Cleaner water: EU Research means better industrial water management

May 1, 2002

Brussels, 30 April 2002

At a media briefing at the Institut d'Estudis Catalans, Barcelona, on 2 May the Commission will report on three successful EU initiatives which have improved the management of waste industrial water. Water is life. Its availability and quality make the difference for human settlements, economic development and ecosystems.

Industry consumes water, and waste originating from production processes often has a negative impact on the environment and on human health. EU-funded research projects can help solve the problem for instance by reducing by 90% water consumption in the tanning and leather industries. The meeting will outline three projects: TANNET addresses tanneries, INCORE tackles abandoned industrial sites and WASTE WATER CLUSTER puts forward innovative solutions in the treatment of waste water. The three projects aim at ensuring high quality drinking water. Their results concern specific and complementary aspects of the water cycle treatment and converge towards a global and integrated approach in water management policy.

According to Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, "water management has been on the agenda of industry for at least a decade, and thanks to the advances of scientific and technological research, significant progress has already been made in the sustainable use of this vital resource. These are shared problems, and it makes sense to pool our resources at a European level to tackle them. Clean and recycling technologies, as promoted for instance within TANNET project, will reduce water pollution in the tanning and leather industry, and its results may also apply to textiles and pulp and paper sectors. We are heading towards an overall improvement of the quality of life and a more sustainable management of our soil and water resources in Europe".

The leather industry in the EU consists of around 3.000 tanneries employing 50.000 people. TANNET, the network for European Leather Industry, included 10 core partners (leather research institutes), but it mushroomed into a EU-wide network of over 300 members. The project ran over 26 months, with EU funding amounting to 280.000 Euros. It has worked in areas such as water-free re-tanning, dyeing and fatliquoring of leather as innovative environment-friendly automated processes, and the "tannery sludge project" that tackles chromium-related issues such as "chromium recovery and re-use". Significant progress has been made in the recycling of chromium, a metal that cannot yet be replaced in the tanning process of leather. Innovative treatments have been developed to reduce the environmental impact of the "shavings", a detrimental by-product of the leather production process. As a result of TANNET research, a 90% reduction of water consumption in production processes can be expected.

Precious ground- and surface-water resources are also threatened by a legacy of the past, abandoned industrial sites, whose pollutants have been in the soil for years and are now putting these resources at risk. Permanent observation of water, soil and land consumption is key to identify hazardous factors and to reverse negative trends. New methods to detect, monitor and measure these threats at the earliest possible stage have been developed by EU research projects.

The WASTE WATER CLUSTER (WWC) included 5 EU research projects, 30 research teams, with EU funding totalling 3.500.000 Euros. It was created in July 1997 and it involved five European research projects. This cluster has improved the understanding of the transformation, fate and toxicity of selected groups of industrial pollutants discharged into the water and soil resources and wastewater treatment plants, by using complementary sampling and advanced measuring techniques. WWC gathered key information and know-how on emerging contaminants present in the effluent treatment process of the industrial and urban sectors and on the effluents reaching treatment plants as well. Measuring devices were based on biosensors for monitoring endocrine disrupting chemicals on surface waters, waste water and sludge.

INCORE included 10 European partners for a 36-month period, with EU funding amounting to 2.438.000 Euros. It provided for an effective and sustainable investigation and remediation strategy for groundwater and soil in urban areas, including areas with leather production facilities. The project was based on integrated investigation of contaminated sites in the Neckar river basin near Stuttgart, but it also covered other urban areas such as Strasbourg, Linz and Milan. INCORE is based on a comprehensive identification of the pollutant emissions of an extensive observation area, instead of single spot analysis.

The integration of the three different research approaches of "TANNET", "WASTE WATER CLUSTER" and "INCORE" provides for powerful tools to support long-term supply of high quality drinking water. It will furthermore foster sustainable industrial production processes across European industry and foster employment in the EU.

For further information please visit:

R&D 5th Framework Programme, Key Action "Sustainable management and quality of water": http://www.cordis.lu/eesd/ka1/home.html

TANNET: www.euroleather.com

WASTE WATER CLUSTER: www.wastewater-cluster.com

INCORE: http://www.umweltwirtschaft-uw.de/incor e/

DN: IP/02/640 Date: 30/04/2002

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