Summaries Published in the November 2018 Issue

Jan Koschorreck, German Environment Agency; Elisabeth Nyberg, Swedish Museum of Natural History; and Sara Danielsson, Swedish Museum of Natural History

Environmental specimen banks (ESBs) systematically store high-quality samples from the environment and human populations in support of chemicals management and innovative research for a better environmental quality. Still, there is a large potential to make better use of ESB samples in research and chemicals regulation.

There are around 30 ESBs in the world, of which about 20 are located in Europe, and for some ESBs, sampling has been ongoing for up to 50 years at regular intervals. The specimens are used to monitor the quality of the environment and the efficacy of regulatory efforts to control known hazardous substances like metals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), dioxins and other organochlorines or -halogens. However, the main objective of ESBs is retrospective analysis of chemicals of emerging concern (CECs): ESB samples allow for spatio-temporal analysis of substances that are unknown, not known to be hazardous or not analytically detectable at the time of sampling. Recent examples are new per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS), new flame retardants, chlorinated paraffins (CPs), nanomaterials and pharmaceuticals.

The systematic use of high-quality ESB data and samples has the potential to significantly increase our understanding of the fate of regulated and non-regulated contaminants in the environment. ESB data is already being used to some extent to identify persistent organic pollutants (POPs) under the Stockholm Convention and potential persistent and bioaccumulative compounds in the European REACH legislation. However, consistent and interdisciplinary approaches that make better use of high-quality ESB samples can overcome the reluctant use of monitoring data in chemicals risk assessment.

The application of cutting-edge analytical methods to ESB samples is a win-win situation for the value of ESB samples and our understanding of the quality of the environment. For example, non-target screening is a promising tool that will add significant data on the temporal occurrence of chemicals in ecosystems. Some archived samples are now also used for barcoding and meta-barcoding approaches of environmental eDNA revealing temporal changes in biodiversity and offering interdisciplinary links to this research area. Furthermore, banked environmental and human samples can be incentives for interdisciplinary and integrated exposure assessments.

The aim of this ESB session was to discuss interdisciplinary applications for ESB samples and to initiate collaborations with environmental scientists and regulators in the field of long-term environmental quality monitoring. The invited speakers represent both newer and well established ESBs as well as ESBs focusing on different types of samples. Short summaries of the five presentations are given below.

  • Temporal trends of POPs in the Swedish aquatic ecosystem and in human milk were presented by Elisabeth Nyberg, Swedish Museum of Natural History, and she concluded that the non-linear trends differ between monitoring matrices for several contaminants. In some cases, the peak differs, and in others, the concentration is leveling out for one matrix but continues to decrease for another. In addition, the concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichlorodiphenylchloroethanes (DDTs) and hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCHs) are, despite continuous decreases since the 1970s, still higher in the Baltic Sea compared with, for example, the North Sea.
  • Anne Dreyer, Eurofins, presented results for conventional and novel or alternative flame retardants in environmental samples from the German ESB in time series going back to the 1980s. She concluded that PBDEs, emerging brominated flame retardants (eBFRs) and dechloranes were observed in the analyzed samples but that concentrations for almost all target compounds were decreasing over time. Dreyer thus posed the questions if the eBFRs and dechloranes really are emerging and, perhaps, which other substitutes for regulated flame retardants should we be focused on?
  • Pernilla Bohlin-Nizzetto, Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), highlighted the importance of controlling the indoor laboratory environment to avoid sample contamination. Selected target screening results from passive air samplers and dust show that several of the non-regulated chemicals of emerging concern are found at high levels in the indoor matrices. These include CPs, new flame retardants and volatile methylsiloxanes. In contrast, regulated contaminants (e.g., PCBs and PBDEs) are found at low levels.
  • Results, both temporal and spatial, from the screening of perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) and precursors in various samples from the German ESB were presented by Matthias Kotthoff, Fraunhofer IME. Perfluoropropionic acid (PFPrA) was for the first time detected in several biotic matrices similar to a PFAS produced in China (F-53B), which was detected for the first time in European biota. The results show that it is of high importance to increase the spectrum of analyzed PFAS and that the focus should be on short chain and ether PFAS and precursor molecules.
  • Jonas Astrin, Zoological Research Museum A. Koenig, discussed the importance of ESBs following defined routines since they constitute a very valuable source of DNA for biodiversity research, as they keep open a window that allows the parallel, correlative analysis of the chemical and of the species community composition of a given environment over time. Thus, by adding DNA banking to their service spectrum, ESBs can considerably increase their visibility and public demand. Furthermore, they can foster knowledge aggregation at the biodiversity level around their ESB samples, making these more valuable.

The session ended with a 15 minute discussion on future interdisciplinary applications for ESBs.

The results presented in this session and the following discussion made it clear that the use of ESB data and samples has in many cases increased the knowledge on both regulated and non-regulated contaminants in the environment. However, there is a large potential to make better use of ESB samples in research and chemicals regulation by increasing the understanding of the potential of ESBs both in the research community and by the general public.

Non-target screening (NTS) was regarded to have a big potential for ESBs since it is possible to store the data from matrices that are difficult to archive, e.g., water and air. The resulting virtual ESB data archives can be seen as complementary to traditional ESBs with biota and other environmental specimens. Furthermore, the use of mass spectrometric suspect screening approaches allows to characterize the contamination of samples for a much larger number of chemicals than previously possible. It is expected that NTS analysis of ESB samples will greatly improve our understanding of the historical evolution of chemical contamination. A representative of the University of the Basque Country mentioned another example where novel techniques improve the analysis of banked samples: Images from marine biota histological samples are stored as digital samples with open access to scientists via the internet.

Regulators at the ESB session mentioned that environmental monitoring data are being used more, in both substance risk assessment and effectiveness evaluation of chemical regulation. The Stockholm Convention was mentioned as the example for the use of trend data from different regions. For the EU, REACH was mentioned as a relevant regulation where ESBs could contribute with data (identification of substances of very high concern). An example is the identification of possibly biomagnifying current-use chemicals by analysis of biota from several trophic levels of an ecosystem and determination of trophic magnification factors (TMFs). ESBs with an appropriate sampling strategy could deliver samples for such a study on demand.

