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Priority substances under the Water Framework Directive


Article 16 of the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) (WFD) sets out "Strategies against pollution of water", outlining the steps to be taken. The first step was to establish by way of Decision 2455/2001/EC a First list of priority substances to become Annex X of the WFD. These substances were selected from amongst those presenting a significant risk to or via the aquatic environment, 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 set environmental quality standards (EQS) for the substances in surface waters (river, lake, transitional and coastal) and confirmed their designation as priority or priority hazardous substances, the latter being a subset of particular concern.  As required by the WFD and EQSD, the Commission subsequently reviewed the list and in 2012 it put forward a proposal for a Directive amending the WFD and the EQSD as regards priority substances.

According to Annex V, point 1.4.3 of the WFD and Article 1 of the EQSD, good chemical status is reached for a water body when it complies with the EQS for all the priority substances and other pollutants listed in Annex I of the EQSD.

Proposal for a Directive amending the WFD and EQSD (COM(2011)876)

This proposal (COM(2011)876) includes a revised (second) list of priority substances, and provisions to improve the functioning of the legislation. The main features of the proposal are:

  • 15 additional priority substances, 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.

The proposal accompanies a report (COM(2011)875) from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the outcome of the review of Annex X to Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on priority substances in the field of water policy. More information and accompanying documents in the priority substances library.

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

Directive 2008/105/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on environmental quality standards in the field of water policy, amending and subsequently repealing Council Directives 82/176/EEC, 83/513/EEC, 84/156/EEC, 84/491/EEC, 86/280/EEC and amending Directive 2000/60/EC, was published in the Official Journal on 24 December 2008.

The EQSD established:

  • in Annex I, limits on concentrations of the priority substances in surface waters of 33 priority substances and 8 other pollutants;
  • 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(1) by 13 January 2011.

By replacing(2) 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. Their status was addressed in the Commission proposal on environmental quality standards that became the Directive on Environmental Quality Standards (Directive 2008/105/EC).

(1) Including to consider, for possible identification as priority substances, the substances set out in Annex III of Directive 2008/105/EC
(2) With effect from 22 December 2012