SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  21 June 2012
Volume 13 Issue 6

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Reports from the Berlin World Congress Sessions

Globe editors

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  • C02 – Contaminant Pathways, Trends and Biological Effects in a Warmer Arctic – Crispin Halsall (Lancaster University), Geir Wing Gabrielsen (Norwegian Polar Institute) and Roland Kallenborn (Norwegian University of Life Sciences)
    • The purpose of this session was to examine some of the latest science regarding contaminant behaviour in both abiotic and biotic compartments of the Arctic. The Arctic is currently undergoing unprecedented changes. Physical changes to the cryosphere including diminished summer sea-ice cover, ablating glaciers and changes to permafrost regions are having marked effects on the character of the Arctic. These changes are also affecting contaminant entry, transfer and bioaccumulation pathways, and this session explored these areas with a wide range of topics including work from specific field studies, field-based monitoring, predictive modelling and state-of-the-science assessments. This Arctic session complemented a special session titled: The Polar Regions as Messengers of Global Processes, highlighting SETAC’s commitment to supporting contaminant science in Arctic and Antarctic regions.

      The overall topic of pollution in polar regions is highly relevant in light of the recent endeavours as part of the International Polar Year and concerns over climate change (which is perhaps most keenly felt in the polar regions). While increasing air temperatures will affect contaminant entry and fate in the Arctic, as indicated by modelling/monitoring work presented in this session, the science to date indicates that changes to the cryosphere are likely to have the most marked effect on contaminant behaviour. This was perhaps most apparent in the presentation that provided an overview of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme's Arctic Mercury Science Assessment as well as an update on the biogeochemistry of mercury in a warmer Arctic. Recent data presented from biological monitoring, as well as field studies examining specific contaminant processes, appeared to reinforce this concept. For biota, shifts in diet (changing prey species and timing) also play a role with regards to the effects of contaminants, and there was interesting work presented that observed seasonal differences in the bioaccumulation behaviour of persistent organic pollutants present in remote marine food webs of the Norwegian Arctic.

      Contaminant science in the polar regions is entirely relevant to recent efforts as part of a SETAC Pellston workshop aimed at defining and understanding climate change impacts on contaminant fate. In this case the Arctic serves as a global "barometer" with regards to pollutant impacts. There is a growing consensus that climate change stressors cannot be ignored in the chemical risk assessment process. There are now a number of tangible examples from the Arctic where contaminant stress is exacerbated by climatic perturbations, and a way to quantitatively incorporate this into risk assessments is now sought.

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  • EC01 – Advances in Passive Sampling and Dosing Techniques – Jochen Mueller (University of Queensland) and Philipp Mayer (Aarhus University)
    • "Advances in Passive Sampling and Dosing Techniques" included 18 platform presentations and 42 poster presentations. The scope of the passive sampling session component ranged from studies that advance our fundamental understanding of sorption properties of sampling materials, to the development and calibration of passive samplers for emerging pollutants and field applications of different samplers covering kinetic ("time integrative") and equilibrium-type samplers. The presented work on passive dosing elegantly demonstrated that these techniques provide a powerful tool for introducing and controlling chemicals in toxicity testing of both individual chemicals and environmental mixtures. A specific highlight was the presentation by Dorothea Gilbert (Aarhus University, DK) who received the SETAC Europe Young Scientist Award for the best platform presentation. This presentation demonstrated that microorganisms can become a major vector facilitating micro-scale transport of contaminants across a diffusion barrier (stagnant water layer). Presentations showed that the use of passive sampling techniques towards monitoring of polar chemicals is increasing despite the limitations in our understanding of chemical and environmental properties that affect the sampling dynamics.

      The large number and diversity of papers submitted to, and high attendance at the session highlighted the wide interest in passive sampling and passive dosing techniques. Passive sampling and passive dosing techniques have become essential tools both for monitoring chemical pollutants and pollutant exposure, determining toxicity of chemicals and chemical mixtures and, last but not least, understanding processes, such as microorganism facilitated transport. The application and expansion of these techniques to an increasing number of chemicals for inclusion in routine and regulatory monitoring poses challenges that may require novel approaches for method development, calibration and modeling.

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  • ET05 – Ecotoxicology and Ecosystem Services: A Southern Perspective – Dayanthi Nugegoda (RMIT University, Australia), Victor Wepener (University of Johannesburg, South Africa) and Andrea Waichman (Universidade Federal do Amazonas, Brazil)
    • Many of our scientific endeavours are aimed at addressing the effects of chemical pollution and other stressors on ecosystems. The management applications of the results are very often aimed at determining and maintaining ecosystem health through assessing biodiversity. Notwithstanding the large array of excellent tools that have been developed, some ecosystems are on the decline through continued production and release of contaminants to the environment, habitat destruction due to development pressures, exploitation of natural resources, etc. Also, there is a misconception that society in general has an understanding of the benefits that may be derived from protecting ecosystems through the maintenance of biodiversity.

