SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
6 October 2016
Volume 17 Issue 10

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Chemicals: Assessment of Risks to Ecosystem Services (CARES)

Lorraine Maltby, The University of Sheffield, Paul van den Brink, Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra), Jack Faber, Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra), and Stuart Marshall, Unilever

SETAC World Congress

Chemicals may have positive or negative effects on human well-being.  The long-term survival and well-being of human populations depend on the sustainable use of ecosystems. The biophysical components of ecosystems (i.e., land, water, air, minerals, species, genes) provide the stocks of natural capital from which benefits (e.g., clean air and water, food and fiber, disease suppression and climate regulation) flow. Sustaining these benefit flows requires an understanding of how they are provided by ecosystems and how they are likely to be affected by pressures such as chemicals released into the environment. Many chemicals entering the environment are generated during the production or use of products that also benefit human well-being, for example by reducing disease (e.g., pharmaceuticals, disinfectants, antibiotics, hygiene products), increasing food quality and quantity (e.g., pesticides), improving living conditions (e.g., energy, housing materials), enhancing quality of life (e.g., mechanisation, transport).  The challenge decision-makers face here is how to balance the well-being benefits provided by the use of chemicals with the potential well-being costs via habitat degradation and loss of ecosystem-derived benefits (i.e., ecosystem services). 

Balancing the well-being benefits and costs of chemical use requires assessing risk to ecosystem services. The EU biodiversity strategy for 2020 – our life insurance, our natural capital – has set a headline target of “Halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020 and restoring them in so far as feasible, while stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss.”  In order to achieve this target, it is necessary to incorporate ecosystem service thinking into regulatory policy- and decision-making. It is also necessary to develop tools and approaches for identifying what needs to be protected where, in order to enable the sustainable use of natural capital.  Aligning chemical risk assessment to the biodiversity strategy requires the establishment of specific protection goals and approaches for translating ecotoxicological exposure and effects information into risks for ecosystem service delivery.

The CARES workshops bring stakeholders together to develop and evaluate the use of the ecosystem service approach in guiding chemical risk assessment. The CARES project is led by Lorraine Maltby (The University of Sheffield, UK) and includes Paul van den Brink and Jack Faber (Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra), NL) and Stuart Marshall (Unilever, UK).  It has established a core group of key stakeholders from the chemical industry, regulatory organizations and academia to participate in a series of three workshops, which aim to develop consensus on how the ecosystem services concept might be used in chemical risk assessment and management.  The project is supported by CEFIC-LRI and the workshops are organized in collaboration with SETAC Europe. Participation in workshops is by invitation.

Workshop 1 assessed the current state of knowledge and identified key information gaps. The 1st CARES workshop was held in July 2015 and identified clear advantages of using an ecosystem services approach in chemical risk assessment, but it also highlighted a number of challenges in implementing the approach (e.g., complexity in assessment, data requirements, limitations in current testing and assessment methods). It was agreed that a tiered approach was necessary: lower tier using exposure- and/or effect-based triggers based on conservative assumptions; higher tier using standard scenarios to account for temporal and spatial heterogeneity in use and exposure patterns, ecological communities and ecosystem functions.

Workshop 2 explored the use of novel approaches from ecology, ecotoxicology and ecological modeling to address key information gaps.  The 2nd CARES workshop was held in May 2016 and explored the use of novel approaches from ecology, ecotoxicology and ecological modeling to address challenges identified in the first workshop.  Case studies were used to illustrate the development of environmental scenarios and the potential use of ecological models and trait-based approaches to address issues of ecological complexity and heterogeneity. Workshop participants identified and prioritized research needed to effectively implement an ecosystem services approach into prospective and retrospective risk assessment. The top four needs were linking measurement endpoints to ecosystems services; mechanistic models, in particular ecological production functions; scenario development; integrated decision-making framework for risk managers and risk assessors.

Workshop 3 will explore how an ecosystem services approach could be implemented and will consider the implications for regulatory risk assessment. The 3rd CARES workshop, which will be held in November 2016, will develop an implementation plan that expands on the research needs prioritized in Workshop 2, and it will address the procedural challenges associated with adopting an ecosystem services approach into chemical regulation. For example, attendees will address whether implementation should be via a horizontal framework or by embedding into existing sector-based regulations and how to incorporate the ecosystem services framework into a tiered assessment strategy.

CARES will provide a common understanding across stakeholders of the merits and feasibility of an ecosystem services approach to chemical risk assessment and the implications for implementation. All workshop findings will be shared with the scientific community via peer reviewed papers and presentations at SETAC meetings.

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