SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
6 November 2014
Volume 15 Issue 11

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Executive Director’s Corner

Charlie Menzie, SETAC Global Executive Director

Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) is a ribbon that ties together the Geographic Units (GUs) of SETAC. For example, over the past few months, we have been developing a distance-learning course on ERA to launch within SETAC Africa. Patricia Bi Asanga Fai, President of SETAC Africa, has been leading the effort for that GU and has been gathering information from members regarding content. The SETAC Environmental Risk Assessment Advisory Group, led by Mary Sorensen, Mark Johnson and Larry Kaputska, will be working on the course design. The initial stage of the course will involve a basic introduction to ERA concepts along with examples of ERA applications relevant to the environmental issues being addressed by our members in Africa. More application-specific courses (e.g., on pesticides) will be designed for later stages. Jason Anderson of the SETAC office is assisting with implementation. The course is envisioned to have three components: a set of live online interactive modules each about 45 minutes in length, recordings of these live sessions for later streaming from the SETAC website, and CDs that can be made available at regional and GU meetings. Given telecommunications and scheduling challenges for Africa, this three-pronged approach will help ensure that all members can gain access to ERA course materials. Basic elements of this course may also become part of a SETAC effort to contribute to a World Health Organization (WHO) program for developing countries. Elements of the course will be used for short courses, tentatively planned for the SETAC co-sponsored Society of Risk Analysis (SRA) Congress in Singapore in 2015 and the SETAC Asia/Pacific meeting in 2016.

At the time of writing, I am at the SETAC Argentina meeting. Pieter Booth and I have been invited to provide a course on ERA related to addressing oil and gas development issues. Argentina has always had an active industry, and currently environmental issues associated with fracking are receiving considerable attention. The SETAC course is designed to provide the basic concepts as well as information on how to apply them to questions that arise from fracking and other oil and gas activities. This and other invitations to provide ERA courses show the global interest that our members have in learning about ERA and how it can be used to examine issues relevant to their geographic areas.

We are teaching ERA concepts to non-scientists. SETAC North America recently had the opportunity to give a primer on ERA to U.S. congressional staff.  The proactive effort by SETAC was prompted by a legislative effort to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). As it is essential to the core of SETAC, the instructors included tripartite representation. Feedback from congressional staff was overwhelmingly positive and grateful. We anticipate that this type of educational activity is the beginning of continued involvement of SETAC directed at informing policy makers about science and the application of science. While SETAC is not a policy development organization, our mission includes promoting the use of science in environmental policy and decision-making. Teaching ERA concepts and how science is incorporated into the ERA process is a means for accomplishing that aspect of our mission.

ERA has also become a focus of accreditation and certification programs within SETAC Europe and North America. An educational program is being developed for SETAC Europe, while a program based on experience and testing is being considered by SETAC North America. The emphasis reflects the central and global roles that ERA has for environmental evaluations and regulatory processes. The worldwide importance of ERA, especially in developing countries, is a major theme emerging from my discussions with SETAC’s Global Partners (GPs). There is a strong interest on the part of the GPs in supporting education related to ERA. Given the obvious desire for learning, this is an opportunity for all of us in the next several years.

While interest in ERA applications is global, we need to recognize that there are geographic variations in how ERA methods are applied and risk management decisions made. These include methodological differences as well as differences in risk management philosophy. Because we are a unique global society, we need to better understand the “why and how” of variations in the color and width of the ERA ribbon that ties us together. I would appreciate your thoughts on how we accomplish this.

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