In France, the main sources of tap or municipal water are groundwater or surface waters from rivers, canals, lakes and reservoirs which represent a total of nearly 33,000 catchment sources. Two thirds of water supplies are from groundwater and most sources used for drinking water are small in size. Most water collected in the natural environment undergoes more or less extensive treatment, with almost 15,000 treatment plants producing 16 million m3 of water.
Tap water is used for drinking, personal hygiene, domestic cleaning and laundry. As a result, it must comply with regulatory quality standards stipulated in ministerial orders that concern about 60 parameters, to ensure that direct consumption over an entire lifetime has no adverse effects on health. Water treatment therefore involves elimination of any pathogenic microorganisms and unwanted or toxic substances such as chemical pollutants or excess mineral salts. It is also carried out to maintain the microbiological and physico-chemical quality of water from distribution systems through to the consumer’s point of supply.
An extremely high level of monitoring
Suppliers and distributors monitor water quality, and health and safety controls are performed by Regional Health Agencies. As such, tap water is one of the most strictly controlled consumables in France.
Regulatory provisions concerning the conditions for marketing and using water treatment products and procedures, and materials that come into contact with water, also help to ensure water safety.
Requirements concerning the protection of water resources used for the production of water intended for human consumption also play an important role in reaching this objective. Protection zones are therefore in place around catchment areas. More than half of these areas are protected by declarations of public utility. Following on from the first National Environment and Health Action Plan, the second Action Plan for 2009-2013 (PNSE2 or NEHAP2) provides for effective protection of water resources and for further protection zones around catchment areas that are most sensitive to environmental pollution.
The legal framework strictly regulates the quality of water intended for human consumption at all stages, from the supply source to the consumer’s tap, both in terms of material requirements and results.
The role of ANSES
The Agency assesses health risks related to the presence of microorganisms or chemical contaminants in water resources and in water intended for human consumption (WIHC). It also assesses the safety and efficacy of water treatment procedures and products, as well as the safety of materials that come into contact with public water supplies. For example, the Agency provides opinions on innovative water treatment products and procedures such as membrane filtration methods (ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, or reverse osmosis) for use in water treatment plants, on cleaning products for water towers and reservoirs, and on disinfectants.
ANSES contributes to the drafting process for regulations, standards and guidelines at the national and European level.