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European Commission


Brussels, 22 July 2013

Statement by Environment Commissioner Potočnik on the first reading agreement on the new Directive on Priority Substances in Water

"I welcome this agreement, which will deliver a much-needed update to the Union legislation on chemical pollutants in water. The revised legislation should ensure better protection of the environment and human health, better information for the public about progress on improving water quality, and better reviews of the legislation in the future. While the Commission proposal was substantially weakened during the negotiations, I remain convinced that the final result will make a significant contribution to improving water quality, with a positive impact on health. I now look forward to working with the Member States to ensure the smooth and effective implementation of the Directive."


EU legislation takes a cost-effective, progressive approach to preventing water pollution from pollutants that present a significant risk to human health and the environment. This latest agreement will update a list of "priority substances" known to pollute water. The emissions of priority substances to water must be reduced over time, and in some cases completely phased out.

An initial list of 33 priority substances, including several industrial chemicals and pesticides, was drawn up in 2001. In 2008, the first Priority Substances Directive set environmental quality standards for those priority substances, and for eight other pollutants, to be met by 2015. This second and latest list contains a further 12 priority substances selected through thorough review of the latest scientific evidence. They include substances that are very persistent and bio-accumulative, highly toxic, or suspected of being endocrine disruptors. The new substances are to be monitored regularly in all Member States and, starting no later than 2021, action will have to be taken where necessary to reduce or eliminate emissions and bring concentrations down to safe levels by 2027.

The update also introduces provisions to improve the information presented to the public on the chemical status of water, making it more comprehensible and more accessible, and a new "watch list" mechanism to improve the evidence base for identifying priority substances in the future. Under this new mechanism, Member States will monitor the additional substances to assess the risk they pose to the environment and human health, with a view to their possible classification as priority substances in the future. Three pharmaceutical substances originally proposed by the Commission for inclusion in the list of priority substances will be included on the first watch list, so that measures to address the risks they pose can be determined. Concerns in relation to other pharmaceutical substances in the environment will be followed up through the development of a strategic approach to the issue.

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