Scottish Marine and Freshwater Science Volume 4 Number 4: Measurement of Contaminants and their Effects in Environmental Samples - Proposal for the Revision of the Sampling Programme

Review of contaminant monitoring currently undertaken in Scotland's seas


The Marine Strategy Framework Directive ( MSFD) took effect on 17 June 2008 (Directive 2008/56/ EC, 0040:EN:PDF)
and was transposed into UK law in July 2010 through the Marine Strategy Regulations 2010. The aim of the MSFD is to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status ( GES) in the marine environment by the year 2020 at the latest. The Directive sets out eleven qualitative descriptors against which GES should be assessed. Descriptor 8 states that 'Concentrations of contaminants are at levels not giving rise to pollution effects' . The Directive required an Initial Assessment of status by July 2012 and the identification by 2014 of any measures required to achieve GES. The UK State of the Seas report, Charting Progress 2 - The State of UK Seas 1 and Scotland's Marine Atlas 2, were used as the basis for the UK Initial Assessment 3. A public consultation exercise on the UK Initial Assessment and the UK's Targets and Indicators for GES was recently undertaken by Defra; a report on the consultation exercise will be produced by Defra and the Devolved Administrations in due course. Monitoring programmes for the assessment of environmental status should be in place by 2014, while a programme of measures has to be established by 31 December 2015 with notification to the commission by 30 March 2016. The next status assessments are due in 2018.

Task Groups were established by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre ( JRC) for 10 of the 11 MSFD Descriptors (not Descriptor 7: Alteration of hydrographical conditions); the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea ( ICES) and the JRC produced advice on the scope of Descriptor 8 4. In that document, contaminants were defined as:

' substances or groups of substances that are toxic, persistent and liable to bioaccumulate, and other substances or groups of substances which give rise to an equivalent level of concern'.

Pollution effects were defined as:

' direct and/or indirect adverse impacts of contaminants on the marine environment such as harm to living resources or marine ecosystems, including loss of biodiversity, hazards to human health, the hindering of marine activities, such as fishing, tourism, recreation and other legitimate uses of the sea, impairment of the quality for use of sea water and reduction of amenities or, in general, impairment of the sustainable use of marine goods and services'.

Contaminants found in the marine environment can be from either anthropogenic or natural sources. However, most contaminants are produced by anthropogenic activities. Direct or indirect releases to rivers, from industrial discharges and from wastewater treatment work discharges, are a major source of a range of contaminants. Furthermore, run-off from urban areas and atmospheric deposition continue to be diffuse sources of hazardous substances to the marine environment.

MSFD Descriptor 8 Requirements: Targets and Indicators

Details of the criteria and indicators for GES for each of the eleven descriptors are provided in the European Commission Decision of 1 September 2010 (Com Decision 2010/477/ EU). Member States must use these when implementing the Directive.

For Descriptor 8, the Commission Decision Document states that:

  • The concentration of contaminants in the marine environment and their effects need to be assessed taking into account the impacts and threats to the ecosystem.
  • Relevant provisions of Directive 2000/60/ EC ( WFD) in territorial and/or coastal waters have to be taken into consideration to ensure proper coordination of the implementation of the two legal frameworks, having also regard to the information and knowledge gathered and approaches developed in Regional Sea Conventions.

The indicators listed in Commission Decision 2010/477/ EU for Descriptor 8 are:

  • 8.1. Concentration of contaminants - Concentration of the contaminants measured in the relevant matrix (such as biota, sediment and water) in a way that ensures comparability with the assessments under Directive 2000/60/ EC.
  • 8.2.1 Effects of contaminants - Levels of pollution effects on the ecosystem components concerned, having regard to the selected biological processes and taxonomic groups where a cause/effect relationship has been established and needs to be monitored.
  • 8.2.2 Occurrence, origin (where possible), extent of significant acute pollution events ( e.g. slicks from oil and oil products) and their impact on biota physically affected by this pollution.

Descriptor 8 covers those substances which are classed as priority substances for the Water Framework Directive ( WFD). Commission Decision 2010/477/ EU states that for Descriptor 8 'Member States have to consider the substances or groups of substances, where relevant for the marine environment, that 'are listed as priority substances in Annex X to Directive 2000/60/ EC and further regulated in Directive 2008/105/ EC [environmental quality standards in the field of water policy] , which are discharged into the concerned marine region, sub-region or subdivision'. The WFD (2000/60/ EC) and the EQSD (2008/105/ EC) have since been amended by the Priority Substances Directive ( PSD; 2013/39/ EU) which lists 45 Priority Substances, of which 21 are Priority Hazardous Substances. For each substance, the PSD specifies the Environmental Quality Standards ( EQSs) to be used in assessing compliance with the WFD, whether compliance monitoring should be in water or biota, and also whether trend monitoring in biota and/or sediment is required. The Priority Substances, their saltwater and/or biota EQS values and requirements for trend analysis are listed in Appendix 1 to this report; the list includes metals, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, biocides, volatile organic compounds, alkylphenols, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ( PAHs) and phthalates.

