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Environmental Quality Standards (EQS)

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water"Environmental quality standard" (EQS) means the concentration of a particular pollutant or group of pollutants in water, sediment (any material transported by water and settled to the bottom) or biota (all living organisms of an area) which should not be exceeded in order to protect human health and the environment.

The Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), one of the most important pieces of European environmental legislation in recent years, requires that all inland and coastal waters achieve ‘‘good status’’ by 2015. Article 16 of the Directive describes how and by when Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) for pollutants should be developed, and states that pollutants presenting a significant risk to or via water should be identified by the European Commission and classified as priority substances, with the most hazardous of these classified as priority hazardous substances. The directive also foresees the design of the most cost-effective set of measures aimed at achieving load reduction of those substances, taking into account both product and process sources.

Thus a directive (2008/105/EC) was approved to establish "Environmental Quality Standard" (EQS) limits for 33 priority substances and 8 priority hazardous substances in surface waters, but also, for some of these compounds, in sediment and biota. 

EU Member States must ensure compliance with the Environmental Quality Standards, and verify that the concentration of substances concerned does not increase significantly in sediments and/or the relevant biota. 

JRC-IHCP's activities

Since 2006 the JRC-IHCP (Institute for Health and Consumer Protection) has been working on a comprehensive prioritisation scheme for these substances, also taking into account modelling.
Generation of ecotoxicity test data is one option for filling gaps when deriving EQS, but there are also options that avoid testing, such as the use of (Quantitative) Structure Activity Relationships (QSARs), Quantitative Structure-Property Relationships (QSPRs), Activity-Activity Relationships (AARs), Quantitative Structure Activity- Activity Relationships, or read-across from similar substances. All of these non-testing methods are based on the idea that properties (including biological activities) of a chemical substance depend on its intrinsic nature and can be directly predicted from its molecular structure and inferred from the properties of similar compounds whose activities are known.


To derive EQS for priority substances, a specific methodology has been conceived, which will be implemented by competent authorities of EU Member States in order to comply with the EU legislation in 2011. Other European countries are also interested in this exercise, especially the so-called candidate and potential candidate countries. Thus there is a need of providing specialised training courses to interested stakeholders.


The JRC-IHCP organises trainings on EQS targeted to competent authorities in EU Member States and in countries eligible for the JRC Enlargement and Integration Action [1]. In 2011, a practical course on environmental quality standards (EQS) derivation in water, sediment and biota has been held in Somma Lombardo (Varese, Italy).


Useful links:

[1] Serbia, Montenegro, FYROM (Macedonia), Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel, and Iceland. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) gives scientific and technical support to countries on the road towards EU membership, new member states and associated countries. It supports the transfer of the EU legal framework (acquis communautaire) to national legislation and facilitates scientific and technical exchange.

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