Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 64)



Mr Loughton

  60. Could we look at the water treatment scenario and the capital costs and also the operating costs of some of the filtration equipment which has already been installed and would need to be installed to treat pesticides and particularly nitrates. Could you give us an idea of the amount of money we are talking about there, the amount of progress already achieved?
  (Dr Breach) Certainly. It is perhaps worth reminding the Committee that the standard we operate to in water supply terms is actually a uniform standard of one part in 10 billion; it is a very strict standard. It has recently been reaffirmed by the European Union; it is an EC standard and effectively it is a surrogate for zero. It is a very low level. We are not talking here about toxicity based standards; they are uniform, effectively zero, standards. Over the last 10 years as an industry we have put in a lot of advanced treatment, particularly in river derived sources where the main problem comes from. That is mainly activated carbon filters (activated charcoal) and/or a substance called ozone which breaks down pesticides. It is fair to say that those treatments have other benefits. They are not solely there for pesticides and therefore it is difficult to give a cost just for pesticides. The figure we quote is up to £1 billion for that advanced treatment in total, a fair percentage of which would be attributable directly to removing pesticides. It is a very substantial percentage.

  61. A fair percentage means what?
  (Dr Breach) Maybe three quarters or so; it would depend plant to plant. At some plants it is the only reason for putting it in, at other plants there are different reasons. It is difficult to generalise. The primary driver for the investment was pesticides and there is an ongoing substantial operating cost which again will vary a lot from plant to plant. We are talking many tens of millions, possibly running up into the low hundreds. It depends a lot on where and when the plant is used; very substantial costs.

  62. How far down the road are we with that programme, as you have spent about £1 billion already?
  (Dr Breach) It is essentially complete. I have some figures from the Drinking Water Inspector's report who independently checks our performance. The figures for 1998 were in total 650,000 determinations, that is individual measurements for pesticides, of which 77 exceeded the standard. That is an extremely high compliance rate and in fact people are even working on the 77 now. The programme is essentially complete but one of the issues for us in protecting water resources is that we do not want resources which are currently uncontaminated, particularly ground waters, to become contaminated because that would trigger more investment. Our priority is to protect the level of existing pesticide occurrence in water, not letting it get worse and then by working with agrochemical industry progressively reduce the existing pollution in the water resources we have to deal with.

  63. The initiative Wessex water set up for paying farmers an additional supplement if they took out MAFF's organic farming scheme. How effective a contribution could this make? Of course it has been slightly thwarted by the Government's capping of the organic funding.
  (Dr Breach) I actually checked with the company involved because we know them. It was introduced for nitrates and was not driven by pesticides. It was a very limited scheme where they used funds from ENTRUST (Landfill Tax Credit Scheme) money to stimulate organic farming around their boreholes (their ground water extractions). Of course the ongoing continuation of those organic schemes is subject to a number of economic support schemes. It presupposes that organic farming would solve all the problems. In my company area, which is the whole of the Midlands, effectively the whole of the Midlands is a water supply catchment and it is just not credible, at least at the current rate of progress, that organic farming alone would be tenable across the whole of the Midlands or indeed other parts of the UK where water is abstracted for drinking.

  64. What you are saying is that you think the current level of pesticides use is not a particular problem, given that you have already taken the preventative measure to deal with it.

  (Dr Breach) No, I am not saying that. I think there is an ongoing operating cost which I referred to. We certainly want to protect the resources not affected and our long-term goal, in fact not just the long-term goal of the UK industry but the European water industry with which I work, is over a progressive period to get to a state where we do not have to rely on expensive treatment to supply water which meets the pesticide standard. That clearly is a long-term goal,but we believe we should be working towards that. We think it is achievable by the existing control measures, perhaps enhanced. There are regulatory controls on pesticide use which can be effective. I mentioned the atrazine example earlier and there are several voluntary measures, good practice, which are being worked on at the moment and you have heard some already.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, we are most grateful for your evidence, which we enjoyed receiving.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 9 February 2000