Authors’ contact information:, and

Charmaine Ajao, Thomas-Benjamin Seiler and Annegaaike Leopold; Session Co-chairs

Gunilla Öberg, one of the speakers, presented the take-home message from our well-attended special session at the SETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting in Rome,“We as scientists should show awareness, humility and courage in developing, performing and communicating our environmental research.” The hall, with a capacity of 300 chairs, was full throughout both parts of the session, just before and just after lunch, with people even sitting on the floor or standing. The organizers received many positive reactions during and after the session. One attendee said words to the following effect, “I have been coming to SETAC meetings for many years now and this is the first time that I have found what I am looking for – very inspiring.” The ECHA presentation given by Charmaine Ajao was also commended by the editor of the Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM) SETAC journal.

Creating awareness through improvement of science and risk communication to and among stakeholders was the topic that was given highest priority by a group of environmental science stakeholders who attended the Horizon Scanning Project Stakeholder Event during the SETAC Europe 27th Annual Meeting in Brussels in May 2017. This is what triggered the development of this session.

The session followed a unique structure. After a more general and practical talk on science communication, it featured speakers presenting as a duo, and in one case as a trio, with very succinct five- to ten-minute “point and counter point” talks around three selected themes of emerging concern to scientists, the public and regulators alike: Endocrine disruptors, nanomaterials and (micro)plastics.

Sofie Vanthournout, from Sense About Science EU, was welcomed as a breath of fresh air by the SETAC audience, shaking us up with five top tips for how we, as environmental researchers, can work in alliance with citizens to fight misinformation and improve public debates. The tips included:

  1. To communicate WITH the public rather than TO the public
  2. To respect the audience and public and not to underestimate them – the public is not stupid but is most likely misinformed
  3. To listen to the public’s concerns and be willing to agree to disagree
  4. To be humble and honest about your limits of expertise, especially since public debates are never focused on a single topic
  5. To talk about trade-offs and explain the bigger picture.

During the discussion with the audience, the key question was how to ensure that research is independent. It was argued by Vanthournout that placing several people around the table to represent different perspectives is the way forward. Others argued that funders of research determine which research is done. A logical response to that was that scientists should be lobbying with the funding agencies. It was also pointed out that success stories should be told and scientists should not only focus on the uncertainties.

This was followed by a duo presentation on how to communicate the risks posed by endocrine disrupting chemicals by Juliette Legler, Utrecht University, who represented the human safety aspects, and Markus Hecker, University of Saskatchewan, who represented the environmental safety aspects. Mixed messages in the media, in scientific publications, as well as regional differences in regulation and decision making, for example the hazard approach to endocrine disruptors in Europe and the risk approach to the same issue in North America, can lead to the public mistrusting the science. Legler and Hecker highlighted that scientists, when communicating with the public, often take on the role of informing the public after their research results have been generated, which can lead to fear. Instead they are advised to interact with the public and engage the public from the outset of the research. They proposed to have more informed co-creation of research with the public, very much in line with Vanthournout’s message. A practical Canadian example given during the talk was that to reach out to the public, scientists communicate and discuss their findings in open meetings in bars. In their talk, they also referred to regulators as one main stakeholder in science communication. In their eyes, regulators are faced with an information overload, and hence, they rely more and more on briefs and reviews that may be provided by the media. Scientists should realize that they are responsible for providing robust information to decision makers who need to take decisions based on scientific evidence. Legler and Hecker suggested to “cut out the middle man” (i.e., the media) where possible and provide our own briefs and press releases. Training scientists in science communication is therefore very important.

Apple and orange photo

We as scientists disagree; that’s OK! But we need to communicate results and risks with the public and decision makers in a way that they do not understand oranges while we are talking apples! (courtesy of, licensed under CC0)

Charmaine Ajao, ECHA, gave a regulator’s perspective to involving stakeholders and the public in the regulation of a substance. This presentation provided a practitioner’s response to the question raised by the duo before this presentation of how decisions are taken by decision makers. This presentation explained the lines of evidence considered by ECHA in the regulation of a substance. A case example from Member State Committee (MSC) agreement-seeking in substance evaluation was presented, where evidence from the Registrant following a proposal for amendments led to a change in the testing strategy requested by the evaluating Member State and subsequent agreement by MSC. The presentation explained the regulatory boundaries of decision makers and the iterations made with different stakeholders to arrive at a transparent, independent decision based on scientific evidence.

After lunch Fabienne Schwab, from the Adolphe Merkle Institute, opened the floor. She spoke from the perspective of scientists working in the lab, who publish their results, only to have the media put a negative spin on their results. She asked the question how scientists can correct the negative message. Schwab shared her personal experience of when media took hold of a scientific publication in which she reported that “nanotubes ‘rob’ green algae of space and light.’’ This led to several reliable articles on about 10 websites and requests for the original publication. However, in a few articles the research results were misrepresented by the media, the most extreme example being an online article which spoke about “Nanoparticles Identified as Potential Environmental Killers.” Schwab encouraged those that had similar experiences to take social responsibility, take corrective actions, follow the responses and fight for the message to be corrected when misquoted or misinterpreted.

Following on from and complementing Schwab’s presentation, Gunilla Öberg, from the University of British Columbia, spoke of the importance of knowing your audience and not conflating the interested public with the general public. While the general public is best reached through daily media, the interested public is best reached through specialized outlets, such as The Conversation, Sense about Science and AGUs Sharing Science. This is because in the eyes of daily media, “newsworthiness” means high emotional arousal, where the four A’s are: anxiety, amusement, anger and awe. When it comes to chemicals, anxiety is undeniably the most likely angle, and it is crucial that you are aware that this is probably how your research will be pitched if you send your press release to daily media. This brought us back to the message of the morning’s speakers: We need to communicate with and not to the public.