      There is now a greater movement towards making research findings understandable to the general public by placing it in a context that is meaningful to them. Ecosystems will be valued much more if ecosystem health is related to changes in ecosystem service flows, which ultimately affect the public well-being in both monetary and health terms. Ecosystem services such as climate regulation, disturbance regulation/storm protection, water regulation/flood protection, sediment regulation/erosion control, nutrient regulation, waste treatment, biological control, habitat/refugia, food production, genetic resources, recreation potential, cultural/aesthetic are reflected implicitly in many ecotoxicological studies. However explicit linkages to ecosystem services are rarely made.

      The aim of the session was to report on studies where the interrelationship between the assessment and measurement endpoints can be related to ecosystem services. Six presentations highlighting different cultural valuations of ecosystem services from South America, Africa and Australasia were selected. The presentations addressed issues such as the use of risk assessment techniques to evaluate influences of climate change and multiple stressors on ecosystem services in the Murray (Australia) and Vaal (South Africa) river systems. Standard ecotoxicological endpoints were applied to evaluate pesticide effects in laboratory bioassays and field studies using economically important indigenous fish species in Argentina, Australia and South Africa. The session was closed with a presentation on risks associated with release of mercury from tailings of decommissioned mines. Seventeen posters were displayed during the poster session, dealing with the application of ecotoxicological methods to assess exposure to environmental hypoxia, metals, pesticides, PBDEs and bacteria, and with the application of models and indices to evaluate wetlands and river basins.

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  • ET19 – Veterinary Medicines in the Environment: Basic Research for Risk Analysis – Berndt-Michael Wilke (Berlin University of Technology)
    • More than one million tons of antibiotics were released to the environment worldwide during the last 60 years, a major portion of which were used in animal husbandry. These veterinary medicines pose specific risks, since they are particularly designed to kill or inhibit microorganisms, and they may promote resistance gene accumulation. Veterinary medicines enter the soil via manure and wastewater application or aquatic ecosystems in aquaculture production. The fate in the environment, especially soils, and the specific effects of such compounds on organisms were discussed in the session "Veterinary Medicines in the Environment: Basic Research for Risk Analysis."

      Public awareness of risks associated with the use of veterinary medicines is increasing. Despite this and regardless of the European ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in 2006, there are few indications that the usage of antibiotics in animal husbandry is declining substantially. The main concerns related to the occurrence of veterinary medical compounds in the environment remain: i) perturbation of soil bacterial communities and their cycling of nutrients or degradation of pollutants, ii) continuous exposure of humans to low levels of antibiotics due to uptake with food, and iii) spreading and formation of antibiotic resistance among human pathogens. In spite of these concerns, quantitative understanding of the fate of medical compounds in soil (the primary environmental compartment that veterinary medicines enter) and particularly of the coupling of environmental fate and effects is lacking. Moreover, medicines are also used in aquaculture production and pose risks for aquatic ecosystems.

      The effects of veterinary medicines in the environment are substance specific. Among the examples presented in the session: trenbolone changed the sex of zebrafish by 100 %, ivermectin influenced the composition of dung insect fauna, and fluoroquinolones like difloxacin were strongly adsorbed in soils and showed no biological effects. In contrast to difloxazin, sulfadiazine showed a more complex adsorption and desorption behaviour and, in consequence, caused sustainable effects on soil organisms, e.g., shifts in the functional and structural diversity of microorganisms and increases of the abundance of resistance genes were observed. Repeated applications of antibiotic-containing manure entailed different response patterns of functional genes indicating a modification of the microbial communities leading to a functional redundancy. Antibiotics show a trend to be degraded in dependence of historical treatment of soils, soil temperature and soil moisture. The degradation was more pronounced in the rhizosphere.

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  • LC05 – Monetisation for Weighting and Aggregation in Life-Cycle Impact Assessment and Cost-Benefit Assessment – Philipp Preiss (University of Stuttgart) and Tomas Ekvall (IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute)
    • Monetisation is powerful. It allows for aggregating many environmental and health impacts into a single indicator, which can easily be compared to other costs, for example so called internal or private costs like electricity generation costs and revenues. Moreover, the external costs according to the preferences of the society express the welfare loss, which is important in order to reflect the acceptance of policies within the society.

      The life-cycle impact assessment (LCIA) community contains different opinions on whether this is a good or a bad thing. Most of the reluctance focuses on the aggregation into a single indicator, which involves valuation and the loss of transparency and exactness. This is, however, independent of the units used whether it is "eco-points" or money. We need further discussions and research on when and how monetisation should be applied to contribute to improved learning and decision processes. The focus of this session was on the "how," i.e., on methods for monetisation, but also showed some typical example results and a comparison of different methods.

