Hazardous Substances

Many man-made and naturally occurring chemicals end up in the North-East Atlantic as a result of land-based and sea-based human activities. Some of these chemicals are hazardous for the marine environment. The OSPAR Hazardous Substances Strategy sets the objective of preventing pollution of the maritime area by continuously reducing discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances, with the ultimate aim of achieving concentrations in the marine environment near background values for naturally occurring substances and close to zero for man-made synthetic substances.

The OSPAR Commission is implementing this strategy progressively by making every endeavour to move towards the target of the cessation of discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances by the year 2020. The hazardous substances related work is implemented by OSPAR's Hazardous Substances and Eutrophication Committee (HASEC).

OSPAR's work on hazardous substances comprises:

  • the identification of substances that are of concern for the marine
  • monitoring and assessment of the sources and pathways of contaminants and their concentrations and effects in the marine environment, and
  • identification of actions and measures required to achieve the Strategy objectives.

For OSPAR purposes, Hazardous Substances are defined as substances which are persistent, liable to bioaccumulate and toxic (PBT substances), or which give rise to an equivalent level of concern as the PBT substances. This might for example be concern that they can interfere with the hormone system of organisms. OSPAR has taken a systematic approach to identifying which of the steadily increasing number of substances on the market pose a risk for the marine environment and maintains a list of OSPAR chemicals for priority action and a List of Substances of Possible Concern.

OSPAR has adopted control measures promoting the application of best available techniques and associated emission and discharge limit values for the most important industries. Measures on substitution of hazardous substances, use bans or restrictions, and best environmental practices address releases of hazardous substances from diffuse sources, such as consumer products.

The data for contaminants in biota and in sediment are assessed annually, using the OSPAR Contaminants App: https://www.ices.dk/marine-data/assessment-tools/Pages/ospar-cat.aspx

For each chemical for priority action, OSPAR has developed a monitoring strategy that sets out the best way to collect data and information on sources, pathways, concentrations and effects, in order to track progress towards OSPAR's objectives for hazardous substances in periodic assessments. This includes long-term data collection under the OSPAR monitoring programmes for:

  • atmospheric inputs (Comprehensive Atmospheric Monitoring Programme - CAMP)
  • riverine inputs and direct discharges (Comprehensive Study on Riverine Inputs and Directive Discharges - RID)
  • concentrations and effects in the marine environment (Coordinated Environmental Monitoring programme - CEMP)