OSPAR governs international cooperation to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic

OSPAR is the mechanism by which 15 governments of the western coasts and catchments of Europe, together with the European Commission, cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic.

The OSPAR Hazardous Substances Strategy aims to prevent maritime pollution by continuously reducing discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances with the ultimate aim of achieving near background values for naturally occurring substances and close to zero for man-made synthetic substances. 

OSPAR defines hazardous substances as those that are persistent, toxic and liable to bioaccumulate (PBT substances) or cause an equivalent level of concern as PBT substances, for example that they might interfere with the hormone system of organisms. 

The OSPAR Commission has put a number of measures in place to reduce discharges from the oil and gas industry. Chemical suppliers (including lubricants) must provide national authorities with data and information about chemicals to be used and discharged offshore according to the Harmonized Offshore Chemical Notification Format (HOCNF). 

OSPAR determines the level of impact of chemicals and hazardous substances in the marine environment by:
  • Marine toxicity
  • Marine biodegradation
  • Bioaccumulation
Marine toxicity is a measure of the toxic effect of a chemical/product on marine organisms. Testing is carried out on four different types of organism which represent different levels of the marine food chain:
  • Algae (Skeletonema costatum)
  • Crustaceans (Arcatia tonsa)
  • Fish (Scophthalmus maximus)
  • Sediment Reworker (Corophium spp.)
Marine toxicity is measured by establishing the concentration of the substance that kills 50% of a population in a given period.

Marine biodegradation (test method OECD 306) is a measure of how readily a substance is broken down by biological activity within the marine environment. It is classified by the percentage of the substance that is biodegraded within a specified time period (generally 28 days) under controlled conditions. 

A substance that does not biodegrade at all during this period has 0% biodegradability; one that biodegrades completely has 100% biodegradability. A high percentage is ideally >60% biodegradation in 28 days or >20% if the substances is non-bioaccumulative and non-toxic.

Bioaccumulation method OECD 117 is a measure of the tendency of a substance to accumulate within the tissue of living organisms, and be transferred up to the food chain. It is classified by the preferential solubility of the substance in octanol compared to solubility in water – the log Pow (octanol/water) coefficient. 

A substance with a coefficient of 0 does not bioaccumulate; one with a coefficient of 6 has a high tendency to bioaccumulate. Substances with log Pow <3 are considered to be non-bioaccumulative under OSPAR requirements. Molecules with a high molecular weight (>700) do not bioaccumulate as they are too large to enter gill or cell membranes. 

For all four organisms, toxicity, biodegradation and bioaccumulation data must be considered for every discrete chemical component of a product, regardless of the level present. This ensures that high biodegradability and/or low bioaccumulation performance of a product does not disguise the presence of low levels of chemicals having very poor environmental performance (e.g. lubricant additives are often strongly surface-active and stable organic compounds, which means that they have a strong potential to be toxic and to bioaccumulate).

Classification of components within products – Pre-screening

OSPAR criteria are used to establish whether individual components used in a product are acceptable or substitutable.  

Substances are classified as:
Not permitted for use – if they appear on any OSPAR prohibited lists or REACH Annex XIV or XVII
Substitutable – if they meet any of the following:
  • Inorganic substances with acute toxicity (EC50 or LC50 <1mg/l)
  • Organic substances with a biodegradability of BOD28 <20%
  • Substances that meet two of the three following criteria:
  1. biodegradability <60 % in 28 days
  2. bioaccumulation potential log Pow >3
  3. acute toxicity LC50 or EC50 <10mg/l
Approved – if they meet the pre-screening criteria or they are PLONOR (Pose Little or No Risk to the Environment) chemicals or are on REACH Annex IV or meet the criteria of REACH Annex V. 
Substitutable chemicals are required to be phased out of products, leading to the reformulation and recertification of products. This may require operators to change the products that they use.