SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  20 June 2013
Volume 14 Issue 6

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Have You Been Following the ET&C Impact Papers Essay Series?

John Toll, Windward Environmental, Gary Ankley, USEPA, and Joe Gorsuch, Copper Development Association

You might remember seeing the article “Revisiting the Classics” in the December 2012 Globe. The article announced plans to celebrate Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C) as a place to publish important papers in environmental chemistry, environmental toxicology and hazard risk assessment. The article mentioned the ET&C "Top 100" papers and the SETAC Publications Advisory Committee’s plan to recruit some of the most prominent scientists involved with the "Top 100" to develop short essays in specific topic areas reflected in the highly cited papers. That project is now well underway. Those essays are appearing in ET&C, two per month throughout 2013, under the ET&C Impact Papers banner.

We are at the halfway point, so we’re pausing to appreciate what we’ve got and thank our contributing authors. Our high expectations for the series have been exceeded. Yes, the essays tell us about some of the most important environmental science research of the last 30 years, but they also offer practical words of wisdom that transcend the prima facie essay topics. They are inspirational. Following is a synopsis of the first half-dozen essays. If you haven’t already discovered them, then we hope that this will draw you in.

Dominic DiToro—"The Interplay of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in the Development of Sediment Quality Criteria"

As the problems become more complex from both the toxicological and chemical sides, it is critical that both disciplines are employed in their solution.

The core scientific and regulatory enterprise served by SETAC is criteria development. Criteria are exposure or effect metrics that, when combined with the right measurements, and used wisely, can help us make better decisions about appropriate responses to chemical pollution problems. Dominic DiToro has long been a scientific leader and eloquent spokesman for the criteria development enterprise, so it is entirely appropriate that he led off the ET&C impact paper series with his essay on the interplay of environmental toxicology and chemistry in the development of sediment quality criteria. In his unique style, DiToro reminds us that through sustained, rigorous research and analysis, we can solve the mystery of variability in ecotoxicological responses to environmental chemical exposures. Read this essay, and you will start to appreciate the treasure trove that you’ve discovered.

Keith Solomon, John Giesy, Tom LaPoint, Jeff Giddings and Pete Richards—"Ecological Risk Assessment of Atrazine in North American Surface Waters"

The risk assessment of atrazine typifies the breadth of expertise that is needed to undertake ecotoxicological risk assessment; it was the work of a panel of 12 authors, each contributing equally important and essential components to the process. The final product was brought together in a collegial and nonconfrontational process and the paper prepared for publication by one panel member. This model worked well and has been emulated in many subsequent assessments…. The publication… was likely the catalyst for a number of joint activities between academia, industry and regulators….

Aside from providing a well-deserved tribute to tripartite collaboration—the cornerstone of SETAC—Keith Solomon, John Giesy, Tom LaPoint, Jeff Giddings and Pete Richards remind us that risk is fundamentally probabilistic. As hard as probabilistic risk has been meld with regulatory decision-making, the principle stands and provides terrific challenges for the next generation of SETAC scientists who are among the vanguard of Bayesian inference. As if providing exemplary demonstration of tripartite cooperation and trailblazing probabilistic risk assessment work weren’t enough, this essay explains how the team that conducted the risk assessment of atrazine championed scientific transparency as well. Read it when you need a jolt of encouragement about what we can accomplish by embracing the need to work together, harnessing fundamental principles and providing shoulders for the next generation to stand on.

John Sumpter and Susan Jobling—"The Occurrence, Causes and Consequences of Estrogens in the Aquatic Environment"

As always in science, research seems to pose more questions than it answers. It is possible to delve deeper and deeper into any issue, and doing so is very tempting. However, wise scientists try their best to answer the question ‘‘Do we need to know more?’’ before continuing their research program on any particular topic.

