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5.1.         Introduction

Earlier chapters discussed approaches to tackle the significant concern that we are failing to adequately protect aquatic ecosystems from mixtures of low concentrations of chemicals, and reviewed information available for established water pollutants. Once released into the aquatic environment, persistent, harmful chemicals are very difficult to control and may have long-lasting effects. We need effective ways to protect our water resources, so as to ensure their long term sustainability.

Two major challenges confront our understanding of chemicals in surface waters across Europe. The first is that, despite significant effort, we struggle to show that at the European level there have been improvements in the environment resulting from increased controls of the most well-known pollutants. The second is that chemical status under the WFD reflects scientific understanding that is at least 20 years old.

Headline chemical status is driven by the “one out all out” approach of the WFD, where the status reflects that of the worst component. For chemicals, the pass/fail nature of the EQS means that the failure of one priority substance or one RBSP will lead to the water body failing to achieve good status. Although it is possible to see improvements in individual priority substances (EEA, 2018a), the revision of EQS and addition of new priority substances to reflect better understanding of chemical risks represents recurrent new challenges to achieving good chemical status. This difficulty is more than a “communications issue”. Maintaining political support and resources towards improved environmental protection is difficult at every level  when little, no, or even negative progress is made.

There is a need to be able to communicate about improvements made according to the standards when they were set. Equally, the WFD needs to reflect robust, new scientific understanding which identifies new risks. This chapter reflects on the findings of earlier chapters and proposes some possible ways forward.

Previous comments

  • sommelin (Linda Sommer) 26 Sep 2018 10:32:41


    'The second is that chemical status under the WFD reflects scientific understanding that is at least 20 years old.'

    Although there are some scientific approaches of new chemical and effect-based methods the old-fashionned methods are a very useful and appropriate tool of emission control. In contrast experiences in using new methods and approaches in emission control are very rare. This sentence suggests however that the recent methods used in europeen legislation are not adequate and scientifically not reliable. The archieved efforts in reduction of chemical pollution show the opposite.

  • Bertrand Vallet (invited by Caroline Whalley) 28 Sep 2018 12:11:05


    The one-out-all-out principle should be kept as the status of water bodies should be evaluated as a whole and look for a good status for all water bodies. However, communication should be improved, especially because it becomes difficult to justify investments for no progress. It is not only a question of communication of course but communication helps to maintain the pressure. Who wants to invest in something that is never improving. New issues can come and need to be taken into account, mobilise investment and be solved (so we can reach good status). The trend of the status need also to be taken into account to see that water authorities are not working for nothing. We are in favour of an instrument like "distance to compliance" that would allow to see the global picture and follow trend in time.

    EurEau issues a position paper on this specific point, you can consult it here:

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