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Reclaimed wastewater in agriculture

Climatic changes are increasing the pressure on water resources in Germany and Europe. To counteract this pressure, Regulation (EU) 2020/741 sets minimum requirements for the use of reclaimed wastewater for agricultural irrigation. It entered into force on 26 June 2020 and applies from 26 June 2023 in the Member States of the European Union.

Regulation (EU) 2020/741:

Risk assessments on the use of reclaimed wastewater in agriculture

Uniform minimum requirements for the safe reuse of reclaimed urban wastewater are intended to facilitate implementation by EU member states and ensure a high level of protection for the environment and for human and animal health. The BfR therefore assesses the health risks of using reclaimed wastewater for the irrigation of fruits, vegetables and fresh herbs.

Reclaimed wastewater: food safety challenges

In particular, the presence of pathogens, drug residues and perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in reclaimed wastewater is a major food safety challenge.

Pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites can get into or onto plants through irrigation with reclaimed wastewater and cause human diseases by consuming them. In addition, the direct spread of resistant bacteria can occur. Drug residues can also promote the emergence and spread of resistant bacteria due to selection pressure.

In several opinions, the BfR examines the question of whether and how pathogens can get onto or into the plants to be irrigated via reclaimed wastewater in concentrations that are of concern to consumers, and what measures are required to protect against diseases.

The industrial chemicals PFAS can also enter municipal wastewater due to their wide range of uses in industrial processes and consumer products. They pose a particular technical challenge for the treatment of wastewater. In addition, they are well absorbed by plants. The BfR deals with the question of the transfer of PFAS along the food chain in various working groups and projects and has already issued opinions and publications on this subject.


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