The group of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons exceeds the values of the environmental quality standards for chemicals regulated in the German Ordinance on Surface Waters.

Chemicals can enter waters through industrial or municipal effluent discharges, erosion or air. Exceedances of the environmental quality standard (EQS) indicate that chemicals are occurring in concentrations which are harmful to biota or may limit their use (e.g. consumption of mussels). On account of their persistent properties some chemicals, their production, use and release is subject to international regulation under the Stockholm Convention. For a more detailed assessment of these substances see Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP). The production, import and placing on the market of further chemicals is regulated by the European Chemicals Regulation (REACH).

For the period 2014-2016, the monitoring network of the German Working Group on water issues of the Federal States and the Federal Government (LAWA) recorded concentrations above those of the EQS for the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) anthracene, fluoranthene, benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[k]fluoranthene and benzo[ghi]perylene, which are among the 27 chemicals  regulated in the Ordinance on Surface Waters. PAHs are carcinogenic, can be mutagenic, and have reprotoxic properties. They are very persistent in the environment and bioaccumulate. PAHs are formed during combustion processes and are contained in many products and composite materials made of materials used in coal and petroleum processing. These properties are why several PAHs are regulated under REACH and are subject to far-reaching restrictions on their use.

The Ordinance on Surface Waters regulates nine of the PAH-16. There is compliance with the EQS for phenanthrene and naphthalene at all LAWA monitoring sites. In the period 2014-2016 an exceedance of the annual average EQS (AA-EQS) for anthracene was measured at one monitoring sites. Concentrations of fluoranthene und benzo[a]pyrene are assessed based on their concentration in mussels (biota EQS) as well as their concentrations in the total water phase (maximum allowable concentration (MAC-EQS)). Exceedances of both these substances occurred as they relate to the biota EQS and the MAC-EQS. Measured benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[k]fluoranthene and benzo[ghi]perylene often exceeded the MAC-EQS.


Directive 2013/39/EU sets biota EQS for fluoranthene and benzo[a]pyrene and expresses it as an AA- EQS for the total water sample. The biota EQS for benzo[a]pyrene of 5 µg/kg corresponds to the set maximum levels in Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs. The maximum level applies to “crustaceans, excluding the brown meat of crab and excluding head and thorax meat of lobster and similar large crustaceans.” The biota EQS for fluoranthene (30 µg/kg) was adopted to protect human health when consuming fisheries products. The biota EQS were also taken up in the Ordinance on Surface Waters. The Ordinance on Surface Waters also states that the biota EQS refers to crustaceans and molluscs and that the AA-EQS is only applicable when collection of biota data is not possible. Up to now the Federal states have applied concentrations in mussels for the purpose of assessment. A comparison of the assessment results for biota EQS and AA-EQS at the same monitoring sites in the same year shows a great disparity with regard to compliance and EQS exceedance factor. For the purpose of obtaining comparable evaluations for all of Europe, all the Member States must apply the biota EQS laid down in Directive 2013/39/EU (cf. Art. 3, Para 2).

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