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A Toothless Tiger: The Challenges of Meeting EUWFD Regulation

Team TFS
Team TFS
cleanwater regulations in EUWho needs clean water? Of course we all need it: humans, animals, and ecosystems. It’s because of this need, a priority must be placed on protecting it as a natural resource for future and current sustainability of life and economic activity. Activities, such as farming, commercial fishing, energy production, manufacturing, transport and tourism, impact the quality of the water we all rely on.

What controls are in place to ensure ground and surface water quality preservation and limit the impact human intervention? To me, it is pivotal that governments and municipalities adopt aggressive strategies to ensure water quality through implementation of environmental monitoring programs that preserve this precious natural resource. However, from an environmental analyst perspective, new programs often come with stricter limits for environmental contaminant monitoring which brings us to the European Union Water Framework Directive (EUWFD).


What is the EUWFD Regulation?

The adoption of the EUWFD in 2000 was a major landmark which established new requirements for integrated river basin planning in order to achieve ecological and conservation objectives in European Union member states. It established 110 river basin districts (RBD) or catchments covering the entire river system, from the sources of small tributaries to the estuary, including its groundwater for the European Union countries.

In 2001, the first list of priority substances requiring monitoring in the RBDs was introduced followed by multiple iterations of amendments that increased the number of substances and define environmental quality standards (EQS) for concentrations of the substances in the environment. In August 2013, another directive amendment 2013/39/EU was introduced for these districts involving revision of the priority substance list, flexibility in biota sampling and updates to EQS levels.

Difficulty implementing and enforcing unified restructured water policy standards across the European Union has resulted in the critical labeling of the legislation as the toothless tiger as in the linked article. Many challenges are presented in the adoption of the directives requirements. For our environmental water analysis chemists, the tiger represents a challenge of meeting regulations guidelines by accurately identifying these multi-class substances and monitoring them at low concentrations while being ready for additional requirements in the future.


Catching the Tiger by the Tail: Dealing with Lab Challenges from the EUWFD

How do we deal with the environmental water analysis challenges this directive brings? Will my existing technology meets the requirements of the new directives? Specifically, how do we manage the list of priority substances as it continues to expand and the EQS levels continue to decrease? These questions sum up the chaos that we experience in labs associated with adhering to ever-updated regulations.

When I am asked the above questions by environmental lab analysts, I love to give the following answer (pause wait for it): it depends. The most uncommitted answer you can receive. But truthfully, it really does depend. This answer is usually followed by a discussion about balancing what regulation requires, what they need to avoid/accomplish in the future, instruments capability and most importantly cost.

Listed below are some concerns for consideration when choosing your next instrumentation for environmental water analysis; these are key considerations for balancing your analytical needs:

  • Lower target concentrations

  • Additional target components

  • Novel sample matrices

  • More complex or dirtier sample matrix

  • Unknown compound identification


Shift in Mass Spectrometry Technology for Environmental Analysis

In recent years, we have seen more labs moving from single quadrupole to triple quadrupole mass spectrometry technology for monitoring of routine environmental contaminants. Of course this is a more expensive instrument and most of traditional methods have been completed either using standalone LC, GC or single quadrupole MS technology.

So, why are so many labs starting to use triple quadrupole and MS/MS functionality? The answer lies in the questions above. With ever-decreasing detection limits and expanding target lists, triple quadrupole functionality gives us the opportunity to perform our current single quadrupole methods while migrating to the enhanced functionality of SRM (downloadable PDF).

For those unfamiliar with the capabilities of SRM, it allows us to monitor precursor/product ion pairs which in turn increases the selectivity of the analysis. By increasing selectivity we can isolate our multi-class target compounds, significantly decrease the noise from dirty matrices and monitor our targets at lower concentrations. This functionality along with efficient tools like Auto SRM for additional compound method development gives us a step in the right direction for facing tomorrow’s regulatory challenges.


Meeting Our Goals: Caging the Tiger

Though the aim of progressively reducing pollution from priority substances and ceasing or phasing out emissions, discharges and losses of priority hazardous substances presents challenges in the environmental water analysis lab, it is upon the analytical community to overcome these obstacles. Through careful consideration of requirements and balancing of current and future needs we can avoid being mauled by the tiger of new regulations and continue to meet regulatory guidelines while assisting in efforts to protect our natural resources.


Resources for Meeting the European Water Framework Directive

If you would like to find out more about solution for meeting European water framework directive challenges using other techniques such as ICP/MS visit the water and waste water analysis community page.

In addition, I recommend the following applications and resources (all downloadable PDFs):



Do share your specific analysis challenges under the EUWFD with us on our blog.