SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  21 January 2011
Volume 12 Issue 1

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SETAC 2010: Emerging Contaminants and Ecosystem Diagnostics at Varying Spatial Scales

Jerry Diamond, Ph.D. (Tetra Tech) and Leo Posthuma, Ph.D. (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Netherlands)

There is an ever increasing interest to regulate contaminants of emerging concern (CEC) or trace organic compounds (TOrCs); however, the collection of such data in surface waters and wastewater effluents is far outpacing our ability to understand what these data mean. New analytical and modeling systems have enabled the detection and prediction of chemicals in aqueous environments for which relatively few data are publically available to verify human and environmental safety. Various organizations have developed prioritization methods to provide focus for further evaluation and potential management. Several management schemes have been proposed for single chemicals and mixtures at the state and federal levels (e.g., Oregon, EU REACh and Water Framework Directive). This session discussed predictive as well as retrospective diagnostic approaches that have been considered to better define existing or potential relationships between exposure of chemicals and biological perturbations that can be distinguished from, or in addition to, other factors. These adverse effects can be traced through various biological and geographical scales, such as tissue, individuals, populations and communities. Tools required for diagnostics at various scales are different, yet should be logically linked to provide a measure of strength.

This area of research draws on all of the strengths and expertise of SETAC; understanding the ecological risks of CECs requires knowledge of chemical fate in aquatic environments (environmental chemistry), toxicological effects (predicted or known) of these chemicals (environmental toxicology), and ways to link exposure, single individual effects, and population-level effects (eco-epidemiology and ecotoxicological models). The recent focus on fate and effects of various endocrine disruptor chemicals, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), at SETAC meetings and in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, attests to the key role of SETAC in helping to advance the issues raised in this session.

This session highlighted recent advancements in compiling relevant monitoring information on many CECs of interest and ways to prioritize which ones may be most critical from an aquatic ecological risk perspective. Also highlighted were recent advances in screening and retrospective diagnostic tools, using case studies from a variety of places, which illustrate fruitful approaches for making linkages between exposure and effects indicators for several types of CECs. Finally, prospective tools for assessing potential risks of CEC mixtures, as well as risks due to other types of stressors at a site (e.g., nutrient enrichment, habitat impairment) were presented and discussed, illustrating that tools for prospective and retrospective assessments of CECs can and should be used together to help put in context risks due to CECs.

Authors’ contact information:,

Several publications and databases are associated with the presentations made in this session including:

Diamond, J., K. Thornton, K. Munkittrick, K. Kidd, and S. Bartell. 2010a. Proceedings of Expert Workshop: Diagnostic Tools to Evaluate Impacts of Trace Organic Compounds on Aquatic Populations and Communities. Water Environment Research Foundation Project CEC5R08, February, 2010. Available from WERF at

Diamond, J., H. Latimer, K. Munkittrick, K. Kidd, S. Bartell, and K. Thornton. 2010b. Deliverable 1A: Prioritization framework for trace organic compounds (TOrCs). Water Environment Research Foundation Project CEC5R08, May 2010. Available from WERF at

Diamond, J., J. Flippin, K. Munkittrick, K. Kidd, S. Bartell, K. Thornton, and K. Kapo. 2010c. Task 2 report: Development of Diagnostic Tools for Trace Organic Compounds and Multiple Stressors. Water Environment Research Foundation Project CEC5R08, June, 2010. Tetra Tech, Inc., Owings Mills, MD. Available from WERF at

Diamond, J., K. Munkittrick, K. Kidd, S. Bartell, and K. Thornton. 2010d. Task 3 report: Testing diagnostic tools for trace organic compounds and multiple stressors: Case studies Water Environment Research Foundation Project CEC5R08, September, 2010. Available from WERF at

Trace Organic Compound occurrence database. Prepared by Tetra Tech, Inc., 2010. Available from WERF at

Oregon DEQ SB 737 Implementation: Addressing Priority Persistent Pollutants in Oregon's Water. Available at:

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