SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  21 July 2011
Volume 12 Issue 7

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risk assessment

Risk Assessment Session Track Highlights

Thomas Backhaus, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

70—the number of new chemicals registered by the American Chemical Society...
...per hour

During the course of SETAC Europe 2011 meeting (Sunday 17:00 – Thursday 15:00), 65 680 new chemicals are synthesized and registered. While not all of these chemicals make it to market or are used in products, this number helps define the scope of the issues that risk assessment attempts to address.

Fourteen sessions with 90 presentations and over 250 posters were dedicated to risk assessment topics this year. A multitude of risk-related presentations were also presented in other sessions. Not surprisingly, the Future of Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment was the largest session and covered such topics such as trait-based risk assessment, ecological vulnerability approaches, improved use of species-sensitivity distributions, and assessment of indirect ecological effects.

Fundamental issues and challenges that were identified in the risk assessment sessions included:

  • New regulatory developments (e.g., biocide regulation)
  • New regulatory concepts (e.g., hazard based assessment)
  • New instruments, demands, and approaches (e.g., requests for data sharing)
  • New scientific concepts (e.g., ecosystem services, trait-based approaches)
  • Recent political developments (e.g., EU Council Conclusion on Combination Effects)

Technical developments were also expanded in the sessions and often included a global perspective. One example is the need for antifouling mechanisms for marine vessels. In Europe, self-cleaning robots are being considered, while in China the pesticide DDT has been the biocide of choice. China’s fishing fleet has 300,000 to 400,000 vessels, resulting in release of an estimated 150 to 300 metric tonnes of DDT per year. Although DDT is cheap and easily applied as a biocidal paint, under the terms of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, it cannot be used. Searches for equivalent substitutes have resulted in a proposal to use N-2,4,6-trichlophenyl maleimide, which turns out to be a metabolite of DDT.

Models vs. Reality “In God we trust. All others must bring the data”

Models provide a reasonable tool to assess the myriad number of chemicals that can contribute to risk. However, all models are simplifications of actual processes. To be most effective in supporting decisions, model must be anchored in reality and the uncertainties and limitations should be understood. Examples of models and how to conduct a “reality check” were discussed by R. Fox “SSDs – good idea, bad practice” (RA13B-1) and L. Posthuma & D. de Zwart “On correct interpretation of SSD output through eco-epidemiological analyses” (RA13B-6).

Chemicals of Concern

Risk assessments are typically driven by groups of compounds. Upcoming groups of compounds that will need to be addressed include:

  • Pharmaceuticals, especially antibiotics (still...)
  • Nanoparticles (now more then ever)
  • Transformation products (“the new emerging pollutants”)
  • Radionuclides

The challenges posed by radiation and radionuclide releases to the environment will be the focus of the July 2011 issue of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management. These issues will be revisited as part of the SETAC North America 2011 meeting in Boston and again in the SETAC World Congress in 2012.

Human Health vs. Ecological Risk

HRA is gaining a stronger foothold in SETAC with an increasing number of publications (Figure 1) and creation of several advisory groups.

Health Risk Assessment Publications in SETAC Journals
Figure 1. Health Risk Assessment Publications in ET&C and IEAM

An overall goal would be the integration of ecological and human health methodologies based on a criticial reflection regarding endpoints, protection goals, etc.

Upcoming Challenges in Risk Assessment

  • Planetary boundaries
  • J. Rockström et al.: “A safe operating space for humanity,” Nature, 461, 472-475, 2009
  • Their definition might be critical for sustainable chemical use
  • We need an unbiased, complete overview of chemical emissions and their impacts.
    • planet-wide distribution of chemicals
    • transformation products
    • biodiversity
    • ecosystem services
    • cross-cutting regulatory disciplines
    • mixture effects

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