Mark Egsmose, European Food Safety Authority,  and Francesca Pellizzato, European Chemicals Agency

One of the eight strategic goals defined and approved by the SETAC Europe Council for the 2018–2020 term is to use the results of the Global Horizon Scanning Project (GHSP) to facilitate the inclusion of  key research questions in order to improve our understanding of adverse impact of stressors on environmental sustainability and further inform national and international funding programs in Europe.

The Horizon Scanning Stakeholder Roundtable Discussion (roundtable) was held during the SETAC Europe 29th Annual Meeting on  28 May 2019 in Helsinki, Finland. The roundtable was aimed at fostering research collaborations within and beyond the SETAC community to promote sustainable environmental quality in the Baltic Region.

The roundtable was organized in the framework of the GHSP, which was launched in 2013 to identify geographically specific research needs for a better understanding of adverse impacts of stressors (e.g., chemical, physical, biological) on environmental sustainability. The roundtable is a unique forum provided by SETAC. It strikes a balance between academia, government and business, and it facilitates close cooperation in a multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder environment, thereby providing opportunities to identify research needs in strategically important fields in highly relevant regions.

The GHSP was organized within each geographic unit (GU), and the outcome of the SETAC Europe Horizon Scanning Project (SE HSP) was published in August 2018 by van den Brink et al. The success of other GUs in their Horizon Scanning activities have been invigorating to the overall SETAC community. For example, the Latin American Horizon Scanning Project (Furley et al, 2018) has already led to three calls for proposals for research, including topics such as cyanobacteria, cyanotoxins, pharmaceuticals and complex mixtures. These have been launched through a partnership with the Funding Authority for Studies and Projects (FINEP) in São Paulo, Brazil, and with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).

The roundtable was the third stakeholder event to follow-up on the SE HSP and the second one with a specific regional focus. The first one was held in Brussels in 2017, which focused on understanding how the research priorities of our stakeholders compare with those identified by the SE HSP. The second one was held in Rome, focusing on the Mediterranean region resulting in the identification of five priority topics: i) to develop an approach to prioritize compounds in the Mediterranean Region; ii) to extrapolate from toxicokinetic/toxicodynamic models to compare adverse effects across species, life stages and different levels of biological organization; iii) to assess the hotspots of key contaminants along the Mediterranean shores; iv) to investigate recovery and restoration of biodiversity in the Mediterranean area; and v) to assess multiple stressors and their interaction in spatially explicit ecological risk assessments.

At the roundtable, an inventory of research areas and issues to consider were proposed as priority for the Baltic Region:

  • Sediment biochemistry knowledge: Applying it to study how contaminants are transformed, etc.
  • The Baltic Sea as a contaminant sink: Cleaning up contaminants effectively
  • Climate change: Impacting the flux of energy and other stressors in the Baltic Sea
  • Multiple stressors on key species in the Baltic Sea: Proposing assessment factors that can be used to evaluate their effects
  • Toxic chemicals in the Baltic Sea ecosystem: Understanding exposure, the levels of exposure and prioritizing these substances
  • Polar chemicals: Integrating toxicology and chemistry
  • Environmental conditions of the Baltic Sea: Taking into account the seasons and salinity, and how this influences the toxic effects and biomarker responses to chemical contaminants
  • Predictive modeling approaches: Assessing multiple stressors affecting the Baltic Sea
  • Traditional indigenous knowledge: Recognizing the value in citizen science based on local knowledge
  • Balance and equal opportunities: Highlighting the need to encourage young women and men to enter research

Options for actual research dissemination and formation of possible (funding) partnerships were also discussed. A representative of the Bonus Fund called for a multi-stressor approach in all research to be undertaken in the Baltic Sea. A representative from the Water Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) suggested assessment and management of contaminants, including micro- and nano-plastics, taking into consideration in particular cocktail and mixture effects, in the context of a sensitive environment and contaminant sink such as the Baltic Sea.

The meeting was successful in creating a multi-stakeholder discussion forum, bringing funding organizations, scientists, representatives of business and governmental sectors, as well as NGOs together. Some concrete proposals and ideas came out of the meeting as highlighted above.

As a follow-up from the Helsinki roundtable, we encourage everyone who proposed research topics to move these proposals forward. One way to accomplish this would be to approach SETAC with concrete research questions, topics or proposals so that we can connect you to scientists in the SETAC membership and beyond. This will allow us to match those working in related fields with potential funding organizations and opportunities. For example, SETAC could help advance these topics within the SETAC community through development of sessions, calls for papers and workshops. If you have any additional ideas and are interested in contributing, please let us know.

Authors’ contact information: Mark.Egsmose@efsa.europa.eu  and francesca.pellizzato@echa.europa.eu

The positions and opinions in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily represent the views of EFSA and ECHA.

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