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On 26 July 2021, the Commission launched an online public consultation to seek views on the upcoming review of the lists of pollutants occurring in surface and ground waters and corresponding regulatory standards. The feedback period ends on 1 November 2021.

In addition to the online public consultation, the Commission also launched a dedicated ‘expert consultation’, which is available here.

The expert consultation will run in parallel with the online public consultation (aimed at stakeholders with less expertise), and will be available online for 10 weeks from 27th of July onwards.

Priority substances under the Water Framework Directive


The first list of priority substances (Annex X to the WFD) was established by way of Decision 2455/2001/EC using the approaches outlined in Article 16 of the WFD.

This first list was replaced by Annex II of the Directive on Environmental Quality Standards (Directive 2008/105/EC) (EQSD), also known as the Priority Substances Directive, which also set environmental quality standards (EQS) for the substances in surface waters.  The list was replaced again in 2013 by Annex I to Directive 2013/39/EU, which also included EQS and some other provisions on chemical pollutants.

Directive 2013/39/EU amending the WFD and EQSD

Commission proposal (COM(2011)876) led to the adoption of Directive 2013/39/EU amending the list of priority substances (Annex X to the WFD), and the EQSD. It introduced provisions to improve the functioning of the legislation. It resulted in:

  • 12 additional priority substances (45 in total), 6 of them designated as priority hazardous substances;
  • stricter EQS for four existing priority substances and slightly revised EQS for three others;
  • the designation of two existing priority substances as priority hazardous substances;
  • the introduction of biota standards for several substances;
  • provisions to improve the efficiency of monitoring and the clarity of reporting with regard to certain substances behaving as ubiquitous persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) substances;
  • a provision for a watch-list mechanism designed to allow targeted EU-wide monitoring of substances of possible concern to support the prioritisation process in future reviews of the priority substances list;
  • a requirement for the Commission to develop a strategic approach to the pollution of water by pharmaceutical substances.

The proposal accompanied a report (COM(2011)875) from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the outcome of the review of the priority substances list. More information and accompanying documents in the priority substances library.

Directive on Environmental Quality Standards (Directive 2008/105/EC)

Directive 2008/105/EC (the EQSD) established:

  • in Annex I, limits on concentrations of the priority substances in surface waters of from List I of the Dangerous Substances Directive;
  • the list of 33 priority substances in Annex II as Annex X of the Water Framework Directive (WFD);
  • the possibility of applying EQS for sediment and biota, instead of those for water;
  • the  possibility of designating mixing zones adjacent to discharge points where concentrations of the substances in Annex I might be expected to exceed their EQS;
  • a requirement for Member States to establish an inventory of emissions, discharges and losses of the substances in Annex I;
  • an obligation to review the list of priority substances by 13 January 2011, including to consider the substances in Annex III.

By replacing (with effect from 22 December 2012) five older directives, the EQSD contributed to the Commission's Better Regulation initiative.

Decision 2455/2001/EC on a First list of priority substances

A proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the list of priority substances in the field of water policy was first presented by the Commission on 7 February 2000 (COM (2000) 47 final). This proposal had to be revised because the final agreement on the Water Framework Directive (WFD) in the conciliation of 28/29 June 2000 introduced a new requirement for the Commission to identify the priority hazardous substances. The final Decision (2455/2001/EC) was adopted on 20 November 2001.

The preparation of the first list of priority substances involved a procedure called COMMPS (COmbined Monitoring-based and Modelling-based Priority Setting) which was developed to identify the substances of highest concern at Community level.

The list identified 33 substances or group of substances shown to be of major concern for European Waters. Within this list, 11 substances were identified as priority hazardous substances and therefore subject to cessation or phasing out of discharges, emissions and losses within an appropriate timetable not exceeding 20 years. A further 14 substances were identified as being subject to later review.