The final part of the session was a trio presentation focused on the communication about micro- and nanoplastics. Michiel Kotterman, Wageningen Marine Research (WMR) – Wageningen University & Research, was invited because the co-chairs believed that he maintains “a good portion of skepticism regarding the environmental relevance of micro- and nanoplastics, at least nowadays” and because he goes against mainstream opinion. Clearly, any action that stops people polluting the environment with waste, e.g., plastics, should be encouraged. However, he made a strong case for science investigating real and relevant dangers, as to date the general public has been receiving a much more dramatic impression of the dangers of plastics than has been scientifically demonstrated. In this context, Kotterman warned against the ease with which funding for plastic research can be attained, even for sloppy research. He illustrated that plastic research is a good example of what is wrong with funding science: He argued that claiming catastrophic effects of plastics, using public opinion, achieves funding, while presenting a balanced project about possible effects does not. Martin Wagner, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, continued by looking at whether scientists are communicating the risks of microplastics in the right way. He explained to us that the public has already decided what to conclude. It is up to us as scientists not to fight the public opinion but to work with the public to research the questions they have and do what they are asking us to do. Science may not be the only “tool’’ we have to address the issue. It was important in informing the public that plastic was ubiquitous and persistent. However, other factors – irreversibility, visibility, aesthetics, moral societal context – all need to be considered as well, and these are not solely within the purview of scientists. Finally, Angel Borja, AZTI, explained the efforts that scientists from the EU project ResponSEAble are putting in to try to change the attitude of the public through ocean literacy. This trio presentation ended by showing a two-minutes video on micro-  and nanoplastic pollution that is being used to raise awareness to the public. This video in itself led to sharp criticism from members of the audience, which made the session all the spicier!

From the panel discussions that were held in both parts of the session, a general agreement emerged among the participants in the room that more efforts need to be made to communicate with the public rather than to the public and to involve the public in the formulation of the research questions. Secondly, awareness was raised for the academia scientists to work more with the industry scientists. It was recognized again that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. However, in a current culture of polarization, it was accepted that it is quite difficult to find middle ground both with politicians (e.g., those who believe that there is no climate change) and with the public. It is our responsibility as scientists to show awareness, humility and courage to ensure that reliable science is performed in good communication with the public, the media and the decision makers about the concerns and interests of the public, the findings of the researchers, and the remaining risks and uncertainties.

Authors’ contact information:, and

Ana I. Catarino, Heriot-Watt University; Maya Al Sid Cheikh, University of Plymouth; and Farhan R. Khan, Roskilde University

Fragmentation of plastic and tire rubber debris and their release in aquatic environments are issues of concern due to their impact with the biota. Current environmental risk assessment strategies developed for solutes are likely inadequate for particles as the fate of particles is governed by the kinetic principles of aggregation and transport. At the SETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting in Rome, we discussed the analytical challenges of detecting environmental concentrations of micro- (MPs) and nanoplastics (NPs) and reflected upon the contribution of rubber particles to the “plastic soup” in aquatic environments. The session was represented by a total of six oral presentations, six poster-corner presentations and 28 posters from researchers across the globe.

Particle Production and Analytical Detection Challenges

Despite the numerous concerns regarding the potential negative effects on aquatic biota of both micro- and nanoplastics, the establishment of baseline levels in the environment is still a difficult task. Presenters such as Gabriella Schirinzi, IDAEA-CSIC, discussed solutions to challenge the problematics related to the environmental identification of these particles such as variability in terms of molecular weight, density, low solubility, laboratory contamination, among others, and to establish standard observation protocols. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of environmental samples can be achieved using a combination of analytical techniques (i.e., Thermogravimetric Analysis, Differential Scanning Calorimetry, Fourier-Transformed Infrared Spectroscopy, Atmospheric Pressure Chemical Ionization), but a recurrent concern in most presentations was the need for standardization of observation methodologies and testing materials (Julio Sanchez Nieva, University of Cadiz). The affordable and accessible production of plastic particles to be tested in micro- and nanoplastics experimental work, including analytical studies, is a valuable feature under development. Diversity in terms of particles polymers and shapes is desirable to mimic the diversity of plastic contamination in the environment. Gireeshkumar Balakrishnan Nair, Institute of Materials and Molecules of Le Mans, presented strategies to produce < 1 µm polyethylene (PE) particles, whereas Susanne Kuehn, Wageningen Marine Research, discussed the preparation of realistic weathered < 3 µm litter particles, with both studies highlighting the use of analytical tools to validate their methodology. The application of nuclear techniques has been proposed as a solution to measure low concentrations of microplastics in distinct environmental compartments, and for evaluating biokinetics as well as toxicodynamic interactions with co-contaminants (Marc Metian, International Atomic Energy Agency/Radioecology Lab), emphasizing the need to develop further this study area.

Environmental Detection and Biota and Human Exposure

Assessment of microplastics impacts in aquatic organisms can be challenging if detection methods are not well developed to accurately quantify ingestion, retention and egestion rates. Beatriz Fernández, Instituto Español de Oceanografia, presented and discussed solutions to assess the uptake kinetics for microplastics (3-20 µm) in organisms using techniques such as quantification via a Multisizer Coulter Counter. A major apprehension of the public is on the exposure humans can have to plastic micro- and nanoparticles. This has led to the development of methodologies for detection of inhalable-size microplastics, especially in urban areas (Joseph Levermore, Kings College London) and the investigation of particles that can be found in food, for instance via table salt (Ji-Su Kim, Incheon National University). We finalized our discussion with a reflection on the definition and characterization of microplastics and nanoplastics, having in mind the learnings that can be taken from nanoparticles expertise.

