SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  20 December 2012
Volume 13 Issue 12

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Hot Stuff from the Long Beach Meeting

Michelle Embry, Markus Hecker, Cameron Irvine, Mary Ann Ottinger, Ryan Prosser, Sue Robinson, Alan Samel, Cynthia Stahl, and John Toll of the SETAC North America Science Committee

The SETAC North America Science Committee is charged with identifying emerging scientific issues relevant to SETAC, facilitating communication among Advisory Groups (AGs) and the general membership, and ensuring technical excellence within SETAC. We found the Long Beach meeting to be a great success and are pleased to provide you with some highlights from our perspective.

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring
It is hard to believe that it has been 50 years since the release of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. Despite the five decades that have passed since, interest in this topic was still very strong and this session was one of the best-attended in Long Beach.

A number of students found this session very inspiring! Presentations by Barnett Rattner and Keith Solomon painted a clear picture of the environmental issues that existed when Silent Spring was first released, which was very informative for younger generation of SETAC members. The exquisitely formulated poem by Nancy Golden captured the essence of each chapter in rhyme and style. It was encouraging to see how far we've come; yet global issues loom, which require our creativity and scientific solutions. In particular, Spencer Mortensen's presentation on the influence of Silent Spring on the crop protection industry showed that industry has come full circle in the last 50 years to work with environmental scientists to preemptively identify potential issues that could lead to a significant impact on our environment.

Should the NOEC Be Banned?
This debate on "banning" no-observed effect concentrations (NOECs) was very entertaining (the fish gape pictures—what a fish eats is limited only by the size of it's mouth ... were a real hit with the audience), and it was as enlightening as it was controversial. Wayne Landis and Dwayne Moore presented compelling evidence to a packed room on why effect concentrations (ECx) should be used instead of the NOEC (i.e., hypothesis testing endpoints). On the other side, John Green and Tim Springer defended the informed use of the NOEC under certain instances where it can be used effectively. While Green and Springer acknowledged that it is critical to better define and provide education on appropriate uses of the NOEC, they cautioned that it would be a mistake to ban the use of the NOEC outright. Instead, there should be clear guidance on how and when to use each approach to avoid misuse of either.

Five concepts were in general agreement

  1. Regression type approaches are generally preferred over hypothesis testing endpoints but the questions being asked need to be carefully considered where either the NOEC or ECx can be environmentally relevant endpoints;
  2. Scientific manuscripts should include actual data so that either regression-based or NOEC-based findings could be easily derived as needed;
  3. That the a priori study design must carefully consider the type and amount of data needed to support robust data evaluation (i.e., more points on the exposure response curve for regression-based evaluation);
  4. Uncertainties and limitations need to be fully understood and communicated; and,
  5. Do not extrapolate beyond the data.

21st Century Environmental Risk Assessment
Can environmental risk assessors do a better job of offering practical resolutions to risk management problems? Yes, but in order to make that happen the environmental risk assessment paradigm ought to be embedded in a risk management framework that places less emphasis on risk descriptions and more on weighing the relative benefits of potential remedies. We have a storehouse of risk assessment tools that aren’t being used to their full potential. A new emphasis on characterizing relative environmental benefits of potential remedies could be the impetus for bringing those tools out of the toolbox. This session helped the Ecological Risk Assessment Advisory Group kick off a new work group on solution-focused risk assessment that aims to raise awareness of, and then capitalize on, environmental risk assessment’s untapped potential to offer practical resolutions to risk management problems.

Adverse Outcome Pathways
One might have said or heard others say “omics - so what?" Well, the concept of adverse outcome pathways (AOPs) is intended to identify key molecular and cellular mechanisms and actions that enable prediction of impacts on relevant biological functions in an organism; this approach links adverse outcomes to the individual to biological impacts considered relevant to risk assessment. With the advent of new scientific methodologies (such as in vitro methods and toxicogenomics) that help provide mechanistic toxicity information, there is a need for a framework to organize and collect this knowledge. There were 16 presentations related to AOPs in 10 different SETAC sessions—a testament to the broad applicability of this concept.

AOPs were highlighted as a way to develop predictive population models based on measurable, sub-lethal biochemical endpoints in the field, as well as to help identify contaminants of emerging concern. Two separate presentations demonstrated how the AOP concept could be used to develop better methods to predict species sensitivity and to elucidate stress response pathways. Multiple AOP case examples were given, providing insight on how to integrate new methodologies and data as well as identifying key research needs, and several talks honed in on particular AOPs relevant for fish early life stage development. Utilization of AOPs to identify alternative, high-throughput predictive assays and testing strategies will help inform risk assessment for both human and ecological health.

Canadian Oil Sands
This regional (central Canadian) issue is an emerging topic with increasing relevance to the SETAC community due to the large environmental footprint and potential risks resulting from exploitation of the world’s third-largest oil resource. This year’s SETAC North America meeting again played host to a full-day session on Canada's oil sands. A series of outstanding platform and poster presentations highlighted the ever-increasing focus on the advances and challenges of sustainable development, chemical characterization and toxicology of this important resource.

Deepwater Horizon Panel Discussion
Some said this was a highlight of the meeting. Emerging and large-scale environmental issues have become important topics that bring the science of SETAC into the public forefront. The complexity of assessing both short- and long-term impacts on biological systems was considered as critical.

Debate on Wicked Problems—Global Climate Change
The topic, “The Science of Global Climate Change is Effectively Settled, all that Remains is for Society to Agree to a Management Approach,” was successfully defended by the pro team consisting of Wayne Landis and Jamie Vernon. The con team made up of Larry Kapustka and Tom Seager, provided good arguments but the audience voted the pro team arguments as more compelling. Many in the audience commented that they enjoyed the format and the topic and looked forward to similar sessions at future SETAC meetings. This is the second year in which the topic of “wicked problems” has been considered; both sessions enjoyed a packed audience that remained throughout the debates.

Random Thoughts

  • The shark development display at the aquarium was awesome! What a great idea to open up the shell case and re-seal with plexiglass. Biology in action for all to view!
  • The Sustainability Advisory Group celebrated the World Council's passage of the Berlin Declaration on Sustainability and determined that the next steps will include writing on three specific topics to be published in the Globe with the intent of clarifying ideas, seeking comments and offering provoking thoughts.
  • There was lots of interest and presentations on pyrethroid insecticides.
  • Based on the number of posters/presentations, bioaccessibility/assimilation efficiency appears to be a technique within ERA that is being incorporated with more regularity. Acceptance of this approach by regulators and broad use of this approach would prove useful, particularly at sites with metals.

If you are interested in participating in the SETAC North America Science Committee, please contact our
2013 chair Cynthia Stahl.

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