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Emerging pollutants: a growing concern for our oceans


The majority of chemicals on a combined list of more than 2700 potential marine contaminants are what's known as 'emerging pollutants': substances that have the potential to enter the environment and cause adverse ecological and human health effects, but are still largely unregulated and whose fate and potential effects are poorly understood.

The JRC compiled this single reference list of priority, regulated substances and emerging contaminants to support the harmonised and comparable assessment of relevant contaminants in the marine environment.

The prominence of emerging pollutants on the list highlights the importance of work to understand their environmental occurrence and potential effects, agree on the most significant substances and incorporate them into future regulation if necessary.

A single reference list to support the assessment of marine contaminants

The combined list is aimed at supporting regulators, managers and researchers in efforts to identify the substances deserving particular attention.

It acts as a single reference list, bringing together lists of contaminants from relevant EU law, European regional sea conventions, global conventions and other international organisations and programmes.

Contaminants have the potential to degrade marine waters and cause serious damage to organisms and biological processes.

They can find their way into our oceans in a variety of ways, for example through polluted rivers, industrial activity, pollution by ships, and offshore oil extraction.

The emerging pollutants that feature on the list include pharmaceuticals, newly registered pesticides, industrial plastic additives, personal care products and new flame retardants.


The EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires that among other things, Member States devise a strategy for those contaminants that may have polluting effects in marine regions or sub-regions.

The JRC's reference list supports this task by using a harmonised nomenclature for the unambiguous identification of substances of concern, which will also prove useful for wider international collaboration to keep our oceans clean.

It therefore contributes to the assessment that Member States have to make as part of these strategies, which will eventually lead to measures to mitigate the harmful effects of these contaminants

Successful collaboration must work across policy areas and draw from a variety of scientific expertise to find an efficient way towards achieving an equally high level of protection for healthy and productive oceans in Europe and the neighbouring shared marine waters.

» Original publication

Source: European Commission, Joint Research Centre