Tire Rubber Debris

Nine presentations (two platform, seven poster) highlighted the emergent research area of car tire rubber emissions. Although recognized as a major contributor to the environmental microplastic burden (Rachel Leads, College of Charleston, and Dorte Herzke, Norwegian Institute for Air Research), tire rubber has received comparatively little attention. Both the analytical challenges associated with identifying tire particles in the environment and the potential ecotoxicological impacts on aquatic organisms were covered. Paul Eisentraut, Bundesanstalt für Materialfoschung und -prüfung, and Phillipp Klöckner, Helmsholtz Centre for Environmental Research, described novel methods for identifying tire rubber from environmental samples based on the chemical marker compounds. The former method indicated the use of several potential markers, including elastomers, whereas the latter talk looked specifically at the presence and ratio of S and Zn. Research regarding toxicological effects is still in its infancy, but studies with aquatic test species, such as grass shrimp (Palaemonetes puglo) (John Weinstein, The Citadel) and Hyalella azteca (Louise Lynn Halle and Farhan Khan, Roskilde University) did indicate that the exposure to car tire particles could result in a variety of deleterious effects.

This was a very well-attended session, which reflects the major concerns around plastic pollution and biota and human exposure. Attendees raised highly pertinent questions, facilitating a productive and stimulating discussion. Only by appreciating the challenges that still lie ahead in detecting and quantifying realistic emissions of plastic and tire rubber particles in aquatic ecosystems, can we find creative and practical solutions. These solutions will be critical to accurately assess environmental impacts and risks, and to answer the current concerns of both the general public and policymakers.

Authors’ contact information:,,

Thomas-Benjamin Seiler and Leonie Nüßer, RWTH Aachen University, Institute for Environmental Research

SETAC research, i.e., all the research conducted by the SETAC members, matters to the people, stakeholders and policy makers. However, since it is so close to the expectations, opinions, fears and desires of our target audiences, environmental research is difficult to communicate. These topics directly touch the sense of well-being of our audience and, hence, are often taken on more emotional than is actually necessary – or better still even helpful. They have a tendency to go “viral” on social media platforms. Conversely, topics which may be perceived as prosaic can often be under-reported and evade the popular consciousness; e.g., topics that strongly matter to mankind but are perceived as inconvenient or even superfluous, such as sustainability. As a consequence, findings from environmental research can be readily misunderstood, or simply ignored, when not communicated in a proper way.

For this session we invited submissions that could tell a success story and lessons learned about science and risk communication, which depicted a communication concept in a research proposal, presented cutting-edge communication research, summarized experience in communicating science over the last couple of years or the entire career, introduced new ideas on how to successfully communicate our research, or described a best practice in communication about environmental sciences and risks. We asked all presenters to answer this one question: Do you think it’s worth it?

Unfortunately, science and risk communication is often neither an element of education when becoming an environmental scientist, nor part of many scientist’s job description; let alone that there is seldom time left for this on a daily basis. Consequently, yearly sessions on science and risk communication suffer from a rather low number of submissions. This was again the case for the annual meeting in Rome, which is why our session was organized as a pure poster corner.

However, this was actually not to the disadvantage of the session. Poster corners are a really nice, interactive and entertaining format. That is, if you as chair(s) like stages. Then you can turn a poster corner into a real event, with exciting short talks, vivid discussions and much attention and visibility by a quite large audience.

In Rome, we had a poster corner with nine instead of the usual five to six posters. These were all the abstracts that had been submitted to our session, and by utilizing the poster corner format, we were able to accommodate them all. Each presenter could choose between using all the time available to them for their presentation and postpone the discussion to after the poster social, or making it short and saving time for questions and a brief discussion directly after the presentations. Interestingly, all presenters chose to use the time they had and discuss after the session. This could indicate that (a) SETAC scientists are not prepared to give short, few minutes talks and (b) few minutes for discussion in a tight session schedule are considered not attractive for scientific exchange.

The session featured reports on research studies, such as the poster by Ursula Klaschka from the Ulm University of Applied Science, who stated that the majority of consumers do not understand risk communication instruments as intended by legislators. They presented a study that showed that well-informed and educated “best case” consumers do not frequently use information distributed by authorities but rather other sources of information. The study found that consumers need help to understand risk communication instruments about how to determine which products might contain harmful substances. Gretchen Bielmeyer-Fraser from Jacksonville University reported on the success of the research project STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math), focused on graduate and under-graduate interdisciplinary research in the fields of environmental science and communication, where the resulting data were publicized using modern communication tools such as social media. The presenters explained how the collaboration ultimately secured funding and successfully incorporated service learning and research opportunities for students. Matthieu Mondou from McGill University explored the role of SETAC in policy learning. He presented survey data collected from participants in previous SETAC forums. The study summarized what respondents believe regarding instrumental and core policy concerning alternative testing methods. It then assessed their self-reported policy learning experiences at SETAC and evaluated the role of SETAC as a professional forum that helps to learn and adapt to emerging challenges in regulatory science.

Other presenters focused on platforms and frameworks that enable communication or help improving outreach activities. Abdelqader Sumrein of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) introduced the European Union Observatory for Nano Materials (EUON), a new platform by ECHA for communicating information on the safety of nanomaterials. The website targets, among others, the general public, regulators, industry and scientists, and aims to increase the transparency of nanomaterials research. Tomas Rydberg from the Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL) reported on the development of a framework standard on monetary valuation of environmental impacts from human activity. The goal is to improve transparency of money valuation and its use in management.

Two posters presented knowledge and experience about specific tools for communication. Amy Oen from the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute suggested Living Labs as a means to involve a range of committed stakeholders in order to enhance the value of climate data. This work is part of the EVOKED project. As Oen pointed out, this approach allows engaging end-users and including their contribution for a co-creation of climate services. The framework that the project applies encourages end-users to share their perceptions of risk and uncertainty. Natalia Ospina-Alvarez from the University of Potsdam emphasized animations as a communication tool. They started a pilot project to develop teaching and learning material related to emerging contaminants that aims at the general public.

Marlea Wagelmans of Bioclear Earth contributed an example of how risk communication can and is actually carried out. She gave insight into risk communication of a water company in the Netherlands. They focused on the question: What to do when emerging contaminants are found in soil or water? They developed a roadmap for policy or actions by the province, drinking water companies or municipalities for emerging contaminants in the soil-water system. The roadmap describes the role of different stakeholders in this scenario including the role of communication.

