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Chemical Standards


These pages contain information about chemical standards.

  • Click here to learn about chemical standards and what they are for
  • Click here to look for standards for particular chemicals (by chemical name)
  • Click here to look for standards for particular chemicals (by CAS number)

You will also find here information about each of the legislative instruments or other initiatives that have driven the setting of these standards. These are called ‘Drivers’ and ‘Sub-drivers':

  • Click here to read about a particular Driver, and see what chemicals it covers
  • Click here to read about a particular Sub-driver, and see what chemicals it covers
  • Click here to read about the terms Driver and Sub-driver

The aim of this database is to provide access to chemical standards in use by the Environment Agency. If you have any requests relating to the content or feedback, please contact evidence-feedback@environment-agency.gov.uk. These pages are currently managed by the Integrated Assessment team within the Evidence Directorate. If you have any questions about standards or would like any further information about chemicals in the environment, try contacting the Environmental Toxicology Advisory Service (ETAS; internal service only), also run by the Evidence Directorate.

Last updated: 19 April 2011 (v2.0)

What are Chemical Standards? (back to top)

Chemical standards are numeric values expressed as a chemical concentration (e.g. 12 mg/l, 0.57 µg/kg, etc.) in an environmental medium such as water, air or soil. These values describe concentrations of chemicals that are not expected to cause harm to environmental organisms or human health, provided they are not exceeded. The same chemical may have several standards for different environmental compartments, and for different protection goals.

Statutory Standards

These are set in legislation. If statutory standards are exceeded, this constitutes non-compliance with statutory obligations. There are a number of European Directives that deal with chemical standards. Of these:

  • Some set specific standard values for compliance by the Member States.
  • Some list chemicals of concern, and instruct the Member State authorities to set their own standards for these chemicals.
  • Some instruct the Member States to draw up lists of chemicals, and set standards for these.
European Directives are implemented in England and Wales by corresponding statutory instruments (i.e. regulations). In some cases, these statutory instruments reproduce the exact same standards as they appear in the Directive. In other cases, the implementing regulations may be more stringent, or provide more detail (for example regarding compliance assessment methods).

Non-Statutory Standards

A number of non-statutory standards also exist. These are set by various organisations (including the Environment Agency) for chemicals that are considered to be of concern, but are not covered by any specific legislation.

Drivers and Sub-drivers (back to top)

In these pages, we have separated the various legislative instruments and priority lists into two levels: Driver and Sub-driver. We have done this to show you how they relate to each other.

For example:

  • We have referred to the Freshwater Fish Directive as a Driver. This is because it is the driving force behind a number of standards intended to protect fish life.
  • It is implemented in the UK by a corresponding statutory instrument, which we have therefore referred to as a Sub-driver, to show that it was developed in response to the Directive.

NB: The terms Driver and Sub-driver are informal descriptions, used to construct these webpages. They are only applicable within the context of these webpages. When referring to a legislative instrument, or other initiative, you should always use its formal title and reference number.