SETAC Africa Langebaan – Observations from a SETAC North America Member
Larry Kapustka, LK Consultancy, Invited Commentary
During the first week of October 2015, I was privileged to attend the 7th SETAC Africa Conference, which was held at Club Mykonos in Langebaan, South Africa. This venue provided an inspirational setting of the West African coast for the gathering of scientists from Africa with a sprinkling of representatives from Europe, North America and Asia. The conference, with approximately 80 registered attendees, was reminiscent (at least for me) of meetings of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) in the late 1980s and into the 1990s because there was opportunity for all attendees to interact directly with all others present. Established scientists and students (most attending a meeting of this type for the first time) mingled freely during breaks and into the evenings, solidifying established or forming new networking connections.
The formal presentations and posters were high-quality, worthy of the SETAC brand. Discussions that occurred within and outside of the sessions were lively and constructive—often couched in the context of African perspectives. Topics of pesticide use and effects, nanomaterials, chemicals with emerging concerns, food security, water quality, changing climate issues and sustainability were examined from local, regional and continental perspectives, with the clear recognition that what works for a particular jurisdiction, particular culture or economic setting may be irrelevant in another setting.
As I pondered how this SETAC Africa meeting was similar and how it differed from counterparts particularly in Europe and North America, one distinguishing theme stood out for me. Often in North America and to some extent in Europe, I get a sense that presenters believe that their work could be—maybe even ought to be–embraced and adopted globally, even if the scope of the work was rather narrowly focused. We see this both in presentations and in papers submitted to our journals, ET&C and IEAM, as guidelines from the USEPA, Environment Canada or European Union are cited. In this SETAC Africa meeting, I sensed a willingness to look at what was done elsewhere but to pick and choose selectively from multiple sources in an effort to craft an approach that works for Nigeria, or Cameroon, or Coastal South Africa. The efforts of our African colleagues are being organized to meet the realities of the culturally diverse settings, financial and workforce limitations in the areas of environmental science and management, and challenges of electronic connectivity that those of us outside of Africa now take for granted.
This meeting, from my perspective, was very successful. It was rewarding for attendees. And the prospects for a dynamic SETAC Africa geographic unit are good to excellent. I encourage everyone to consider engaging African colleagues, and where collaboration and networking possibilities exist, make the extra effort to make it happen. You will not be disappointed.
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