The two Conventions for the Baltic Sea (Helsinki, HELCOM) and the North Sea (Oslo-Paris, OSPAR) both are in the process of assessing the state of the marine environment and producing Quality Status reports for their regions for publication in 2010. These assessments will be part of the basis for Marine Strategy work in the EU. An overview of the time trends and status for metals, PCBs and PAHs in biota and sediment for the convention areas will be presented, and the scientific basis for the assessments and how results from different contaminant groups and wider areas are aggregated in the conventions will be highlighted and discussed in the light of the question: How much science should be sacrificed to achieve a product accessible to lay people and politicians? Both conventions are headed towards a “traffic light” system with a blue as background levels OSPARs goal of “close to or at background”, green for “no harmful effect to the environment” and red for unacceptable. The HELCOM goals set out in the Baltic Sea action plan are similar, “concentrations of hazardous substances close to natural levels”, “all fish safe to eat”, and “healthy wildlife”. The assessment criteria used and the scientific basis for these will be discussed.