SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  16 August 2012
Volume 13 Issue 8

Return to the Globe

Berlin Highlights—Are Environmental Specimen Banks Ready to Face Future Challenges of Environmental Chemistry and Regulatory Toxicology?

Ionan MarigĂłmez, PIE-UPV/EHU; University of the Basque Country, Jan Koschorreck, German Environment Agency, Olivier Donard, University of Pau

Historically, the primary reason for environmental specimen banking was providing materials that could be used for analyzing trends in exposure to previously unrecognized pollutants or for pollutants for which analytical techniques were inadequate at the time of collection. Twenty-first century Environmental Specimen Banks (ESBs) should continue playing this important role, especially in the assessment of emerging substances. The use of archived biological samples allows fast analysis of samples from different years and regions. The results of such retrospective monitoring could help to assess the relevance of the compound in question (levels and trends). Together with ecotoxicological information, these exposure data are helpful in deciding whether a compound has to be considered as an emerging substance. Present ESBs should be used more broadly for the assessment of potential emerging substances. Without considering potential increases in the production, use and release of new chemicals, several thousands of emerging pollutants will be released to the toxicosphere between today and 2050. But the scientists performing retrospective monitoring in the future will need specimens suitable for molecular science-based analysis together with the analytical chemical approaches presently carried out.

We need to adapt existing ESBs for this purpose and modify specimen preparation and storage methods accordingly. It is also crucial that we foresee the need and the opportunity to investigate how former specimens should be treated so that they may be analyzed in the future with methodologies that are not yet available. ESBs provide and will provide scientifically based support to the application of active environmental regulations (European Water Framework Directive [WFD]; European Marine Strategy Framework Directive [MSFD]; European Soil Thematic Strategy [STS]; Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances [REACH]; etc.) and to environmental managers and decision-makers (accidental spills, etc). For these purposes chemical endpoints alone will be useless as regulatory criteria unless used in combination with biological endpoints and therefore banking methods and specimen types should be adapted to these needs. ESBs will provide useful information about long-term variability and temporal trends in biota and ecosystems other than pollutant levels, trends and toxicity. Long-term variations and trends in growth, reproduction, metabolic rates, etc., driven by global factors (e.g., oceanographic cycles and oscillations, climate trends and changes, large-scale processes such as ocean acidification) may condition bioaccumulation and biological responses to pollutants and alter baseline values for environmentally relevant parameters and may hence render any data on tissue concentration of pollutants in biota or on biological impact less valuable. Sections of ESBs devoted to samples for biometry, reproduction or general physiological condition determinations might also prove to be very helpful to interpret pollutant levels, trends and toxicity.

Within this framework, 21 contributions from all over the world were made including seven platform presentations and one poster corner. More than 70 people attended the platform session. Excellent contributions and subsequent vivid debates covered a wide range of ESBs and their applications. Variety was reflected in the diversity of target organisms (bivalves, freshwater and marine fish, marine mammals, seabirds, and humans), study areas (EU, USA, Canada, China, Australia), pollutants (priority chemicals, POPs, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), dioxins and mercury), and endpoints (bioavailability, bioaccumulation, toxicity, nutrients, isotopic signatures, biometry, disease, etc.). Data were provided to contribute to the understanding of the bioaccumulation and biological effects of pollutants in marine organisms. Retrospective studies were applied to update and re-define environmental quality standards in relation to European environmental regulations (WFD, MSD, REACH) as required by the changes in detection limits resulting from the improvement of analytical tools and by the introduction of new chemicals in the legislation. Long-term trends in POPs were described on the basis of the analysis of arctic research archives. Long-term changes in the trophic web, for example, due to global change, were also addressed by determining N and Hg isotopes in ESBs samples. Likewise, ESBs provided a global viewpoint of biogeochemical (Hg pathways) and global nutrient cycles. Overall, ESBs were shown to contribute to the understanding of the long-term pollutant trends, including the identification of anomalies, the assurance of policy compliance (e.g., banning substances) and epidemiological issues (e.g., pollution consequences in human health), as well as to the understanding of long-term aspects of the global environment.

The 21st century's ESBs presented in this session are developing beyond the original purpose of providing long-term and good quality samples for chemical analysis of chemical pollutants in water, sediments and biota. Networking and harmonization are essential to put ESBs in the forefront to face future challenges of environmental chemistry and regulatory toxicology. At the end of the session colleagues from the Tongji University in Shanghai announced an International Conference on Environmental Specimen Banks, 12-15 October 2013.

Author's contact information:,,

Return to the Globe

SETAC mission statement Contact SETAC Globe
Contact the SETAC North America office
Contact the SETAC Europe office