SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
16 April 2015
Volume 16 Issue 4
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Highlights from SETAC Vancouver–A SETAC North America Science Committee’s Perspective

Markus Hecker, Cameron Irvine, Ryan Prosser and Sue Robinson of the SETAC North America Science Committee

Poster social at SETAC Vancouver

The SETAC North America 35th Annual Meeting, which took place from 9–13 November in Vancouver, Canada, was a great success, with 2,165 attendees from more than 41 nations that represented all geographic regions of the society. The meeting featured 12 parallel sessions with a diverse scientific program. We “apologize” for so much good science that you could not see everything you wanted. However, please check out the recorded sessions because the one you missed will hopefully be among them. As a new feature in 2014, SETAC North America invited the public to a Reddit – Ask Me Anything session about chemicals in the environment, and experts from government, business and academia at the meeting provided answers. Nearly 200 questions were posted and addressed.

Another highlihgt of the meeting were the well-attended plenary presentations. Richard Cannings, Ralph Nigro, Bob Lackey and Wade Davis provided thought-provoking reflections on the environment, energy, the peril of normative science and natural resource management. (View recordings of three of the presentations here.)

More Scientific Highlights:

  • Wicked Problem Debate on Energy and Societal Demand:  The necessary long-term planning and strategy for energy and food is problematic in a short-term society. What can we do to change this? Discussions ranged from inefficiened energy creation, to CO2 emissions, to the environmental footprint of vegans and vegetarians eating “fake meat” (i.e., soy protein isolate). 
  • Particularly impressive was the attention to Wildlife and Environmental Human Toxicology issues that were presented. Many talks described contamination with pesticides and metals that continue to be important to both human and wildlife health:
    • Human Health Risk Assessment Session: A common theme in several different sessions was how science does not equal policy decision-making. A fish contaminant concentration does not tell us what level to regulate (or if to regulate). 
    • There was standing room only in the Wildlife Toxicology Global Advisory Group meeting on Thursday, where there was general agreement that some of the success of this SETAC meeting was due to the emphasis on the toxicological issues concerning wildlife. (You can join the group here.)
    • Methods for using tissue-based benchmarks promise to reduce variability in exposure, kinetics and toxicity information in estimating adverse effect levels to wildlife.
  • Similarly, the session on Ecological Consequences of Exposure to Pharmaceuticals from Wastewater Treatment and Manufacturing Effluents was packed from beginning to end. A highlight was Karen Kidd’s talk on long-term direct and indirect effects of ethynylestradiol on aquatic food webs.
  • Improving Risk Assessment Characterization of Exposure-Response Relationships: New methods to better characterize risk continue to develop, and the speakers provided a range of methods to review and derive toxicity benchmarks from disparate data. Additionally, this session emphasized the importance of using complete dose-response information and provided limitations for using No-Observed Adverse Effect Levels (NOAELs) and Low-Observed Adverse Effect Levels (LOAELs) for risk assessment purposes.
  • Making Confident Environmental Decisions in an Uncertain World was well attended and offered practical considerations and approaches in making real-world environmental decisions (e.g., advantages of using Bayesian Networks) and associated challenges (e.g., use of parametric  vs. non-parametric statistics).
  • Remedy Effectiveness Assessments and Monitoring Contaminated Sediment Remediation was also packed and offered numerous methods for monitoring effectiveness including the use of bioavailability measures including using tissues (e.g., passerine nestlings) to compare total tissue accumulation pre- and post-remediation.
  • First Nations provided their perspectives on current evaluation approaches for climate impacts on tribal health: Jamie Donatuto of the Salish First Nation raised the point that  human health risk assessments would work better for First Nations by considering their concepts of human and tribal heath that include community, family and spirit as well as toxicity to individuals.  She discussed alternative approaches similar to some methodologies for decision analysis that use a “constructed scale” to avoid using monetary value as the common denominator. 
Monday night social at SETAC Vancouver

Social Highlights:

  • The Sunday night opening reception featured amazing food, music and company.
  • The annual SETAC North America hockey game reached new heights, and it was the first SETAC game played on Olympic and NHL ice!
  • This first SETAC North America student party was a great success and definitely held its own compared to its well-established SETAC Europe counterpart. The venue was great, the place packed, friendships were made and consolidated, and students and non-students were dancing up a storm all evening. Let’s do it again!

What Does SETAC Mean to You?


The SETAC North American Student Advisory Council (NASAC) asked students at SETAC Vancouver this question, and we like what they said:

  • The people! The creativity and science is good but I come for the people.
  • SETAC is my scientific conference home. The North America annual meeting is a bit like a reunion. Good science, good people, good meeting, good FUN!
  • SETAC is a forum to meet people interested in finding solution to problems facing our society today as we continue to develop.
  • SETAC is my professional family. I knew it the moment I started my first meeting in Boston.
  • Meeting my heroes!
  • SETAC is a place to learn, share and befriend people with shared interest.
  • The biggest science party of the year with a bunch of brilliant toxicologists keeping the party alive!
Student/Mentor lunch at SETAC Vancouver

Like us, many of you seemed to have enjoyed the SETAC Vancouver meeting, or as one of our student members put it, “SETAC means past, present and future!  It is all my favorite people talking about all my favorite things for the best week of the year! SETAC Eve reminds me of Christmas Eve as a child!” We can’t agree more, and are looking forward to celebrate the next “SETAC Holiday” with you in Salt Lake City!

You can see more highlights from the SETAC Vancouver meeting on Twitter with the hashtag #setacvancouver.

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. 

Authors’ contact information: markus.hecker@usask.ca, cameron.irvine@CH2M.com, ryan.prosser@ec.gc.ca and scrobinson@golder.com

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