A clean Rhine begins with confidence in water laboratories

Gerard Stroomberg - Director of RIWA-Rijn

I would venture to say that Dutch drinking water is the best drinking water in the world. We are able to prepare drinking water without using chlorine. This is unique in the world and you can taste it. RIWA-Rijn is an association of four large drinking water companies that source their water from the Rhine. We actively lobby companies and government bodies upstream in order to improve the water quality of the Rhine. The cleaner the water that enters our country at Lobith, the easier it is to produce drinking water. That is a clear advantage for us, but nature also benefits from clean river water. Yes, there is still a lot of innovation going on in relation to purification techniques, but as far as we are concerned, these are mainly used for the polluters upstream.

One of our most important tasks is determining water quality at the water inlets of the purification installations. Each of the drinking water companies has its own extensive measuring programme, in which dozens of chemical substances are routinely measured. The Dutch Directorate General for Public Works and Water Management, the water boards and the German government also continually measure water quality. Luckily, everyone works together perfectly and the parties exchange data. The laboratories that perform the analyses all work according to NEN-EN-ISO/IEC 17025 (General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories). This means that the drinking water laboratories have to abide by the same strict rules, for example regarding the traceability of measurement results, the calibration method and a watertight administration of all samples. The results are published in extensive reports and shared with bodies such as the Directorate General for Public Works and Water Management and the Board for the Authorization of Plant Protection Products and Biocides. The great advantage of this standardized working method is that the measurement results can never be disputed. Our lobbying work is much more effective as a result and discussions are substantive, just as they ought to be.

Measurement results not open to question

Over recent years, we have increasingly found medicines in surface water. One example of these are radiographic contrast agents, which are given to patients in high concentrations during medical examinations. After the examination, these agents leave the hospital with the patient and via the toilet they eventually end up in the river. This type of medical examination is increasingly common and we can observe this in our measurements. We are currently in discussion with a hospital in Amsterdam about the distribution of urine bags to collect the first urine passed following a CT scan. This makes it possible to prevent at least 80% of emissions. Over time, in our discussions with German hospitals we will be able to insist on them using these very handy bags. Sometimes, lobbying is just a question of practical thinking.”

Working together on standards

In 2015 we were confronted with discharges in the Rhine and the Meuse of pyrazole, a waste product resulting from the manufacture of a semi-finished plastic product. At that time, pyrazole was not part of the standard measuring programmes and the incident led to the KWR Watercycle Research Institute developing a new method of analysis. Standards are important for properly guaranteeing the measurement results of such a new method from the outset, because they lay down the agreements relating to the working method. I myself am involved in developing an ISO standard for interpreting the measurement signal of an instrument. In this standard, we want to agree on the minimum requirements that the signal must meet so that conclusions can be drawn regarding the presence of a substance. This standard was recently introduced into the ISO circuit and put to the vote worldwide. I think this is an important development because international standards strengthen trust between government, society and the water laboratories. Essential for our lobbying for a clean Rhine.

View here the projects and standardization initiatives related to water.