SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
17 December 2015
Volume 16 Issue 12
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11th SETAC Europe Special Science Symposium

Michael S. Bank, University of Massachusetts, Davide Vignati, CNRS and Université de Lorraine, Roel Evens, Bruce Vigon, SETAC, Ricardo Barra, University of Concepcion and Christine Wellington-Moore, Global Environment Facility

The 11th SETAC Europe Special Science Symposium (SESSS) addressed how science, biomonitoring and policy can be integrated for successful implementation support to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Minamata Convention on Mercury. The SESSS was a two-day event held from 20–21 October 2015 in Brussels, Belgium. The forum was designed as a capacity building event with the goal of bringing together different stakeholders to develop methods, and application of these methods to the UNEP Minamata Convention, and to discuss current and future research needs.

Participants included members of UNEP, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and representatives from academia, business, NGO’s and members from civil society. Given the breadth of the Minamata Convention, the focus of the symposium was on select aspects that will require the most immediate attention from signatory countries upon the ratification and entry into action of the convention. Special attention was dedicated to the current provision of European Union legislation with regard to mercury management and risk assessment.

The symposium addressed the following themes:

  • Identify research and practical needs to develop global, regional and local networks for monitoring mercury emissions and releases
  • Harmonize different local, regional and global policies for mercury management for contaminated sites (i.e., definition of adequate reference toxicity values)
  • Accelerate transfer of cutting edge global scale research and monitoring into implementation of the Convention
  • Environmental and public health implications of mercury exposure
  • Assess and evaluate progress on global data management, storage and access and retrieval (UNEP LIVE and GMOS Platforms)

Presentations were provided by experts from a wide array of scientific disciplines and included the following topics:

  • Atmospheric chemistry
  • Ecotoxicology and contaminant biology
  • Data and knowledge management platforms
  • Human health
  • Environmental biomonitoring
  • Stable isotope analytical chemistry techniques

We also discussed these topics, in further detail, during six different breakout sessions to identify the state-of-the-science in relation to the UNEP Minamata Convention on Mercury. Most presenters have kindly provided copies of their presentations and they are available online.

Collectively during the symposium we identified the following priority items and research areas needing further attention:

  • Model fallibility was discussed extensively, especially with regard to long-range transport capabilities of the different mercury source types and the data quality of their associated emission inventories.  It was also agreed that there likely was a strong potential for disproportional influences of episodic events (i.e., hurricanes, fires, floods) on mercury bioavailability, exposure and cycling. Gaseous oxidized mercury measurements are highly uncertain and unreliable, and will have unfavorable consequences for mass balance estimates and subsequent models. Moreover, measuring water to air mercury fluxes remains to be a difficult task as a result of a lack of available instrumentation and data.
  • There is a general need for harmonization of policy-relevant biomonitoring and the need for a central data management platform.  Biomonitoring efforts truly need to be developed at a global scale and follow standardized protocols.
  • An improved understanding of impacts of climate change drivers on mercury biogeochemistry is necessary for anticipating future human and environmental health implications. Moreover, a further understanding of the processes governing mercury deposition, sediment re-suspension and methylation-demethylation dynamics, speciation, bioavailability and bioaccumulation across heterogeneous environments is also needed. Modeling, field and lab studies may be required to meet these objectives. 
  • Further understanding is needed of the interplay of mercury cycling with the underlying effects of global environmental change on water quality, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) quantity and quality, organism metabolism and trophic structure changes and their spatial and temporal variations with regard to changes in climate, land-use, wetland extent and urbanization.
  • Sources of mercury may need to be better identified and human health risk communication remains a tremendous challenge.  Stable isotope techniques provide a unique analytical opportunity to track sources of mercury in human and environmental matrices. 
  • Probability-based, public health approaches may aid in identifying high-risk populations. Understanding what people truly consume can be difficult and the identity of fish is often unknown due to mislabeling.
  • Policy-relevant biomonitoring and use of select indicator species or guilds should consider and represent different spatial and temporal scales.
  • Statistical rigor and reproducibility of lab, field and modeling studies is foundational for effective mercury science and should be further evaluated in new and existing published scientific investigations.

We would like to take the opportunity to thank all the participants, speakers and the breakout session chairpersons for all their time, planning and efforts!

Authors’ contact information: mbank@eco.umass.edudavid-anselmo.vignati@univ-lorraine.fr, roel.evens@setac.org, bruce.vigon@setac.org, ricbarra@udec.cl, christine.wellington-moore@unep.org

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