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Strategies against chemical pollution of surface waters


European Union legislation provides for measures against chemical pollution of surface waters. There are two components –  the selection and regulation of substances of European Union (EU)-wide concern (the priority substances) and the selection by Member States of substances of national or local concern (river basin specific pollutants) for control at the relevant level.

The first component constitutes the major part of the Union's strategy against the chemical pollution of surface waters. It is set out in Article 16 of the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC. This requires the establishment of a list of priority substances, these to be selected from amongst those presenting a significant risk to or via the aquatic environment at EU level. It also requires the designation of a subset of priority hazardous substances, and proposals for controls to reduce the emissions, discharges and losses of all the substances and to phase out the emissions, discharges and losses of the subset of priority hazardous substances.

In order to improve the quality of the monitoring data obtained under the Water Framework Directive, the Commission adopted Directive 2009/90/EC laying down technical specifications for chemical analysis and monitoring of water status.

The regulation of chemical pollutants in water began with Directive 76/464/EEC.  The introduction of provisions under the Water Framework Directive includes transitional elements such that parts of the earlier legislation are applicable until the end of 2012.

Priority Substances legislation

The Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC established provision for a list of Priority Substances (Annex X of the Directive). Decision 2455/2001/EC established the First list, and Directive 2008/105/EC (the Environmental Quality Standards Directive – EQSD) set the quality standards as required by Article 16(8) of the Water Framework Directive. Annex II to the EQSD replaced Annex X of the Water Framework Directive.

Member States are required to take actions to meet the quality standards in the EQSD by 2015 as part of chemical status (Water Framework Directive Article 4 and Annex V point 1.4.3). For this purpose a programme of measures (according to Water Framework Directive Article 11) has to become operational by 2012.  The river basin specific pollutants are considered as part of ecological status.

Details and documentation are available here.

Discharge of dangerous substances (Directive 76/464/EEC)

Community policy concerning dangerous or hazardous substances in European waters was introduced almost three decades ago by Council Directive on pollution caused by discharges of certain dangerous substances (Directive 76/464/EEC, codified as 2006/11/EC). Several substances have been regulated in specific directives (also called 'daughter' directives) in the 1980s by defining Community-wide emission limit values and quality objectives in the surface and coastal waters.

As part of the restructuring of the Community water policy, Directive 76/464/EEC was integrated into the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC which was adopted in September 2000, and Directive 76/464/EEC will be fully repealed in 2013.

Details and documentation relating to Directive 76/464/EEC are available here.

Commission Directive 2009/90/EC on technical specifications for chemical analysis and monitoring of water status

The Commission Directive laying down, pursuant to Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, technical specifications for chemical analysis and monitoring of water status entered into force on 21 August 2009. The objective of this Directive is to establish common quality rules for chemical analysis and monitoring of water, sediment and biota carried out by Member States.

Strategic approach to pharmaceuticals in the environment

On 11 March 2019, the Commission adopted a strategic approach to pharmaceuticals in the environment (all languages available here) as required by Article 8c of Directive 2008/105/EC as amended by Directive 2013/39/EU.

The approach covers all phases of the lifecycle of pharmaceuticals, from design and production through use to disposal. More information, including on the next steps, is available in the Press Release and Memo published when the initiative was adopted.

The following steps were involved in developing the strategic approach:

A public consultation on the roadmap for the initiative was held in the spring of 2017. A public consultation on policy options for possible inclusion in the approach was held from November 2017 until February 2018, and a targeted stakeholder consultation, aimed at experts already familiar with the issues, was held from November 2017 until January 2018, according to a consultation strategy.

The following reports, prepared as part of a supporting study, were made available ahead of the consultations: a study report providing an overview of recent evidence on pharmaceuticals in the environment, a background document and a summary background document.

The results of the consultations were used to revise the study report and background document. The final study report includes the revised background document and the consultation questions, as well as a conclusions section. The final study report was used, along with information in an earlier study report, and the outcomes of a workshop held in September 2014, to inform the development of the strategic approach.