Finally, Kees van Gestel from the Urise University Amsterdam introduced the initiative to develop an open online textbook about environmental toxicology that can be used for the training of B.Sc., M.Sc. and higher levels. By this, they aim at improving the quality, continuity and transparency of the education in environmental toxicology. They are searching for contributions from as many colleagues as possible from within the SETAC community.

A large crowd gathered around the presenters at the poster corner. While nearly no discussion took place during the session, many people from the audience used the availability of the presenters after the session to go into detail on certain aspects of their posters. The overall conclusion we could draw from the session is that many different tools and approaches can lead to an increase and improvement of science and risk communication. Social media, websites, online surveys and the online text book indicate that especially digital content are nowadays a proper means to reach out to target audiences. Most important is to structure any communication effort in a participatory way so that people can work towards their understanding of a scientific issue rather than consume information provided by researchers. All authors believed it’s worth it and plan to continue their efforts to promote these ideas.

The session was the seventh iteration in a series of sessions on science and risk communication at SETAC Europe annual meetings since the 2012 SETAC World Congress in Berlin, and it was sponsored by the SETAC Science and Risk Communication Interest Group – SCIRIC. It will hopefully find its continuation in the next session on science and risk communication at the SETAC Europe 29th Annual Meeting in May 2019 in Helsinki. Findings from this session are also valuable for the work of the SCIRIC IG towards tailor-made science and risk communication tools and strategies. They will help in developing a science-based risk communication plan for SETAC Europe, which is one part of the SETAC Europe strategic goals through 2020.

Authors’ contact information: and

Summaries Published in the October 2018 Issue

Sebastian Höss, Ecossa (Ecological Sediment and Soil Assessment); Ute Feiler, German Federal Institute of Hydrology; Daniel Faber, Bayer AG, Crop Science Division; and Paul Sibley, University of Guelph

Healthy sediments provide a habitat for a diverse range of organisms whose interactions ensure the maintenance of important ecosystem functions, such as biochemical transformations, and thereby help to deliver unique ecosystem services, such as clean water. Therefore, they play a key role for the ecological status of aquatic ecosystems. On the other hand, sediments represent both a major sink and a potential source of persistent toxic substances in aquatic environments. Complex biochemical and ecological interactions occurring within sediments require specific assessment tools for protecting benthic organisms and processes for environmental risk assessment. Harmonization and improvement of sediment testing approaches is therefore a major goal for both prospective and retrospective risk assessment (figure 1).

Tasks, challenges and tools of environmental risk assessment of sediments

Figure 1: Tasks, challenges and tools of environmental risk assessment of sediments

This session was well attended, with a lively discussion and exchange of information and ideas, demonstrating the SETAC community continues to have high interest in environmental risk assessment in sediments. An important theme that emerged from the discussion was general recognition that sediment risk assessment should gain more attention in the global ecotoxicology community, especially within SETAC, and that SETAC’s Sediment Interest Group (SEDIG) could play a key role in facilitating this discussion.

In total, six presentations were included in this session and contained marine and freshwater case studies. This session was structured into two parts, retrospective sediment risk assessment and prospective sediment risk assessment.

Retrospective Sediment Risk Assessment

Starting this session, Susanne Heise, University of Applied Sciences Hamburg, reported on their study where they used a multiple line of evidence approach to assess the risk from historic contaminants in sediments of the Elbe flood plain. They could best describe the risk if combining chemical, ecotoxicological (toxicity tests) and hydrological (thickness of sediment layer, sediment transport) data for the risk assessment.

Elvio D. Amato, University of Antwerp, reported on experiences with an innovative passive sampling method using the diffusive gradient in thin films (DGT) technique as a tool to estimate the bioavailable fraction of metals in sediment. They found a good correlation of toxicity and bioaccumulation data derived with whole sediment exposure with DGT-estimated bioavailable concentrations.

Morten Thorne Schaaning, Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), presented a marine case study on the effects of mine tailing deposits on benthic fauna using a multiple lines of evidence approach. Although the benthic fauna still indicated good ecological condition at the sites with deposits, they concluded that both the current discharge to the water column and the leaching of copper and nickel from the sea deposits are likely to contribute to the moderate reduction of benthic biodiversity at the old deposit sites.

Prospective Sediment Risk Assessment 

The start of the prospective risk assessment part of the session was introduced by Teresa Norberg-King, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). The presentation provided a good overview of refinements and improvements of the USEPA sediment toxicity test methods and protocols. This overview clearly demonstrated the existing differences between European and US sediment risk assessment methods.

During the presentation of Ivo Roessink, University of Wageningen, the differences in the use of artificial and natural sediment in a standardized test method was investigated. The results gave a hint that the tiered approach for the sediment risk assessment seems to work, but differences in sensitivity of the test organisms exists in the different sediment types, requiring a careful interpretation of study endpoints.

The last presentation of this session, given by Klaus Hammel, Bayer AG, focused on the spatial–temporal behavior of plant protection products (PPP) in the OECD standardized test guideline 219. It was demonstrated via modeled and measured data that the exposure in this test is driven by the physio–chemical characteristics of the PPP and the behavior of the test organism. Therefore, an interpretation of study endpoints for the risk assessment must be linked to the test organism and the test system used in the study.

Conclusions from the Session

The risk assessment of chemicals in sediments, both retrospective and prospective, is still an urgent topic in global environmental risk assessment as sediment contamination is often the main obstacle for reaching good ecological status in marine and inland waters. The presentations in this session showed that weight-of-evidence approaches using innovative techniques are necessary to explain ecological consequences and to unravel cause–effect relationships with chemical contamination. If the aim of a global harmonized sediment risk assessment approach should be fulfilled, a better understanding of the differences between U.S. and European risk assessment needs to be discussed and improved to become more harmonized. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that the interpretation of study endpoints from sediment studies needs a full picture interpretation of the given differences in the living behavior and exposure pathways of test organisms used for these studies.

