SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  8 December 2011
Volume 12 Issue 12

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Hot Stuff at the Boston Meeting

SETAC North America Technical Committee

The SETAC North America Technical Committee (SNA-TC) concluded that the SNA annual meeting in Boston was a great success, and is pleased to provide you with some highlights from our perspective.

New Fields:

Personal Care Products:

  • Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), including pharmaceuticals and personal-care products (PPCPs), were well represented in Boston. This is a booming field within SETAC.


  • Good debate on sustainability and how SETAC can best contribute to this global dialog. Join the Sustainability Advisory Group (AG) to learn more.
  • Presentations highlighted the history of the sustainability movement, how to think about and frame sustainability questions, the history of life-cycle assessment (LCA) at SETAC, and progress on sustainability activities at SETAC. A student debater distinguished herself. Look for continued discussions through the new Sustainability AG (well attended), in publications, and at the SETAC World Congress in Berlin.
  • A critical aspect of the debate on sustainability is the agriculture-environment interface, which will be a topic of interest in the next SETAC World Congress.
  • The topic of sustainability has particularly gained momentum in context with environmental risk assessment, and there have been many discussions and debates during sessions and outside in the hallways. Of particular topical importance was a discussion of including remedial options a priori in the risk assessment process; a significant deviation from common practice.
  • Relatively new AGs like Pharmaceuticals and Sustainability were very well attended and are highly active.
  • SETAC members expressed a desire to continue the forum at future meetings to share expertise, successes and challenges to advance towards more sustainable chemistry.

Ecosystem Services:

  • We can still get so focused on our tools that we forget to make connections back to the environment. This was noted in presentations in the Ecological Modeling for Ecosystem Services session where we could improve how these model results relate back to the ecosystem services.
  • Ecosystem services had an increased emphasis in Boston. SETAC must seek to lead in this area - if not us, then whom and how well? New approaches raise the questions Could this result in different decisions? How well does increased effort and complexity balance with gain?

Green Team Environmental Education Workshop

  • The Green Team’s first ever Student Exploratorium was a resounding success. The exploratorium consisted of interactive science exhibits, intended to benefit less-advantaged public high school students in the Boston area, and designed to familiarize students with the real-world environmental problems SETAC members tackle every day.
  • Thirty high school students and their teachers were treated to hands-on exploratorium exhibits designed specifically for them. Students learned about ocean plastics collected by SEA, how to identify and pick benthic organisms, LC50s, mercury in food, sustainable roofing design and about EPA’s Design for Environment program. Guided by a host of 27 graduate student volunteers, high school students also had a chance to roam the exhibit hall and ask questions of their graduate student guides. Feedback from both high school and graduate students was a big thumbs up.

New Knowledge in “Old” Fields:


  • A little Triclosan will kill fungus and benefit frogs, but a lot will kill the frogs.
  • Disinfection of treated wastewater using chlorine can halogenate PPCPs, increasing bioavailability and masking their detection.
  • Apparently “You can teach an old dog new tricks.” Standard toxicity tests can still be refined and improved. The only limiting factor is ones own creativity and the desire to learn through continuous questions (see specific article in this issue of the Globe).

Methodological Advances:

  • There were fewer ‘old fashioned’ lab and field “measure-chemical-concentrations-and-observe-effects” presentations than in years past and a lot of more varied approaches for evaluating exposures and effects--population level extrapolation, modeling, ecosystem services, omics, integrating and synthesizing approaches were prominent.
  • Sessions on molecular responses to toxicants provided important insights into mechanisms used by organisms to counter exposure to environmental contaminants. Of particular note was the consideration of molecular responses, individual, and population-level responses that allow organisms to adapt to environmental contaminants in the face of the challenges from climate change and habitat shrinkage.
  • Adverse-outcome pathways is a concept that found its way into many of the studies presented in Boston. The bridge between mechanistic toxicity data and sublethal biological markers with atypical outcomes continues to be built and has been a theme within the omic and biomarker work. It was encouraging to see that these sessions matured such that they not only throw massive data sets with hundreds or thousands of molecular endpoints at the audience (i.e., generating answers to questions we don’t know yet) but that there are serious efforts to link these mechanistic data sets to outcomes of demographic relevance that can be used by population modelers and risk assessors.
  • A multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) session reflected on the challenge and struggle to integrate impact (environmental, economic and social) assessments for decision making and, in some cases, some thought to how this might inform sustainability discussions, with connections to risk assessment (e.g., problem formulation and conceptual model development).
  • Green chemistry themes included the need for chemicals designed to degrade after use, successes and challenges in hazard assessment for product development, real chemistry examples of small steps made in chemical design and synthesis with multiple benefits of atom economy, reduced toxicity and degradability and beneficial new pharmaceuticals.
  • The session Is the Cure Worse than the Disease focused attention on the need to broadly account for the detrimental and beneficial aspects of remediation on ecosystems and the services they provide, rather than basing decisions primarily on the cost and effectiveness of alternatives at meeting target chemical concentrations in environmental media (see specific article in this issue of the Globe).

Climate Change

  • A special symposium on the effects of global climate change and how pollution may affect/exacerbate populations was presented.
  • The effects of altering weather patterns in environmental fate were also discussed, particularly in the polar geographical regions.

The SNA-TC is charged with identify emerging scientific issues relevant to SETAC, facilitating communication among advisory groups (AGs) and the general membership, and ensuring technical excellence within SETAC. If you are interested in participating in the SNA-TC, contact


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