How clean is the Rhine?

An idyllic view of the Nibelungen Bridge in Worms with its historic tower. The bridge links the city in Rhineland-Palatinate with Hesse. However, few tourists realize that the bridge is on-call around the clock as an environmental detective.

Four automatic sample collectors on the bridge pillars in the Rhine and on the banks collect river water and transfer it through the measurement facilities in the operating building. The sample collectors at Rhine kilometer marker 443.3 have been in operation since 1995 and continuously provide measurement data. The State Environmental Office of Rhineland-Palatinate operates the Rheingütestation (Rhine quality measurement station) at Worms on behalf of the neighboring federal states of Hesse and Baden-Württemberg, too. “We are able to see exactly what is going on in the Rhine,” explained Steffen Schwab, head of the Rheingütestation. The inspectors not only see what substances are in the water: “At the monitoring station, we are able to see exactly which nearby upstream sector of the river is affected, and we also have the support of the river police and the law enforcement agencies,” said Schwab, who is an environmental engineer by trade. The Rheingütestation is the only river measurement station in Germany which is equipped with around-the-clock alert capabilities to notify of water contaminations. The Rhine water is tested biologically, physically and chemically across its entire width, meaning the measurement station at Worms has a watchful eye on the waste water treatment plants and shipping traffic. Based on the experiences made after the Sandoz catastrophe in 1986, the Rheingütestation was intentionally placed downstream from large plants. With its waste water treatment plant and the cooling water inlets, BASF provides the highest amount of inflow on the western bank of the Rhine.

measurement stations continuously analyze the Rhine, for more than 100 substances. 


is the Rhine kilometer marker where sample collectors  have been in operation since 1995

And BASF also continuously monitors its inflow into the Rhine. Great efforts are made to continuously and automatically inspect both cooling water and waste water for hazardous materials, ensuring that the water quality complies with the inflow regulations of the environmental offices before it is pumped into the Rhine. This process of continuous self-monitoring is the only reason BASF is allowed to pump water into the river.

Adhering to the regulations is mandatory for BASF, which is why the authorities regularly take random samples to monitor compliance. Between 10 and 12 times a year, officials from the Ministry for Environment, Energy, Nutrition and Forestry from the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in Mainz visit the site premises of BASF in Ludwigshafen unannounced and take samples. Michael Alter (ESE/MW), head of water monitoring at BASF: “The density and intensity of the monitoring by the authorities and the requirements for self-monitoring are tightly controlled.”