Fact Sheet Special Issue 1 (January 2014)

The Derivation and Implementation of an Environmental Quality Standard for Nickel in European Surface Waters

The Water Framework Directive (WFD, 2000/60/EC) establishes a legal framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional and coastal waters, and groundwater in the European Union (EU). One of the objectives of the WFD is to protect, enhance, and restore surface water and groundwater in the EU, with the aim of achieving Good Status by 2015.


Waterbodies achieving good chemical status will need to pass all the EQS in Annex X of the WFD.

Substances that present a significant risk to the aquatic environment in the EU have been identified in Annex X of the WFD. These “priority substances” are further classified as having either “priority” or “priority hazardous” status. Compliance with Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) for priority substances is a requirement for achieving Good Status. In addition, priority hazardous substances will be subject to cessation or phasing out of discharges, emissions and losses within 20 years. Nickel and its compounds are priority substances, but not currently priority hazardous substances. Annex X of the WFD was superseded by Annex II of the Priority Substances Daughter Directive (2008/105/EC) in 2008. Annex I of the Priority Substances Daughter Directive includes details of the EQS values to be used for WFD surface water classification. In the absence of a comprehensive technical basis to set an EQS for nickel and nickel compounds an interim value of 20 µg/L was established as the EQS for nickel for inland and other surface waters. The Daughter Directive also states (Article 3, Paragraph 4) that the European Commission (EC) will examine technical and scientific progress, including the conclusion of the Existing Substances Regulation (793/93/EEC) risk assessments [i.e., the European Union Risk Assessment Report (EU RAR) for Nickel,] and registrations under REACH (EC 1907/2006), when proposing revisions to priority substances. In late 2009, the second review of WFD priority substances was initiated to revisit the priority status of existing EQS and revise existing EQS on the basis of new data. The review also proposed to identify additional substances that met the criteria for priority substances. The information from the nickel EU RAR has been considered in the recent revision of the Priority Substances Daughter Directive (2013/39/EU). As a result of this review the existing interim value of 20 µg Ni/L has been revised to 4 µg/L bioavailable nickel based on the following reasons:

  • The Priority Substance Daughter Directive requires that the results of the EU RAR are taken into account,
  • The value of 20 µg Ni/L has no ecological relevance (confirmed by the findings of the EU RAR), and
  • Several Member States have stated that the interim nickel EQS is not protective of aquatic systems and requires review.

This fact sheet describes the process for deriving and implementing the new EQS for nickel, which is applicable to all European freshwaters.

Fact Sheet Special Issue 1
(January 2014)

The Derivation and Implementation of an Environmental Quality Standard for Nickel in European Surface Waters