SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
16 January 2014
Volume 15 Issue 1
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Highlights from the SETAC North America Nashville Meeting

SETAC North America Science Committee

The SETAC North America Science Committee is charged with identifying emerging scientific issues relevant to SETAC, facilitating communication among advisory groups and the general membership, and ensuring technical excellence within SETAC. We found the SETAC North America annual meeting in Nashville to be a great success and are pleased to provide you with some highlights from our perspective. Approaches to presenting and discussing SETAC topics were as interesting as the content presented this year. Key words from this meeting might be "social media" or "new, interactive presentation formats." PechaKucha anyone?  We also look forward to catching up on recorded presentations we missed that are now available online.

What Works and Why?

  • An aggregate of successful ecological risk assessment and remediation experiences that many environmental professionals could learn from was given by an incredible lineup of presenters. Key points included:   
    • Deeply committed people working in good faith works because it enables creative approaches and aggressive action
    • Targeted remediation plus habitat enhancement works because it reduces remedial impacts and recovery time
    • Biological metrics work in natural settings because they cut through uncertainty about exposure and toxicity
    • Adaptive management, done right, works because it reduces risk quickly, reduces uncertainty about how to manage residual risk, and reduces uncertainty about future liability
    • Starting with the end vision for a project or site works because it redirects risk assessment away from describing problems and toward forward finding solutions
    • The Great Lakes Legacy Model works because it incentivizes and empowers action by managers, within a well defined domain, and creates greater certainty for responsible parties
    • Urban remediation and redevelopment can include cost-recovery components
  • This solution-focused risk assessment session built on "21st Century Environmental Risk Assessment," held last year in Long Beach and "Is the Cure Worse than the Disease" two years ago in Boston.

Decision-Making and Inputs to Decision-Makers

  • Shedding light on the relationships between technical science and decision-makers was a continuing theme in Nashville. This included a session on Decision Analysis for Valuation in Life Cycle Assessment, where discussions included an approach for considering how science can inform decision-making for “wicked” environmental problems.
  • Another favorite presentation was "A Quantitative Approach to Weight of Evidence in Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment" (G. Van Der Kraak) in the session on "Implementing Ecological Risk Assessment Weight-of-Evidence Approaches that Contribute to Decision-Making." A quantitative weight-of-evidence approach to assess all atrazine studies was described in an open and transparent way. Every paper published with atrazine data was analyzed for strength of methods and relevance of endpoints. Each study was included in a box plot visualize the variability in study strength, identify results of concern and identify areas needing further research.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

  • LCA is data a la model outputs but how to use LCA (for “more sustainable” supply chain or for choosing raw materials or for choosing products, etc.) is a much contested discussion involving social values
  • Several speakers described different pre-constructed indices (water use and risk, etc.) as attractive because of easy use but potentially problematic because of their pre-constructed nature. It might be a danger sign if we do not critically question how pre-constructed indices can inform conclusions of good or poor environmental practices (pharmaceutical production, LCIA, etc.) when these conclusions are essentially left in the hands of those who design the indices. Perhaps we can continue the discussion at future SETAC meetings on what and how index construction are used to address multi-criteria, multi-stressor, multi-receptor conclusions influences what and how we think about the use of science in policymaking. 

 Sustainability Ethics Game

  • A few new interactive formats were tried out in Nashville including a game played over Twitter illustrating the tragedy of the commons and the prisoners’ dilemma. These classic allocation problems clearly apply to environmental issues with interesting socio-economic influences. 
  • Some of the ethical questions discussed among game participants were:
    1. Should we collaborate with others or stay small when partnerships require more effort and time?
    2. Should we focus on current needs or consider the welfare of future generations?
    3. How will it affect us if we help others? 
  • In the debrief, Tom Seager guided a reflective and thought-provoking discussion exploring these questions and emotions about how the game was played and whether the different teams’ strategies were ethical, moral, colonialistic, imperialistic, altruistic or something else. 

Local Tennessee Issues

  • We were impressed by the multi-stakeholder cooperation and adaptive management that was demonstrated throughout the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston fly ash recovery project. It is a good case study of a large quantity of sound science and effective remediation being completed over a relatively short period of time.

Lively Discussion in the Session on Effects, Exposure and Risk to Amphibians and Reptiles

  • A lively discussion followed a presentation entitled "The Influence of Industry: How Conflicts of Interest Compromise Pesticide Regulation" in the session "Amphibian and Reptile Ecotoxicology: Progress and Challenges in Understanding Chemical Effects, Exposure and Risk" after the authors proposed the notion that funding could bias results of studies for pesticide registration. Others in the audience maintained that funding has little influence in that methods are prescribed by regulatory authorities and follow strict reporting and quality assurance guidelines (i.e. GLPs). Furthermore, reports then submitted to regulatory agencies present the methods and results only; any discussion of the results is typically not included. A funding clearing house vehicle (e.g., NSF) which would receive proposals and allocate funds was suggested.  However, opponents noted that doing so would create additional costs and not allow for industry to properly plan and maintain their toxicology facilities.

Adverse Outcome Pathways and Endocrine Disruption in Wildlife

  • Excellent presentations were given on the effects of toxicants and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on wildlife. Topics ranged from molecular responses to exposure to toxicants and EDCs to assessing risk and remediation. There were examples of impacts of environmental chemicals on wildlife, and the use of Adverse Outcomes Pathways provides an excellent method to conceptualize the range of effects associated with exposure(s) – for vertebrate and invertebrate species. These presentations illustrated the importance of considering the continuum of effects from molecular impacts to those affecting the whole organism and utilizing data from laboratory and field studies. 

Student Perspectives – Social Media

  • The first ever social media professional training course was taught by students on Sunday. Overall, the student instructors received great feedback and are looking forward to teaching a similar course in Basel!
  • Students were impressed with the Student/Mentor dinner, where they enjoyed talking to professionals in government, academia and business .
  • Connecting with new people, rekindling friendships and discussing science was, as always, a highlight
  • Students enjoyed the use of Twitter and Facebook by SETAC members at the meeting. Attendees used these social media tools to promote sessions, posters or platform presentations, and as a way to keep up with meeting activities. It was a new effort put forth jointly by NASAC and the European Student Advisory Council. There were also tweets by business, government and SETAC North America. It's not too late to see what people thought about the meeting. Check it out at #SETAC2013

If you are interested in participating in the SETAC North America Technical Committee, you can contact the 2014 Chair, Mary Ann Ottinger.

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