Concentrations of contaminants in the water column in UK coastal waters since 2012 generally remain below the Environmental Quality Standards set in the Environmental Quality Standards Directive at which adverse effects occur in marine life. In 2015, 96% of the UK Water Framework Directive (HM Government, 2003) coastal water bodies have achieved Water Framework Directive (European Commission, 2000) good chemical status.

Background

UK Target on contaminants in the water column

This is one of the indicators used to assess progress against the target relevant for contaminants set out in the Marine Strategy Part One (HM Government, 2012). The target requires that concentrations of substances identified within relevant legislation and international obligations are below levels at which adverse effects are likely to occur. In this case, the levels used are the Environmental Quality Standards set out in the Priority Substances Directive 2013/39/EU (European Commission, 2013). The contaminants under consideration were those on the Water Framework Directive Priority Substances List, but do not include those with biota Environmental Quality Standards.

Key Pressures and impacts

In the UK Initial Assessment (HM Government, 2012) the key pressure associated with this indicator was the contaminants that reach coastal waters from various sources through atmospheric deposition, riverine inputs, contaminated estuarine and coastal sediments and direct discharges to the sea. These pressures continue to be relevant.

Measures taken to address the impacts

There is a robust UK legislative framework in place for controlling and reducing pollution from contaminants posing a risk to coastal waters and these are described in the UK Marine Strategy Part Three (HM Government, 2015a). In particular, many of the measures put in place through the Water Framework Directive (European Commission, 2000). River Basin Management Plans (HM Government, 2015b) aim to prevent point and diffuse sources of priority hazardous substances from entering the water column in surface coastal waters where problems have been identified. These also include marketing and controls of products containing contaminants.

Monitoring, assessment and regional co-operation

Areas that have been assessed

The assessments were based on the 561 Water Framework Directive coastal water bodies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These extend to 1 nautical mile in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 3 nautical miles in Scotland. The results were aggregated to provide a UK assessment.  

Monitoring and assessment methods

Monitoring and assessment of the status of contaminants were conducted within the 2015 Water Framework Directive River Basin Management Plans (HM Government, 2015b) classifications, using methods and principles set out in monitoring guidance developed by the UK Water Framework Directive Technical Advisory Group. There was insufficient comparable information to analyse trends over the time periods used. Chemicals were monitored at sites where, based on catchment knowledge, they were likely to be present.

Assessment thresholds

Concentrations in water were assessed against the appropriate Environmental Quality Standard values in the Environmental Quality Standards Directive (European Commission, 2013). These standards are set at concentrations below which contaminants should not cause chronic effects in sensitive species and present no significant risk to the water environment.

Regional co-operation

There has been cooperation between officials and scientists at a national level to compare results of Water Framework Directive (European Commission, 2000) and OSPAR assessments (for example: OSPAR Commission, 2017) of contaminants to provide a more joined up understanding of the sources of contaminants, how they move between environmental compartments, and the most appropriate assessment thresholds.

Figure 1. A Water Framework Directive sea water sample being processed (source: UK Environment Agency).

Assessment method

Assessments have been carried out referring to Guidance Document 19 “Guidance on Surface Water Monitoring under the Water Framework Directive” (European Commission, 2009).

Results

Findings in the UK Initial Assessment

In the UK initial assessment (HM Government, 2012) all coastal water bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland achieved good chemical status for contaminants, while in England and Wales, 91% of coastal waters assessed were at good chemical status. The assessments were made on the basis of information collected for the EU Dangerous Substances (European Commission, 2008) and Shellfish Waters Directives (European Commission, 2006).

Latest findings

The methodologies and substances considered in the latest 2015 River Basin Management Plans (HM Government, 2015) classifications have changed and are more robust, so the results are not directly comparable with those used for the 2012 assessment.

Status assessment

Across the UK, 540 Coastal Water Bodies out of 561 (96%) met the Environmental Quality Standards values and achieved good chemical status. The main chemicals causing failures were ubiquitous persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances (Polyaromatic hydrocarbons, lindane, tributyltin (commonly known as TBT) and mercury) and cypermethrin (Table 1). There is high confidence in these assessments.

Table 1. Summary of good chemical status in Water Framework Directive coastal water bodies, by region (River Basin Management Plans (HM Government, 2015).

UK water Framework Directive region

Period covered

Number of coastal water bodies assessed (monitored and unmonitored)

Percentage of coastal water bodies achieving good chemical status

Particular substances causing failure of good chemical status

Commentary on progress

England

2012 to 2014

62

92

lindane, TBT and mercury

Failing chemicals are investigated and appropriate measures are identified in the River Basin Management Plans

Scotland

2007 to 2015

457

100

no failures reported

 

Wales

2012 to 2014

23

65

Benzopyrene, flouranthene, mercury,

Failing chemicals are investigated and monitored for temporal trends. Appropriate measures are identified in the River Basin Management Plans

Northern Ireland

2009 to 2015

19

58

Cypermethrin, Polyaromatic hydrocarbons, lindane

Failing substances will be monitored 12 monthly in River Basin Management Plans ii to increase confidence. Appropriate measures are identified in the River Basin Management Plans

Whole UK

 

561

96

 

 

Conclusions

96% of the UK Water Framework Directive coastal water bodies have good chemical status in the 2015 River Basin Management Plans (HM Government, 2015). Most of the failures are caused by ubiquitous, persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals. These often entered the marine environment before their usage in products was banned or restricted and which will remain in the marine environment for many decades.