Authors’ contact information:,, and

Richard K. Cross, University of Exeter; Bitragunta Siva Prasad, Environment Protection Training and Research Institute; and Sankar Ganesh Palani, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani

The production of engineered nanomaterials is a rapidly expanding industry. Characteristics such as size, shape and surface functionality of engineered nanomaterials can be tailored during their production to confer properties distinct from the materials’ bulk counterparts. However, it is this increased reactivity of these materials at the nanoscale, generally defined as having at least one dimension less than 100 nm in size, which has stimulated research into the risk engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) pose to the environment during their lifecycle – from production to disposal.

As a research community, it is important to elucidate the role of properties intrinsic to ENPs that are responsible for their toxicity. In particular, screening tests and methodologies are needed to assess the potential for ENPs to interact with various components of environment, including other contaminants that could enhance their ability to cross cell membranes, thereby increasing toxicity in living systems. Currently, there is a paucity of data in this regard. Hence, understanding the multitude of possible interactions between ENPs, the abiotic environment and other contaminants is essential. Moreover, it requires communication and collaboration across a range of disciplines.

The aim of this session was to provide a space for that dialogue and bring together environmental chemists, nano- and ecotoxicologists, and regulatory scientists to present new findings that link and bridge these disparate fields. This session attracted keen interest and featured 26 posters alongside the five platform presentations. The talks identified potential tools to assess the mechanisms of toxicity of different NPs.

Key Findings

Aldo Viarengo, Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico (IRCCS), Italy, began the session with a detailed assessment of the role of the mTOR pathway on physiological effects of fullerene C60nanoparticles in the digestive gland of the mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis. Viarengo demonstrated the application of chemical, immunohistochemical and transcriptomic analysis in combination to identify accumulation, subcellular distribution and physiological effects as a result of C60exposure. The findings indicated that changes in the phosphorylation of mTORC1 and mTORC2 could explain many of the effects observed in response to C60 at a cellular and tissue level.

Building on this theme and the application of -omics in the study of nanotoxicity, Diana Barros, Universidade do Minho, Portugal, presented a study on the proteomic responses to nanoparticulate and ionic silver in freshwater microbes from two sources: non-polluted or metal-polluted streams. Using this high-throughput analysis allowed differences in response to silver NPs and ionic silver to be detected. Interestingly, while both forms of silver induced stress-responsive proteins consistent with the response seen for enzymes involved in oxidative stress, results indicated that the biological pathways involved in exposure to ionic and nanoparticulate silver differed in the fungal strains tested.

The need for the development and application of screening tests to assess the toxicity of ENPs representative of the range of materials currently under production was argued by both Frida Book, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and Sankar Ganesh, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, Hyderabad Campus, India.

Book presented a case study of the cellular toxicity of silica NPs using a battery of tests to investigate their toxicity at a range of biological levels. Fish gill cell lines were found to be the most sensitive to the panel of seven silica particles assessed in this study, with toxicity being size dependant. The smallest particles (7 nm) were the most toxic to the gill cell lines, inducing effects in the low mgL-1 concentration range. The experimental design allowed different exposure metrics to be compared against the observed toxicity (mass concentration, number concentration and surface area-based exposures). This assessment considered surface area as the best explanatory characteristic for the observed toxicity.

Ganesh presented an application of the OECD-207 test guideline exposing the terrestrial earthworm Eisenia fetida to rutile titanium dioxide ENPs (r-TiO2-NP). No mortality was observed at concentrations up to 0.25 mgkg-1TiO2, however, sub-lethal endpoints were sensitive to these concentrations. The case was presented for using activities of antioxidant enzymes including catalase, superoxide dismutase and glutathione reductase as biomarkers of oxidative stress in this sentinel terrestrial species.

The session was closed with Željka Lončarić, University of Osijek, Croatia, using biomarkers and reproductive success as indicators of toxicity of mixtures of zinc oxide nanoparticles (ZnO NPs) and the pesticide chlorpyriphos to the earthworm Dendrobaena veneta. Studies were performed in both artificial and natural soils, and effects were assessed between generations of the exposed earthworms. Key findings included that mixtures were more toxic in artificial soil than the natural soil during these exposures, potentially due to changes in behavior of the contaminants under different soil conditions. Nano ZnO particles were also found to elicit greater toxic responses than bulk Zn during these exposures.


In conclusion, this session identified several emerging techniques and methods for assessing the complex interactions between engineered nanomaterials and biota, which could be used to elucidate the mechanism and mode of action of nanomaterials in the environment. High-throughput techniques are required to generate the data necessary to identify characteristics of nanomaterials that determine their toxicity. In particular, proteomics was demonstrated as a useful tool to provide mechanistic insight into the stress induced by nanomaterials, with particular application for distinguishing between different mechanisms of action involved in nanoparticle and their corresponding ionic exposures.

The case for using multiple techniques to understand the mechanisms of toxicity during nanoparticle exposures was made in each presentation. Successful application of techniques and approaches varying from the physicochemical characterisation of the ENP, assessment of biochemical markers, immunohistochemical staining and -omics were demonstrated by the various speakers.

A suite of biochemical markers were proposed for assessing sub-lethal effects of engineered nanomaterials, including antioxidant enzymes (catalase, superoxide dismutase andglutathione reductase), lipid peroxidation, glutathione S-transferase, metallothionein and AChE. Use of these biomarkers for the assessment of toxicity to TiO2-NPs and mixture effects of ZnO and pesticides has been presented.

Surface area was found to be the best explanatory metric for the toxicity of silica NPs, and the general discussion within the session concluded that careful consideration of exposure metrics will allow future work to better interpret toxicity in the context of nanoparticle properties.

The topics raised during this session outline a focus for future research, while the poster session conducted in parallel to these talks provided space for researchers to communicate directly with one another. This facilitated the sharing of technical details and methods under development in this field.

Author’s contact information:

Fabienne Ericher, Cambridge Environmental Assessments; Jason Weeks, Joint Nature Conservation Committee; Anja Kehrer, Umweltbundesamt; Jaana Laitinen, European Chemicals Agency

The session covered a variety of subjects with relevance to both sectors, the biocides and the veterinary medicine.