      It is interesting to note that monetisation does not necessarily aim at aggregating all impacts to a single indicator. It can aim at merely facilitating the interpretation of LCIA results by reducing the number of indicators to a manageable number. This was illustrated by the last two platform presentations and one poster spotlight, focusing on monetisation within a single impact category: land use and depletion of non-renewable resources.

      It is also possible to monetise without aggregation. Disaggregated monetisation results indicate how important different impact categories and pollutants are compared to each other. Such results can facilitate informed discussion.

      Given that we sometimes weigh across impacts categories, the first three platform presentations illustrated that this can be done in different ways. One of the poster spotlights showed that the results will depend heavily on the method chosen. However, the differences are not only caused by different valuation of impact categories but also due to different underlying LCIA approaches, and inclusion or exclusion of whole impact categories such as toxic pollutants, water and land use. Hence, it is very important to continue the development of harmonisation and consensus of different methods for monetisation.

      LCIA is a very interdisciplinary task and should not exclude environmental and welfare economists. To address the question of when monetisation improves learning and decision processes, we would invite more contributions from the critics. Not because they are always right, but because communication with the critics is necessary to generate the energy we need to come to a better understanding on the pros and cons of monetisation. Such understanding is important because, for better or worse, monetisation is a powerful tool. It seems to gain momentum again, not only for policy making regarding external costs of energy in Europe and the United States, but also in administration, business, industry and agriculture sectors.

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  • RA12 – Health and Environmental Risk Assessment of Pesticides and Biocidal Products – Ana Paya Perez (European Commission), Tom Schroeder (BASF) and Peter Okkerman (Dutch Board for the Authorisation of Plant Protection Products and Biocides)
    • The session "Health and Environmental Risk Assessment of Pesticides and Biocidal Products" emphasised regulatory aspects of biocides and pesticides, such as the implications of new data requirements for active substances under the future biocides regulation in Europe. It also emphasized policy and scientific challenges for the assessment of chemical mixtures that are relevant to biocides, plant protection products and industrial chemical regulations. Of interest was a tool proposed for calculating concentration of toxicants in human organs with potential applications for the calculation of bioconcentration factors (BCF) in aquatic or terrestrial species, a dynamic crop model that relates residue concentrations and intake from food to health impact and its uncertainty, and new models for prioritizing monitoring of chemicals in environmental compartments and on humans and workers exposed through air or food. The session offered many good ideas to share among scientists, practitioners and decision makers from Europe, Asia and overseas and across chemical regulatory frameworks.

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  • RA18 – Oil Spill Effects and Risk Assessment – Mathijs G.D. Smit (Statoil ASA) and Frederik de Laender (Ghent University)
    • Oil spills are a threat to environmental resources and can lead to long-term damage to marine and freshwater ecosystems. Experience has taught us that assessment of the ecological effects of oil spills is not straightforward and that the environmental damage is not directly related to the amounts of oil spilled. External factors like weather conditions, type of oil and location of the spill determine to a large extent the impact of oil spills. Additionally, effects might not become apparent immediately after a spill. Instead, community shifts and food web effects may still occur long after the oil slick has disappeared and direct effects are no longer visible. There is a need to better assess the impacts of oil and its components on important ecological processes in order to understand long-term effects.

      The aim of "Oil Spill Effects and Risk Assessment" was to gather experts in the field of oil spill risk and impact assessment and provide a platform for presenting the latest achievements in this field.

      Statistical analysis of the frequency and magnitude of historical oil spills indicated that, although the frequency of spills from shipping has been reduced, new major oil spills like the Deep Water Horizon may happen again in the future. Although this spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 was the biggest ever, it cannot be considered an outlier. Assessments of environmental effects of oil spills are normally based on analysis of oil-related components in environmental compartments. However, many components that occur in the environment after oil has been released are not yet characterized, and effects of degradation products like naphthenic acids must be better understood in order to properly estimate environmental effects. As the oil and gas industry is moving into frontier areas like the Arctic, the applicability of existing risk assessment frameworks for these areas needs to be checked. Studies have indicated that on the individual level, Arctic species may have the same sensitivity towards chemicals as non-arctic species. However, once impacted, specific characteristics of the Arctic ecosystem may cause more severe and longer-lasting ecosystem effects. In order to manage marine areas, new methods and models are currently being developed, ranging from ecosystem service valuating to the use of integrated ecosystem models predicting potential impacts from multiple stressors on different levels of the biological organization (e.g., These integrated approaches will play an important role within the framework of ecosystem-based management, including stakeholder communication.

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