holders.

Emissions reduction plan

Measures for reducing the emissions can only be drawn up following a thorough analysis of the emission routes. The federal and regional authorities/experts may be involved in the analysis carried out by the industry (obtaining monitoring data, estimating the feasibility of regional measures, etc.). Based on this analysis, measures will be proposed in the plan by the authorisation holders involved. These measures may focus on taking usage measures, carrying out initiatives to improve the compliance and behaviour of users, or further restricting the authorisation. The Emissions Reduction Plan will then be explained in the WERP.

In order to generate support among those applying the products (farmers, distribution and information), they will also be involved in defining the measures.

The Emissions Reduction Plan will be produced by the authorisation holders within a year, after which the relevant media channels' attention will be drawn to the measures described in this plan.

Following implementation of the plan, the regions will keep track of the influence of the measures on the water quality via their water monitoring. Where a consistent and reliable dataset over a relevant period of time is available, an evaluation will be drawn up by the industry and explained in the WERP.

Where necessary, an adjustment to the Emissions Reduction Plan containing additional measures may be proposed.

Definitions

  • Standard: threshold for the concentration of a pesticide active substance in the surface water as set out in law
  • Reference level: threshold for the concentration of a pesticide active substance in the surface water, as derived in accordance with the Technical Guidance Document for the derivation of Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) (Guidance Document No 27), but not yet set out in law and established in the Working Group on Standards of the Water Steering Group.
  • PNEC: Predicted No-Effect Concentration is the provisory threshold for the concentration of an active pesticide substance in the surface water,
  • ERP: Emissions Reduction Plan drawn up by the authorisation holders, containing an analysis of the exceeded water quality values and measures based on this with the aim of limiting the emissions of a pesticide to avoid exceeding further thresholds
  • WERP: working group consisting of federal and regional authorities and representatives of the authorisation holders, tasked with supervising the development of Emissions Reduction Plans.
  • Working Group on Standards: working group of the Water Steering Group in the CCIEP
  • Working Group on Pesticides: working group of the Chemical Products Steering Group in the CCIEP.
  • CCIEP: Coordination Committee for the International Environmental Policy of the Belgian authorities.

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