SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  17 February 2011
Volume 12 Issue 2

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Risk Management

Risk Management, Remediation, and Science Policy highlights from SETAC–NA

Aaron Redman, HDR|HydroQual, and Ruddie Clarkson, Arcadis, Inc.

SETAC is a great forum in which to share the latest ideas with some of the sharpest folks in the environmental chemistry and toxicology fields. The topic areas covered at SETAC can range from molecular- and biochemical-level research on up to organism- and population-level studies as well as issues related to science policy and water quality regulations. This unique blend of applied and fundamental research interests draws contributors from a wide variety of academic, private and industry backgrounds.

The 2010 SETAC North America annual meeting was no exception. The focused topic area of Risk Management, Remediation, and Science Policy (RMRSP) had more than 15 platform and poster sessions that covered issues related to stakeholder communication, technology transfer, risk assessment and remediation. The presentations from the sessions in this RMRSP focus area discussed how to use the latest scientific advances within the practical demands of the regulatory frameworks that are in place today. This was a classic example of how the unique combination of research disciplines at SETAC is used to address practical issues and was consistent with SETAC’s mission to support the development of principles and practices for protection, enhancement, and management of sustainable environmental quality and ecosystem integrity.

Here are some select session highlights from the platform and poster sessions. Unfortunately, it was not possible for us to cover all of the sessions, and we likely missed some key information; nonetheless we found several items of interest to report.

There were three RMRSP sessions on Monday. In one morning session, it was most interesting to learn that 58 agencies list ecological risk assessment (ERA) as part of their guidance. Compilation and categorization of this information found that technical elements were sufficient, but quality control, risk management, and risk communication elements appear to be insufficient in all the agency documents. External review recommended that the collation of all these guidance documents lies in communication among agencies, not in creating more documents. The audience seemed very interested in the database of this compilation and categorization of all the agency documents listing ERA guidance.

The other morning session included many detailed technical discussions regarding measuring toxic damage, assessing impact, and prioritizing remedial alternatives. Of interest, life-cycle impact assessment as a complement to ERA in sediment remedial decision–making. Through the use of a case study in Norway, the presentation suggested that life-cycle assessments would promote low resource intensive and more sustainable sediment remedial alternatives.

The single RMRSP afternoon session discussed soil ecotoxicology and risk assessment. There were several case studies presented on metal toxicity/bioaccumulation (USA), screening ERA values (Brazil), and using native plants in toxicity testing (Canada).

There were three sessions on Tuesday dealing with chemicals management, data quality issues and a case study on the Lower Duwamish Waterway. These presentations addressed the appropriate use of data to establish management and risk assessment practices.

On Wednesday, there were five sessions including one on the restoration of the Lower Passaic River (LPR) and another on integrating human health and ecological risk assessments (HHRA/ERA). The LPR session was a specific example of the need to integrate HHRA/ERA. The general HHRA/ERA session broadly exemplified the growing emphasis by human health organizations on non-environmental risks to public health. The recent formation of the SETAC HHRA advisory committee provides a “home” to human health risk assessment scientists in our scientific community.

Thursday sessions offered presentations on remediation, sustainability, and regulatory considerations for metals, and Superfund site decision-making. The sessions focused on incorporation of bioavailability considerations into remediation goals as well as new communication strategies to demonstrate achievement of sustainable goals. The metals session focused on the development and application of bioavailability and fine-resolution exposure models to address complex issues such water quality criteria, risk assessment, linking the chemical speciation of aluminum to aquatic toxicity and registration activities for anti-microbial building materials. The Superfund session focused on quantifying uncertainty to support decision making.

One of the themes that seemed to develop at the conference was the intense need for communication between scientists, regulatory agencies, the public, other stakeholders, etc.

As a personal note on this theme, the second author believes that the Human Health Risk Assessment Advisory Group, newly formed in Portland, is an excellent step for SETAC that will bridge gaps between human health and ecological science, and open lines of communication between human health and ecological risk assessors.

The first author’s impression is that SETAC has provided several effective forums including this RMRSP track and others (e.g., annual meeting, webinars, peer-reviewed journals) to allow researchers to continue their dialogue in professional and constructive manner. These efforts should continue so that the best available science can be integrated into regulatory and policy decision-making. In addition to maintaining and improving communication among researchers, there is a need to provide and improve communication with all stake holders. Continued training on the relevance of endpoints and the proper use of modeling tools is also necessary, particularly in the RMRSP context. This will continue to improve the relevance, efficiency and defensibility of environmental protection programs such as chemical safety regulations (e.g., REACH, TSCA reform) and water quality criteria (e.g., nutrients, tissue-based criterion).

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