The top two most-cited papers in the first three decades of ET&C are both about estrogenic chemicals in the aquatic environment. Susan Jobling is the lead author of the first, and John Sumpter is a co-author on both. You may recall reading in the March 2012 Globe about them receiving the Queen's Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education for their groundbreaking research on the effects of hormones and similar chemical pollutants in receiving waters. So who better to tell the story of the two decades of discovery about the occurrence, causes and consequences of estrogens in the aquatic environment? Don’t just read this as the story of estrogens in the aquatic environment, though; it is more than that. It is an allegory for scientists in any discipline about the rewards, responsibilities and real-world challenges of conducting well-designed research.

Don and Dave Mount—"Development of Practical Methods for Assessing the Chronic Toxicity of Effluent"

(T)he practicalities of routinely testing the toxicity of effluents and establishing permit limits for toxicity demanded the development of test methods that could be highly standardized and available as a commodity service from contract laboratories, conducted using relatively small volumes of effluent… and completed in a relatively short time frame.

The Duluth Environmental Protection Agency lab has been at the forefront of effluent testing methods and water quality criteria development from the beginning. The essay by Don and Dave Mount, grounded in decades of experience, reminds us that some of the most important research is aimed at developing commodities. The effective regulation of pollutants in active effluent discharges requires reliable, affordable routine methods of repeatedly testing whole effluent toxicity. Appreciation of the need for whole effluent toxicity testing emerged from efforts to develop water quality criteria for individual chemicals. Don Mount and colleagues surely were among the first to appreciate that developing individual chemical standards is expensive and a long-term project, water quality standards are not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and individual chemical standards don’t address mixture toxicity. Those realizations led to the development of standard methods for whole effluent toxicity testing. That’s not the end of the story though. We’re constantly striving to get more useful data for less money, and so testing technologies continue to evolve. We hope that we will all continue to benefit from the institutional knowledge and continuity that Don and Dave Mount represent. You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.

Peter Matthiessen—"Detection, Monitoring and Control of Tributyltin—An Almost Complete Success Story"

The continuing need for rigorous environmental risk assessment of all new chemicals is therefore obvious but nevertheless worth restating….

In his essay, Peter Matthiessen recounts two stories. The first is the inspiring story of ecological recovery resulting from early national and regional bans on using tributyltin (TBT) on small vessels. This ranks with the story of the effectiveness of DDT bans on recovering bird populations (see also the companion Environmental Impact Papers essay in ET&C 32(3) for much more on the ongoing efforts to understand the effects of organochlorine compounds on birds) and provides a compelling argument for vigilance in regulating environmental uses of biocides. The second is the story of successfully arguing for a global ban on the use of all antifoulants containing TBT on ships’ hulls. This raises many interesting, holistic questions about effective environmental regulation that as yet remain unanswered. It reminds us why risk assessment, life cycle assessment and sustainability are important parts of the SETAC portfolio. It challenges us to reach out to social scientists and to more actively engage with environmental managers from both the private and public sectors. It is these sorts of interactions that will drive the evolution of environmental regulatory policies and practices around the globe.

Don Tillitt and John Giesy—"Ecotoxicology of Organochlorine Chemicals in Birds of the Great Lakes"

The subsequent marriage of these new technologies for exposure and toxicity assessment... together with intensive on-site monitoring of waterbird colonies in the Great Lakes proved to be critical in the determination of causal linkages….

This essay tells the unfinished story of efforts to understand how organochlorine compounds—first DDT and DDE and then dioxin-like compounds—affect birds. The essay is remarkable for its effectiveness at making us appreciate the interplay between intensive, sustained field observations and inspired environmental toxicology and chemistry research and for helping us to see the importance of the strong connection between the people who are advancing the state of the science and their ecosystem. It is a testament to the legacy of Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” and Rachel Carsons’ “Silent Spring” and a tribute to the conservation ethic and environmental science community around the Great Lakes of North America.

Are you intrigued? We hope so, and that you’ll be moved to pull out or pull up the first few issues of ET&C Volume 32. Whether you’ll be reading the Environmental Impact Papers essays for the first time or revisiting them, we hope that our perspective on these essays will help you make new connections that aid you in your personal professional journey.

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