Switzerland’s industrial sector is stepping up efforts to combat water pollution, as companies grapple with the complex issue of wastewater management. While significant headway has been made, challenges persist in identifying and treating pollutants effectively.
Recalling the 1986 Schweizerhalle disaster in Basel, where a pharmaceutical warehouse blaze released toxic substances into the Rhine, it’s evident how industrial mishaps can have grave environmental consequences. Switzerland responded by enacting the Major Accidents Ordinance in 1991, mandating the establishment of containment basins for firefighting water.
However, today, approximately 20% of identified micropollutants in Swiss waters still originate from industrial sources. Around 30,000 firms send partially treated wastewater to central treatment plants, while about 50, mostly from the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors, discharge treated wastewater directly into water bodies. Yet, a key challenge remains – the precise identification of pollutants in their wastewater, hindering compliance with water protection laws.
Ensuring adherence to wastewater quality standards established in the 1990s remains crucial. But the complexity of chemical products poses a challenge in setting specific threshold values for each substance. Collaborative efforts with industry, associations, scientists, and cantons are now paramount to find advanced treatment solutions for different sectors.
Christine Genolet-Leubin, Head of Valais’s Environmental Department, calls for clearer directives to replace ambiguous interpretations. Valais, a major hub for the chemical industry, grapples with mounting cases of contamination, including carcinogenic benzidine and persistent PFAS compounds.
Switzerland is committed to cross-border pollution control, working with neighboring countries through initiatives like the International Commission for the Protection of Lake Geneva (CIPEL) and modern monitoring stations, to maintain water quality vigilance.