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2.2.2        Chemical status

For surface waters, good chemical status is defined by limits (environmental quality standards (EQS)) on the concentration of certain pollutants found across the EU, known as priority substances. In the second RBMPs, 31 % of surface water bodies are in good chemical status, while 35 % have not achieved good chemical status and for 34 % their status is unknown[2].

In many Member States, relatively few substances are responsible for failure to achieve good chemical status. Mercury causes failure in a large number of water bodies. If the widespread pollution by ubiquitous priority substances, including mercury, is omitted, the proportion of water bodies in good chemical status increases to 64 %, with 3 % that have not achieved good status and 34 % whose status is unknown[3]. The main reasons for failure to achieve good status are atmospheric deposition and insufficiently treated discharges from waste water treatment plants.

Since the publication of the first RBMPs, Member States have made progress in tackling priority substances, leading to a reduction in the number of water bodies failing to meet standards for substances such as priority metals (cadmium, lead and nickel) and pesticides.

[2] Compared to the results in EEA (2018) there is a marked increase in the proportion of surface water bodies with unknown chemical status (from 16 % to 34 %) due to nearly all surface water bodies in Norway and Ireland having unknown chemical status. The high proportion of unknown status reduces the percentage in good or failing to achieve good chemical status. See also

[3] The high proportion unknown status also reduces the proportion in good chemical status from 81 % to 64 %.

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