Knowledge gaps

The main knowledge gap is if chemicals not included on the Water Framework Directive priority lists (HM Government, 2016) and “watch list” related to this indicator might also be affecting sea life. This is being addressed through the introduction of an analytical scanning technique. This involves gas chromatography mass spectrometry of water and sediments to qualitatively check the presence of a wide range of additional chemicals. Work is continuing to improve understanding of the risks of these substances and potential costs. A proportion of investigations and cost and benefits assessments should be completed to inform the decisions in the next water company business planning cycle.

References

European Commission (2000) ‘Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy’ Official Journal of the European Union L 327, 22.12.2000, p. 1–73 (viewed on 28 November 2018)

European Commission (2006) ‘Directive 2006/113/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 on the quality required of shellfish waters (codified version)’ Official Journal of the European Union L 376, 27.12.2006, pages 14–20 (viewed on 28 November 2018)

European Commission (2009) ‘Guidance on surface water chemical monitoring under the water framework directive’ Common Implementation Strategy for the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), guidance document Number 19, Technical Report 2009-025 (viewed on 29 November 2018)

European Commission (2008) ‘Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, amending and repealing Directives 67/548/EEC and 1999/45/EC, and amending Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 (Text with EEA relevance)’ Official Journal of the European Union L 353, 31.12.2008, pages 1–1355 (viewed on 28 November 2018)

European Commission (2013) ‘Directive 2013/39/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 August 2013 amending Directives 2000/60/EC and 2008/105/EC as regards priority substances in the field of water policy Text with EEA relevance’ Official Journal of the European Union L226 24.8.2013, pages 1-17 (viewed on 13 November 2018)

European Commission (2015) ‘Development of the First Watch List under Environmental Quality Standards Directive’ Joint Research Centre Report EUR 27142 EN (viewed on 20 November 2018)

HM Government (2003) ‘The Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003’ (viewed on 8 November 2018)

HM Government (2012) ‘Marine Strategy Part One: UK Initial Assessment and Good Environmental Status’ (viewed on 5 July 2018)

HM Government (2015a) ‘Marine Strategy Part Three: UK Programme of Measures’ December 2015 (viewed on 5 July 2018)

HM Government (2015b) ‘River basin management plans: 2015’ (viewed on 15 November 2018)

HM Government (2016) ‘EQSD List Priority Substance List (viewed on 13 November 2018)

OSPAR Commission (2017) ‘Intermediate Assessment 2017’ (viewed on 21 September 2018)

Acknowledgements

Assessment metadata
Assessment Typecontaminants in coastal waters
 

D8 Contaminants

 
 
Point of contact emailmarinestrategy@defra.gov.uk
Metadata dateWednesday, April 1, 2020
TitleConcentration of contaminants in the water column in coastal waters
Resource abstract
Linkage
Conditions applying to access and use

© Crown copyright, licenced under the Open Government Licence (OGL).

Assessment Lineage

Assessments have been carried out referring to Guidance Document 19 Guidance on Surface Water Monitoring under the Water Framework Directive (European Commission, 2009https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/91d313f0-2cc7-4874-b101-a7dba97401b0/language-en/format-PDF/source-80697017

Dataset metadata

please, see the River Basin Management Plans: 2015  https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/river-basin-management-plans-2015 

Dataset DOI

Marine Scotland. 2018. Contaminant and biological effect data to support MSFD Descriptor 8 1999-2015 by CSEMP Region. DOI: 10.7489/12111-1

The Metadata are “data about the content, quality, condition, and other characteristics of data” (FGDC Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata Workbook, Ver 2.0, May 1, 2000).

Metadata definitions

Assessment Lineage - description of data sets and method used to obtain the results of the assessment

Dataset – The datasets included in the assessment should be accessible, and reflect the exact copies or versions of the data used in the assessment. This means that if extracts from existing data were modified, filtered, or otherwise altered, then the modified data should be separately accessible, and described by metadata (acknowledging the originators of the raw data).

Dataset metadata – information on the data sources and characteristics of data sets used in the assessment (MEDIN and INSPIRE compliance).

Digital Object Identifier (DOI) – a persistent identifier to provide a link to a dataset (or other resource) on digital networks. Please note that persistent identifiers can be created/minted, even if a dataset is not directly available online.

Indicator assessment metadata – data and information about the content, quality, condition, and other characteristics of an indicator assessment.

MEDIN discovery metadata - a list of standardized information that accompanies a marine dataset and allows other people to find out what the dataset contains, where it was collected and how they can get hold of it.

Recommended reference for this indicator assessment

Richard Moxon1 2018. Concentration of contaminants in the water column in coastal waters. UK Marine Online Assessment Tool, available at: https://moat.cefas.co.uk/pressures-from-human-activities/contaminants/coastal-waters/

1Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs