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The ecological status of European surface waters may be affected by multiple stressors including exposure to chemical mixtures. Currently, two different approaches are used separately to inform water quality management: the diagnosis of the deterioration of aquatic ecosystems caused by nutrient loads and habitat quality, and assessment of chemical pollution based on a small set of chemicals. As integrated assessments would improve the basis for sound water quality management, it is recommended to apply a holistic approach to integrated water quality status assessment and management. This allows for estimating the relative contributions of exposure to mixtures of the chemicals present and of other stressors to impaired ecological status of European water bodies. Improved component- and effect-based methods for chemicals are available to support this. By applying those methods, it was shown that a holistic diagnostic approach is feasible, and that chemical pollution acts as a limiting factor for the ecological status of European surface waters. In a case study on Dutch surface waters, the impact on ecological status could be traced back to chemical pollution affecting individual species. The results are also useful as calibration of the outcomes of component-based mixture assessment (risk quotients or mixture toxic pressures) on ecological impacts. These novel findings provide a basis for a causal and integrated analysis of water quality and improved methods for the identification of the most important stressor groups, including chemical mixtures, to support integrated knowledge-guided management decisions on water quality.
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