SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
19 January 2012
Volume 13 Issue 1

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SETAC North America 32nd Annual Meeting in Boston — Chemistry Advisory Group’s Perspective

Elin Ulrich, Sascha Usenko and Charles Wong for the Chemistry Advisory Group (Chair, Chair-elect, and Past-chair) with session summaries contributed by session chairs

As the last few days of the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) drew to a close, we reflected back on the chemistry presented at the SETAC North America meeting in Boston. The “Environmental or analytical chemistry” track was very busy this year contributing 28 oral and 31 poster sessions to the annual meeting. Chemistry research and discussion was also integrated into diverse sessions such as “Mercury fate and biogeochemistry,” “Beyond estrogens and estrogenecity: Pairing chemistry and mode of action screening,” “Effects of global climate change on the foundations and applications of environmental toxicology and chemistry,” “Chemistry and toxicology of urban stormwater runoff,” and “Green and sustainable chemistry: designing environmentally safer chemicals” to name an obvious few. This crossover is expected to increase as multi- and trans-disciplinary approaches become more prevalent.

To recognize and represent the IYC, the Chemistry Advisory Group highlighted a number of sessions at this year’s meeting. They covered topics such as perfluorinated chemicals, green and sustainable chemistry, and environmental forensics. The atmospheric chemistry session focused on the processes (mobility, air-surface exchange, etc.) that are critical for dispersing contaminants (e.g., PCBs, pesticides, flame retardants, cyclic organosiloxanes, PAHs, and pharmaceuticals). The “History of environmental chemistry” session took an interesting look back over the decades (and even centuries) of this field. Innovation, instrumentation, pioneers, methods, and models have all shaped this field and made it possible to make great strides in solving environmental problems of the future. Finally, Phil Gschwend’s plenary session was invaluable in reminding everyone that it’s the chemical activity, not the chemical concentration, that’s important!

Chemistry AG word cloudEven though the scientific validity of a word cloud may be argued, this visual aid offers a fun way to examine SETAC’s scientific contributions to the IYC.  This word cloud was generated using prominence and frequency of specific words found in the chemistry track presentation titles. This word cloud suggests that the chemistry presentations were dominated by the words environmental, fate, and organics. A further investigation suggests a strong interest in areas of water, sediment, the indoors, and humans. The major contaminants still include many of the halogenated compounds, such as PCBs and brominated flame retardants. This examination also suggests that the Great Lakes are still an area of great interest. Just as chemistry can be found in many of the non-chemistry sessions, word cloud suggests that toxicology can also be found with regularity in many of the chemistry sessions. The word toxicity was found with the same prevalence as the word sampling and pollutants.

Chemistry has been deemed the “central science,” and that centrality was evident at this year’s SNA meeting. Environmental and analytical chemistry covers a broad range of topics, but in general, this science tends to be applied and focused on what, where, when, and how, as well as the extent of impact to humans and the environment. The number, diversity, and quality of chemistry track sessions were high again this year, thanks to the authors, session and meeting organizers. Just one example of this was Eleanor Robinson’s research that measured contaminants in whale earwax, which was highlighted in a Science news of the week article. What a wonderful predicament to find yourself torn between several relevant and interesting sessions occurring simultaneously during the entirety of the meeting!

Summary of key concepts from session chairs: 

Climate Change Impacts on Contaminant Behavior in the Polar Regions (summary from Rainer Lohmann)
The session noted that organic pollutants reach the polar regions in pulse events and acknowledged the need for further research to help understand the environmental fate once deposited, particularly as they partition between atmosphere, water, snow and ice. While fewer PCBs have reached the Arctic than once predicted, there is evidence that they are present in the Antarctic food chain. Results from ice cores in Svalbard show deposition even of pesticides that are thought to be very reactive (and hence not prone to long-range transport).

Flame Retardants and Perfluorinated Chemicals in Indoor Environments (summary from Heather Stapleton)
Presentations discussed evaluating exposure to PFCs using a non-invasive collection of human nails, determining routes of exposure to PFCs for pregnant women, and PBDE exposure to children from hand-to-mouth activities. The factors that affect such exposures vary by population, but can be predictive. Also, in this session some of the first data on urinary metabolites of chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants in the human population.

Biomonitoring of Toxicology in the Human Body (summary from Ying Guo)
This session aimed to share the latest biomonitoring data and instrumental analytical methods. Generally, there were three types of research presented, including the occurrences of toxic contaminants in environment or human body (blood, maternal samples and urine), analytical methods (usually for organic compounds), and animal research that discussed hormone and pyrethroid concentrations.

Integrating Chemical and Biological Approaches to Understand Bioavailability (summary from Robert M. Burgess )
This session discussed several lines of chemical and toxicological research focusing on developing tools for identifying the specific toxicants causing adverse effects in the environment. Further, these lines of research are often complementary. There is continuing recognition of the need to incorporate bioavailability into the effects-directed assays and toxicity identification evaluation processes using technologies like -omics techniques, mild extraction, passive sampling-based dosing.

Environmental Chemistry (summary from Elin Ulrich)
This session was an interesting collection of topics and techniques used to investigate, understand, probe, and solve a variety of environmental issues. Guttation droplets were used to further understand the “excretion” of pesticides from plants. The process of rocket testing relocates a large amount of soil to the surrounding areas, with a variety of adverse effects occurring to crops.

Black Carbon and its Role on the (Bio)Availability of Organic Contaminants (summary from Rainer Lohmann)
Participants noted that there are some differences in black carbon’s effect on different compound classes and feeding modes, indicating a further need to develop partitioning constants. Some are using procedures that include black carbon in the evaluation of real world sediments, but a harmonized approach has not been selected.

AQUAFATE-The Fate of Organic Pollutants in Aquatic Environments (summary from Rainer Lohmann)
The aquatic environment proved to be an interesting and complex laboratory full of reactions and compartment exchange, and sorption/desorption in the AQUAFATE session. The interaction of organic contaminants with light, phytoplankton, plastics, and organic matter were discussed. While it is generally accepted that DOC sorbs hydrophobic organic compounds, the strength and reversibility strongly depends on the DOC's aromaticity.

Environmental Metabolomics (summary from Dan Bearden)
The session reported that environmental metabolomics research is on the rise and is being applied to climate change, marine aquaculture, nanoparticle toxicity, and chemical contaminant assessments for a variety of compounds including PCBs, and silver nanoparticles. Two presentations on the mode of action of oil/dispersant mixtures on marine organisms show that the metabolomic fingerprints are helpful in discerning the relative toxicity of water-accommodated fraction (WAF) and chemically-enhanced WAF. The use of metabolomics measurements in translating field exposure effects into real-world health assessments was also demonstrated.

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