 The key points of the six presentations included:

  • Jason Weeks of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee introduced regulatory updates for veterinary medicine and presented the on-going work of the Environmental Risk Assessment Working Party (ERA-WP) of the committee for veterinary medicine products (CVMP)
  • Ricardo Carapeto Garcia, Agencia Española de Medicamentos y Productos Sanitorios, facilitated discussion on how operational protection goals could be defined for the risk assessment of plants, in the context of veterinary medicines scenarios and helping reduce uncertainties, defining risk mitigation measures and improving the benefit–risk balance
  • Jane Staveley, Exponent, gave a presentation on an innovative environmental risk assessment of an endocrine-active substance, including field-scale (watershed-level) modeling, in the context of a U.S. registration of a veterinary medicine
  • Laszlo Doren, ERM, discussed how mesocosms studies may be used to provide additional ecotoxicological information and support biocides and vetmed registration, covering the key points of planning, carrying out and evaluating these type of studies
  • Rikke Gleerup Ovesen from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency provided an example of successful scenario design addressing a biocidal product used for veterinary hygiene, which sits in the gray area between the two sectors. This is also a project that was brought to completion following cooperation between the industry and regulators
  • Stefanie Wieck, Leuphana University, looked at household emission sources of active substances, which highlighted how a significant share of biocidal active substance found in the environment may actually come from uses covered under other regulations

The poster presentations expanded on the subjects covered in the platform presentations, with several posters discussing monitoring projects, emission scenario developments and methods. In addition, several posters addressed themes not discussed in the platform presentations, including leaching from façades and strategies to reduce workload during the dossier preparation process.

In conclusion, the presentations touched onto a wide range of topics, from hazard assessment and exposure scenario design to environmental monitoring and risk management aspects. Many of the issues were of relevance to both sectors (e.g., protection goals, higher-tier aquatic studies, endocrine-active substance) and there was reference to products that sit in the borderline area between biocides and veterinary medicine. This session highlighted that current challenges are often shared across sectors but also that the solutions developed have some relevance across sectors. There is great potential to be gained by keeping in touch with other sectors’ developments and newly designed approaches. SETAC Europe is an opportunity for professionals from the biocides and veterinary medicines area to share developments and to gain from the technical advances acquired in the represented sectors.

Authors’ contact information: and

Andrea Porcari, Italian Association for Industrial Research, and Andreas Ciroth, GreenDelta

Assessing social impacts of products is gaining more and more importance in policy and business strategies, and Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA) provides a methodological approach to this end. The recent notion of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) underlines the advantages of early assessment of impacts, starting from agenda setting and research and development (R&D) phases of product development.

S-LCA and RRI could provide valuable approaches to assess social performances of organizations (companies in particular), better align products with societal needs, and work toward sustainable development goals. Stakeholders concerned include workers, local communities, consumers, and value chain and supply chain actors, as well as the broader society. Both positive and negative impacts are taken into consideration. However, practical implementation of S-LCA and RRI is still limited, and there is a need to develop practical case studies to collect further experience and improve existing tools and methods.

The purpose of this session was to illustrate experiences on S-LCA and RRI from both the industrial and policy areas, and explore connections between these two emerging approaches dealing with social impact assessment. The session covered views from different experts and stakeholders from both research and business, followed by an interactive plenary discussion.

The key points emerged from the five presentations and three spotlights included:

  • Developments and recommendations on the practical use of S-LCA was presented by Silvia di Cesare, CIRAD, Italy. She underlined the increasing demand of companies for S-LCA as a tool to enhance their social performances and complement their sustainability reporting. Improving existing databases, further developing quantitative indicators and increasing the use of participatory approaches to define system boundaries were underlined among the key steps needed to improve existing S-LCA methods.
  • The Prisma Project on piloting RRI in industry was presented by Andrea Porcari, Airi, Italy. S-LCA and RRI share the scope of performing social impact assessment of products, with the latter having a specific focus on R&D, and early stage intervention in the research and innovation value chain (anticipation of impacts). The H2020 Prisma project is using a case-by-case, expert-driven approach to integrate RRI in research and innovation projects of eight companies dealing with transformative (nanotech, Internet of Things, synthetic biology, autonomous vehicles), offering insights on the potential benefits of RRI for industry.
  • Sabrina Neugebauer, RWTH Aachen University, Germany, presented on the social significance analysis of products, considering negative and positive social impacts along the supply chain of leather products. She provided a practical example on how S-LCA could help to identify and compare hot spots of social concerns (e.g., issues related to hours of work, health and safety, equal opportunities, social security and delocalization), across a wide range of countries in the leather supply chain. Qualitative and semi-qualitative indicators have been considered, partially when adapting the UNEP–S-LCA assessments.
  • “Integration of Sustainability in Industrial Research and Innovation: Perspectives from ArcelorMittal’s Experience” was presented by Anne-Laure Hettinger, ArcelorMittal, France.

This very large industrial group is developing an extensive strategy (sustainable development framework) to improve the sustainability performances of their products, combining aspects related to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), S-LCA and RRI. The strategy aims to cover the very diverse set of technologies and products related to the steel sector and to impact researchers and employers of the company worldwide. Key aspects include an easy to use self-assessment tool for researchers, hot spot analysis of all research and innovation projects, analysis of added values of sustainability for specific products, materiality analysis and identification of indicators.

  • Ivan Muñoz, 2.-0 LCA consultants, Denmark, presented on the social footprint of a packaging waste deposit–refund system in Spain. The assessment of the social footprint is based on a dedicated analysis to include correction factors to the gross domestic product and purchasing power, based on externalities related to environmental and social aspects obtained from a top-down analysis using “IO data” (e.g., household production, trade barriers, unemployment, avoidable health impact, underinvestment in education). Indicators were used to make an S-LCA analysis to evaluate positive and negative impacts of introducing a recycling process in packaging waste system on a local community.

