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Strategies against chemical pollution of surface waters - existing legislation and a new framework for action



European Union legislation provides for measures against chemical pollution of surface waters are active on two levels - with Community wide selection of substances of concern and Community wide measures and a requirement that Member States take measures at river basin level against relevant pollutants. There is currently a transitional period until the year 2013 from the "old" framework of Directive 76/464/EEC to the new Water Framework Directive.

Existing legislation on discharge of dangerous substances (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). 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 ongoing restructuring of the Community water policy, the Directive 76/464/EEC is now integrated in the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) which was adopted in September 2000, and Directive 76/464/EEC will be fully repealed in 2013. Directive 76/464/EEC has been codified as 2006/11/EC. 

Chemical pollution of surface waters and the Water Framework Directive

The major part on Community strategy against pollution of surface waters control policy is set out in Article 16of the Water Framework Directive which lays down new procedures for the identification of substances and development of control measures. As a first step, the European Parliament and Council adopted Decision No 2455/2001/EC establishing the list of priority substances in the field of water policy and amending Directive 2000/60/EC. This decision identifies a list of substances of concern (priority substances) that present a significant risk to or via the aquatic environment.

On 17 July 2006, the Commission adopted a proposed Directive setting environmental quality standards for the priority substances which Member States must achieve by 2015, to ensure "good chemical surface water status". The proposal also requires progressive reduction of emissions, losses and discharges of all priority substances, and phase-out or cessation of emissions, losses and discharges of priority hazardous substances within 20 years.

Under the Water Framework Directive, Member States shall furthermore set quality standards for river basin specific pollutants, identified in accordance with that Directive and take action to meet those quality standards by 2015 as part of ecological status (Article 4, 11 and Annex V, WFD). For this purpose a programme of measures shall be in place by 2009, and become operational by 2012. This procedure will then replace Directive 76/464/EEC upon its repeal.


A number of reports on the implementation of Community legislation and legal acts on chemical pollution of surface waters are available to download from the Chemical pollution of surface water library.


If you have any questions about the priority substances under the Water Framework Directive or Directive 76/464/EEC and its related specific directives or ideas about how to improve this site, please send mail here.