EU Court condemns Germany for groundwater pollution

German groundwater is polluted due to the excessive use of manure. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Germany has breached EU law by exceeding the limits of nitrate in groundwater. Germany cannot comply to the EU’s Nitrates Directive because of excessive use of manure as a fertiliser. On the 21st of June the European Court ruled that Germany has to take measures to comply to the law otherwise the European Commission will impose fines.

In 2016 the European Commission referred Germany to the European Court of Justice because the country failed to take action on water pollution caused by nitrates. The Nitrates Directive stipulates that nitrate concentration in water must not be higher than 50 milligrams per litre. In 2016 Germany admitted that this limit was exceeded in 28% of its groundwater monitoring stations. One year later, the German federal government implemented new restrictions and established fertiliser-free areas but, according to the European Court, these efforts are still insufficient.

German environment organisation
The German non-government organisation Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) took the German government to court because they were still not respecting EU rules. The European Commission now supports citizens or other organisations to take their country to court. According to DUH Germany adopted slightly improved rules in 2017 but these rules do not lead to the required results. The European Court of Justice agreed with the Deutsche Umwelthilfe and ruled that Germany had not completely implemented the Nitrates Directive.

Source: Report of the European Commission on the implantation of the nitrates directive 2012 to 2015. (4 May 2018).

National action Programme
Germany has the second highest nitrate pollution of groundwater in the EU. Only Malta has more nitrate in groundwater than Germany. Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) calls for the protection of groundwater and drinking water polluted by industrial agriculture. According to DUH to comply to the Nitrate Directive requires a revision of the national action program and the German Fertilizer Law.

Excessive intake of nitrate via the drinking water can form harmful nitrite in the body. Last year a Danish study found that nitrate in drinking water can already be harmful at very low concentrations.