The UK Government and Devolved Administrations developed proposals for more detailed targets and indicators of Good Environmental Status for each of the eleven descriptors, through which the UK will measure progress towards achieving or maintaining Good Environmental Status.

For Descriptor 8, three GES target and indicators were proposed by the UK 3:

  • Concentrations of substances identified within relevant legislation and international obligations are below the concentrations at which adverse effects are likely to occur ( e.g. are less than Environmental Quality Standards ( EQS) applied within the Water Framework Directive and Environmental Assessment Criteria ( EAC) applied within the OSPAR Commission).
  • The intensity of biological or ecological effects due to contaminants is below the toxicologically-based standards agreed by the OSPAR Commission as appropriate for MSFD purposes, in a statistically significant number of samples at relevant monitoring stations.
  • For oil/chemical spills - As a wide range of oils and chemicals may be spilled, targets will be incident-specific and will need to be derived at the time. For spilled chemical compounds relevant assessment criteria ( e.g. established EQSs and EACs) will be used to help establish significance of impact and appropriate response.

This report reviews the contaminants monitoring requirements and activities currently undertaken in the Scottish marine environment and the suitability of these activities in addressing the requirements of Descriptor 8.

Current Scottish Monitoring Requirements

In Scotland a number of the contaminants highlighted to be of concern are monitored routinely in sediment and biota by Marine Scotland Science ( MSS) and/or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency ( SEPA). Monitoring of contaminants and their biological effects in the Scottish marine environment is undertaken as part of the UK Clean Seas Environment Monitoring Programme ( CSEMP). The main focus of the CSEMP has been to meet the temporal trend monitoring requirements of the OSPAR international agreement and in respect of compliance with EC Directives such as the Water Framework Directive ( WFD), Dangerous Substances Directive ( DSD; 76/464/ EEC) and Shellfish Waters Directive ( SWD: 79/923/ EEC). The DSD and SWD will be repealed from 23 December 2013, from when the WFD will be the primary Directive concerning transitional and coastal water quality; with respect to chemical status, the provisions of the WFD apply to territorial waters ( i.e. out to 12 nm).


The OSPAR Coordinated Environmental Monitoring Programme ( CEMP) is focussed on monitoring the concentrations of selected contaminants taken from the OSPAR List of Chemicals for Priority Action. In addition some biological effects measurements are included on the CEMP and have been monitored routinely for a number of years. The CEMP determinands are 5:

  • metals (cadmium, mercury and lead) in biota and sediment.
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ( PAHs) (anthracene, benz[ a]anthracene, benzo[ ghi]perylene, benzo[ a]pyrene, chrysene, fluoranthene, ideno[1,2,3- cd]pyrene, pyrene and phenanthrene) in biota and sediment.
  • polychlorinated biphenyls ( PCBs) ( ICES7: CB28, 52, 101, 118, 138, 153 and 180) in biota and sediment.
  • brominated flame retardants: Hexabromocyclododecane ( HBCDD) in biota and sediment and polybrominated diphenyl ethers ( PBDEs) ( BDE28, 47, 66, 85, 99, 100, 153, 154 and 183 in biota and sediment, and BDE209 in sediment).
  • tributyl tin ( TBT): TBT-specific biological effects and TBT concentrations in sediment or biota . Monitoring of TBT concentrations in the marine environment in either sediments or biota should be carried out in parallel with monitoring of TBT-specific biological effects.

Further determinands are classed as pre- CEMP. OSPAR Contracting Parties are preparing to monitor these in a co-ordinated manner through the development of monitoring guidance, quality assurance procedures and/or assessment tools. Currently the pre- CEMP includes the following:

  • planar PCBs ( CB77, 126 and 169) in biota. Monitoring of those congeners in sediment or biota should be undertaken only if levels of marker PCBs are e.g. 100 times higher than the Background Assessment Concentration for these marker PCBs.
  • alkylated PAHs: C1-, C2-, and C3-naphthalenes, C1-, C2- and C3-phenanthrenes, and C1-, C2- and C3-dibenzothiophenes and the parent compound dibenzothiophene in biota and sediment.
  • perfluorooctane sulphonate ( PFOS) in sediment, biota and water.
  • dioxins and furans in biota and sediment.
  • PAH- and metal-specific biological effects.
  • general biological effects.

The strategic objective of the OSPAR Strategy for Hazardous Substances is to ' Move towards the cessation of discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances by 2020 with the ultimate aim of achieving concentrations in the marine environment of near background for naturally occurring substances and close to zero for man-made substances' 6.

Analyses of sediment, fish and shellfish for contaminants and effects included on the OSPAR CEMP, and some pre- CEMP (Tables 1 and 2), is undertaken by MSS and/or SEPA as part of the UK CSEMP. OSPAR Contracting Parties can opt out of monitoring CEMP determinands if no significant anthropogenic inputs to the marine environment have occurred or are likely to occur, or if concentrations in the marine environment are near background values for naturally occurring substances and close to zero for man-made substances. i.e. "concentrations close to zero and at least below the limits of detection of the most advanced analytical techniques in general use" 5.


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