SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
3 November 2016
Volume 17 Issue 11
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SETAC Africa – Bringing African Scientists to Global Competitiveness

Beatrice Opeolu, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Global deterioration of environmental quality is no longer a myth but a fact with an abundance of evidence in literature. In the early '90s, many Africans doubted the occurrence of global warming and climate change. They believed that it was some prank being played by scientists who needed funding and attention. Issues of domestic, municipal and industrial pollution continue to increase with growing urbanization and population explosion due to a greater need for infrastructure, food and services by the populace. Sustainable use of resources therefore becomes imperative since resources continue to dwindle both in quantity and quality.

Some of the environmental challenges African countries currently face include air, soil and water pollution from mining, oil exploration, manufacturing processes and lifestyle choices. Africa is not exempt from pollutants of emerging concerns such as pharmaceuticals and plastics. Although there is dearth of data on occurrence, fate and effects of these contaminants in Africa, this does not necessarily imply the problems are non-existent.

Over the years, many African scientists have contributed to the existing body of knowledge in environmental sciences. However, their efforts are often limited in the type and scope of studies they may undertake, resulting in poor visibility of the researchers and their research efforts. Heavy metals, for example, are a class of contaminants that have been widely studied in Africa due to relative availability of atomic absorption spectrophotometers. On the other hand, persistent organic contaminants, such as pesticides and perfluorinated compounds, as well as emerging contaminants like pharmaceutical residues are rarely studied. Many scholars rely on laboratories elsewhere to use state-of-the-art equipment for contaminants that require sophisticated instrumentation. Access to opportunities for study and research visits to established laboratories often require linkages with strong goodwill. This is a luxury that many African scientists do not have, with consequent effects on quantity and quality of research. One cannot over-emphasize the struggles of African scientists who strive toward conducting good science and achieving greater visibility for their work. They are often limited by funds availability for conducting research, access to existing literature, attending meetings and publishing research outputs. It is also an open secret that many funding agencies also require or prioritize research proposals that have north–south collaborations. As much as Africa seeks partnerships with the northern hemisphere, attention is now being drawn to south–south and Asian linkages since these countries have similar challenges. The task at hand is to get a platform that can link environmental scientists globally from academia, business and government for sustainable utilization of resources to enhance the well-being of humanity.

SETAC, with its membership of about 6,000 scientists from academia, business and government, provides a platform for both established and young African environmental science practitioners to bridge some of these gaps. Members have opportunities to interact with scientists of international repute in this tripartite alliance at regional and geographic unit meetings. There are also training and mentoring programs for upcoming practitioners.

SETAC Africa, the youngest of the five SETAC Geographic Units (GUs), received autonomous status from the SETAC World Council (SWC) in 2012. The GU is an offspring of SETAC Europe and had hosted five biennial meetings prior to autonomy. The 6th SETAC Africa biennial meeting was held in Lusaka, Zambia, in 2013, and the last one was in Langebaan, South Africa, in 2015. Participation at the 2015 meeting included SETAC and non-SETAC members from within and outside Africa, and feedback from attendees was very positive. The Langebaan meeting has particularly positioned the GU for hosting larger and more successful meetings in coming years.

Building on these achievments, the Organizing Committee of the SETAC Africa 8th Biennial Conference is enthusiastic and plans to ensure the next meeting, which will be held from 17–19 October 2017 in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria, will be an exciting and fruitful event. The meeting, themed “The Quality of African Environment: The Roles of Science, Industry and Regulators,” will cover topics related to:

  • African environment – aquatic and terrestrial ecotoxicology
  • Effect of pesticide use and quarrying over time, space and level of biological organization
  • Emerging and re-emerging contaminants: Fate, effect and environmental risks
  • Environmental fate and transport of contaminants
  • Environmental “omics” and adverse outcome pathways of toxic substances and risk assessment
  • Life cycle assessment and sustainable natural gas development
  • Modeling approaches for chemicals’ fate and exposure; risk assessment of chemical
  • Risk assessment, mitigation and monitoring
  • Special sessions

The four-day meeting promises to be filled with quality science and great networking opportunities for established and young researchers. There will be at least three keynote speakers who will address the theme of the meeting from academic, business and government points of view. It is particularly exciting to me as a woman that our first confirmed keynote speaker is also a woman, Gertie Arts. She is a senior researcher in the field of aquatic risk assessment, aquatic ecotoxicology and aquatic ecology. She is also the immediate past president of SETAC Europe.

A number of short courses are being planned during the four-day meeting. SETAC Africa invites proposals for short courses and abstracts for platform and poster presentations in any of the meeting topics. Businesses, governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations and universities are also invited as sponsors of this event. For more information, please visit www.saf2017.setac.org.

If you are interested in becoming a SETAC member, visit www.setac.org. For more infomation about SETAC Africa, contact Ikechukwu Onwurah, Olawale Otitoju or Beatrice Opeolu.

Author’s contact information: opeolub@cput.ac.za

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