SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  17 January 2013
Volume 14 Issue 1

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International Science Programs – Prospects and Expectations

Bruce Vigon, SETAC Scientific Affairs Manager

From a scientific programs perspective, SETAC ended a very successful 2012 with even higher expectations for 2013 and beyond.

Building on the priority topics identified in each of the geographic units and developments in international policy and regulatory forums, we have a lot to look forward to. Reactivating the International Programs Committee (IPC) under the leadership of Karluss Thomas will allow a more holistic perspective and coordination of related activities in the various geographic units. Increasing communication of our science committees at the global level (Katrina von Stackelberg, chair and myself as Global/SETAC North America Scientific Affairs Manager), in Europe (Gertie Arts, chair and Roel Evens as GU Scientific Programs Manager) and in North America (Cynthia Stahl, chair and myself) with the IPC and interested members in all GUs will facilitate work on science programming. We anticipate a growing engagement of our newer geographic units as they continue to organize and to form their own science committees.

Continuation and expansion of our series of joint meetings between the science committees and advisory groups at annual meetings will reinforce the global and regional participation in identifying and creating activity around emerging and critical science topics. Such discussions in North America and Europe have already proven to be strategically useful.

On a programmatic level there are several new or increasingly urgent developments we anticipate addressing in 2013.

Global and GU Level Strategic Scientific Research Needs Identification
We are organizing a global program to identify and prioritize key science issues for the future. Led by Bryan Brooks and supported by a group of committed SETAC members from various geographies, this effort, known formally as “Identifying Global Priority Research Needs for Stressors to Sustainable Environmental Quality,” and informally as the “100 Questions Exercise,” is an exciting opportunity for long range strategic science program planning. Procedurally related to the horizon scanning workshop on Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products, this effort is expected to consist of several workshop, information collection and synthesis efforts over a four-year period. Beginning with a web survey later this year, the proposed work will culminate at the 2016 7th World Congress in Orlando, Florida with an outbrief at the SETAC World Council’s long range planning meeting. This activity will prospectively touch on virtually all facets of SETAC’s science and engage all of the leadership, committees and advisory groups.

Endocrine Disruptors Assessment and Management
Several intersecting activity threads suggest this area will be a major focal point in 2013 and 2014. Although meeting sessions and paper publications in SETAC journals on endocrine disruptors have been fairly steady over the past few years, the prospect of regulatory and policy actions by intergovernmental groups and national bodies has elevated the attention to and need for science in support of these initiatives. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Health Organization are active in helping establish test protocols and frameworks for risk and hazard assessments as applicable to endocrine disruptors. A recent decision was made by the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) to add endocrine disruptors as a priority emerging issue for improving chemicals management in developing countries. In agreeing on priorities for cooperative action, SAICM requires that new and emerging issues of global concern be sufficiently addressed by means of appropriate mechanisms. According to SAICM these mechanisms need to be informed through “an acceleration of the pace of scientific research on identifying and assessing the effects of chemicals on human beings and the environment.”

SETAC is well positioned to respond to these needs given our past engagement with these organizations, both as a professional society and individually through our membership. One activity where ongoing discussion is happening is a North American Focused Topic Meeting (FTM) that will be a follow-up to the Endocrine Disruption SETAC Europe Special Science Symposium held in Brussels last October. An organizing committee is being identified with the tentative timeframe of early 2014 for the FTM. The recently established Endocrine Disruptor Testing and Risk Assessment and Human Health Risk Assessment Advisory Groups are collaborating to bring this meeting to fruition. Among other outputs, the intent is to prepare a technical summary and a peer reviewed publication on the scientific aspects of testing, assessment approaches and use of the current scientific knowledge in policy and regulatory contexts.

Mercury Convention and Follow-on
Negotiations on an international, legally binding instrument to manage and control the production, use, co-generation, emission, waste storage, recycling and disposal of mercury and mercury-containing products are nearing their conclusion. This is a huge global issue from both an industrial economic and environmental problem perspective. Previous attempts to deal with it on a more limited basis have not succeeded, hence the international convention approach is being pursued. The mercury working group of the Metals Advisory Group has organized with membership from around the globe and is working on its action plan. This plan contains a number of related activities leading to a coherent program for SETAC to engage with the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership, to continue our observership status related to the negotiations and to help organize a scientific side event or symposium for the final negotiating session, scheduled for October in Kumamoto, Japan.

Activities in the action plan near term include SETAC Europe Executive Director Bart Bosveld’s travel to represent SETAC as an observer at the Fifth International Negotiating Session (INC-5) in Geneva in January and working work toward a SETAC role in the scientific symposium (to be organized by SETAC Asia Pacific President Arizono in his Japanese university capacity) proposed for INC-6, the final mercury convention session. These complement our continuing information exchange and synthesis activities through annual meeting sessions and journal publications.

A related opportunity has arisen as a result of SETAC’s prior efforts to develop survey information for the UN Environment Programme Global Environment Facility (GEF) on Emerging Chemicals Management Issues. A follow on request to engage SETAC members in developing a prioritization tool and management guidance for mercury issues has been received. This will facilitate the development of tailored national-level project plans for science-based management projects to implement the international instrument that comes out of the mercury negotiations.

Education and Capacity Building
The final completion reports to the US National Science Foundation (NSF) on the Pan-American Advanced Studies Institute (PASI) indicate the many positive outcomes from training 30 US and Latin American graduate students on “Air Quality at the Interface of Mega-Cities and Adjacent Agricultural Areas” this past summer. PASI was highly successful on a number of fronts and several follow on activities are underway. Not only did it bring together an internationally renowned faculty and group of highly capable students, it showed again that SETAC is able to plan, carry out and potentially replicate cutting edge education and capacity building programs internationally. Just as the SAICM-supported risk assessment training in 2009 opened up opportunities to provide directed training and build environmental expertise internationally, the PASI course success provides donor organizations like NSF, GEF, SAICM and others the confidence that SETAC can execute complex projects on time and on budget that meet and exceed expectations. A related discussion has started on a broader risk assessment capacity building program with the Ecological Risk Assessment Advisory Group and other interested members, with the objective of greater coordination of training activities in that area.

The Berlin Sustainability Declaration approval in Long Beach by the World Council demonstrated the ability of a diverse organization to achieve consensus, on a principles level, for a critical long term issue. The declaration reflects the hard work of many SETAC members. The hard work is just beginning, though. An action plan and “roadmap” requested by the Council needs to be developed and technical papers outlining what areas of “sustainability science” SETAC will strive to contribute toward need to be written. The Advisory Group on Sustainability will be on point for these efforts, but other advisory groups and interested members have already volunteered to contribute. The challenge will be to maintain the science focus embodied in the declaration and supported by members, while engaging with other groups and recognizing that sustainability problems cannot be solved by science alone.

The coming year, and looking further over the horizon, will surely bring an ever expanding number of initiatives and opportunities as well as a broader scope of international science for us to grapple with. Typically, science is a patient and systematic enterprise. We will need to maintain the rigor of that enterprise while recognizing that there is a sense of urgency associated with the magnitude, complexity and potential consequences of many of these issues. In my view, our ability to address these frictions speaks to the maturing nature and success of SETAC as a living and growing professional society.

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