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Environmental quality standards applicable to surface water



Directive 2008/105/EC setting environmental quality standards in the field of water policy


  • It sets out environmental quality standards (EQSs) concerning the presence in surface water* of certain substances or groups of substances identified as priority pollutants because of the significant risk they pose to or via the aquatic environment. These standards are in line with the strategy and objectives of the EU’s Water Framework Directive (Directive 2000/60/EC).
  • It repeals Directives 82/176/EEC, 83/513/EEC, 84/156/EEC, 84/491/EEC and 86/280/EEC with effect from 22 December 2012.


The directive sets environmental quality standards for priority substances and eight other pollutants. These substances include the metals cadmium, lead, mercury and nickel, and their compounds; benzene; polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH); and several pesticides. Several of these priority substances are classed as hazardous.

The EQSs in Directive 2008/105/EC are limits on the concentration of the priority substances and 8 other pollutants in water (or biota*), i.e. thresholds which must not be exceeded if a good chemical status is to be met. There are 2 types of water standard:

  • a threshold for the average concentration of the substance concerned calculated from measurements over a 1-year period. The purpose of this standard is to ensure protection against long-term exposure to pollutants in the aquatic environment;
  • a maximum allowable concentration of the substance concerned, i.e. the maximum for any single measurement. The purpose of this standard is to ensure protection against short-term exposure, i.e. pollution peaks.

The EQSs are different for:

  • inland surface waters (rivers and lakes);
  • other surface waters (transitional, coastal and territorial waters).

EU countries must ensure compliance with the EQSs. They must also take measures to ensure that the concentrations of substances that tend to accumulate in sediment and/or biota do not increase significantly.

Directive 2013/39/EU

Directive 2013/39/EU updated the EQSs for 7 of the 33 original priority substances in line with the latest scientific and technical knowledge concerning the properties of those substances.

The revised EQSs for those 7 existing priority substances had to be taken into account for the first time in EU countries’ river basin management plans from 22 December 2015 with the aim of achieving good surface water chemical status for those substances by 22 December 2021.

It included 12 newly identified priority substances whose EQSs were be taken into account in drawing up supplementary monitoring programmes and in preliminary programmes of measures to be submitted to the European Commission by the end of 2018, with the aim of achieving good surface water chemical status for those substances by 22 December 2027.


Directive 2013/39/EU also required the Commission to establish a watch list of substances for which EU-wide monitoring data are to be gathered to support future prioritisation exercises. Implementing Decision (EU) 2018/840 establishes the latest watch list.

Mixing zones

Directive 2008/105/EC also requires EU countries to designate mixing zones near points of discharge, where the EQSs may be exceeded provided that the rest of the surface water body complies with those standards. These areas must be clearly identified in the river basin management plans established in accordance with the Water Framework Directive.


For each river basin district, EU countries must set up an inventory of emissions, discharges and losses of all substances listed in Part A of annex I to the directive. On the basis of this inventory, the Commission will verify whether progress is being made towards the objectives of:

  • gradually reducing pollution from priority substances; and
  • stopping or phasing out emissions, discharges and losses of priority hazardous substances.


It has applied since 13 January 2009 and had to become law in the EU countries by 13 July 2010.


Compliance with the EQSs should benefit both the public and the environment. It should reduce the costs of treating surface waters used for drinking water production, and improve the health of plants and animals living in these waters and of livestock drinking these waters.

For more information, see:


Surface water: Rivers, lakes, transitional waters and coastal waters. Surface waters also include territorial waters as far as chemical status is concerned.
Biota: the animal and plant life of a given habitat or region


Directive 2008/105/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 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 of the European Parliament and of the Council (OJ L 348, 24.12.2008, pp. 84-97)

Successive amendments to Directive 2008/105/EC have been incorporated in the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2018/840 of 5 June 2018 establishing a watch list of substances for Union-wide monitoring in the field of water policy pursuant to Directive 2008/105/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and repealing Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2015/495 (OJ L 141, 7.6.2018, pp. 9-12)

last update 26.10.2018