Three spotlight presentations were also given:

  • Applying Social-LCA and Social Hot Spot Analysis including a SDG Evaluation to Product Assessments with SEEBALANCE® from Peter Saling, BASF SE, Germany
  • Sustainable Guar Initiative – An Integrated Approach of Social and Environmental LCA from Alain Wathelet, Solvay SA, Belgium
  • Social Life Cycle Assessment of the Water System in Mexico City from the Engineering Institute Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Conclusions from the Session

S-LCA and RRI provide science-based methodologies to improve policy making and business strategies developments to help better address social needs and societal development goals (SDG).

As shown by practical cases studies, the quantitative approach of S-LCA could support decision-making in policy and business at global, regional and local levels. The availability and reliability of databases strongly influence the assessment. The use of a mix of qualitative and quantitative data, and comparative assessment of negative and positive impacts, facilitate different levels of analysis.

RRI could complement S-LCA, looking also at R&D and technology development activities. In addition, with the use of case studies, experiences of practical actions and operations at organizational level provide examples of early intervention to address social impacts (that can help improve the societal performances measured by S-LCA).

Further analysis and considerations of mutual benefits of S-LCA and RRI approaches is envisaged.

Authors’ contact information: and

Séverine Le Faucheur, University of Geneva; Michael S. Bank, Norway Institute of Marine Research; João Canário, Técnico Lisboa; and Nelson J. O’Driscoll, Acadia University

Mercury (Hg) is a persistent pollutant, and emission, in some areas, have been increasing over the last decade due to anthropogenic activities such as gold mining, coal burning, chlor-alkali manufacturing and non-ferrous mining extraction. Gaseous elemental Hg can be transported far from its source and deposited to remote areas. When Hg enters aquatic and terrestrial systems, it undergoes several physical, chemical and biological reactions. Microbial methylation is one of these key processes and leads to the formation of methylmercury (MeHg), a potent neurotoxin. MeHg can biomagnify along the food chain, making top predators, such as fish and humans, susceptible to exposure of MeHg. The foundations of the Hg biogeochemical cycle are well studied; however, several aspects and questions remain unresolved and impede us to fully comprehend its behavior and impact on aquatic ecosystems and the organisms that inhabit these environments. The aim of our session was to illustrate those limitations and to identify important advances in environmental Hg research.

For the first platform presentation, Mae Gustin, University of Nevada, discussed the role of Hg speciation and Hg atmospheric chemistry, as well as the possible underestimation of gaseous oxidized Hg concentrations due to a lack of appropriate measurement techniques and instrumentation. She also pointed out that gaseous oxidized Hg exists under several forms as a function of oxidants present in the air. Two posters also focused on atmospheric Hg chemistry, one by Stefano Covelli, University of Trieste, and another by Alessandra Fino, Italy National Research Council, who presented work on monitoring gaseous Hg evasion fluxes in low- and high-impaired Hg sites including coastal areas.

The next few oral presentations focused on the potential mitigation effects of selenium (Se) on Hg bioaccumulation. Atabak Azad, Norway Institute of Marine Research, presented Se:Hg molar ratios in marine fish, which is the most important biotic compartment when addressing public health. His presentation discussed trends and rates of Hg bioaccumulation with regard to fish species, length, life history and geography within the Northeast Atlantic Ocean. Data analyses were conducted on more than 8,000 fish tissue samples and provided encouraging results on seafood safety and human consumption (less than 1% of sampled fish fillets were considered problematic). Jacqueline Gerson, Duke University, also discussed Hg and Se at a lower level of the food web in freshwater ecosystems. Her investigation demonstrated that Se reduced the percent of MeHg measured in sediment, biofilms, crane flies and spiders. In crane flies and spiders, that observation was also valid for the absolute MeHg concentration. Session chairperson Michael Bank, Norway Institute of Marine Research, gave an impromptu presentation on long-term temporal trends and Hg bioaccumulation regimes in circumpolar Greenland halibut. Bank presented a series of Bayesian uncertainty models demonstrating the role of time and food web complexity on MeHg dynamics in Greenland halibut in the context of climate change and biomonitoring efforts in support of the implementation of the UN Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Finally, Igor Zivkovic, Jožef Stefan Institute, talked about his latest research on the role of nutrients on the microbial formation of MeHg and dissolved gaseous Hg in the Central Adriatic Sea. His research successfully showed that MeHg was related to microbial parameters only when phosphate was not limited. In contrast, no clear biotic link could be observed with dissolved gaseous Hg. Perrine Dranguet, University of Geneva, presented a poster highlight that also focused on the role of microbes in the Hg cycle and showed the importance of biofilm microstructure and composition in Hg accumulation by biofilms.

The Hg session at SETAC Rome was a great success and garnered interest from approximately 100 audience members. The session demonstrated that the development of analytical tools for accurately measuring Hg in the atmosphere is still an active research area that needs to be addressed, especially due to the key role played by gaseous Hg in long-range transport. We also saw several examples demonstrating that ambient water chemistry and food web complexity are major drivers of Hg bioaccumulation in marine and freshwater fish and other biota. These findings are extremely important for the ongoing efforts of the Conference of Parties of the UN Minamata Convention on Mercury. Article 22 of the convention requires an “effectiveness evaluation,” partly based on the monitoring of Hg concentrations in abiotic and biotic compartments. Identifying important drivers of the atmospheric Hg cycle and bioaccumulation regimes in biota will help us to understand future environmental Hg concentrations and spatial–temporal trends in the context of a rapidly changing environment.

The next Hg session is planned for the SETAC Europe 29th Annual Meeting to be held from 26–30 May 2019 in Helsinki, Finland.

Authors’ contact information:,, and

Gert Everaert, Flanders Marine Institute; Jörg Römbke, ECT Oekotoxikologie GmbH; and Martina G. Vijver, Leiden University

Chemical and ecological data are often collected under different research or monitoring programs. Merging different sets of data has significantly increased our ability to investigate and quantify how a multitude of stressors may potentially alter biodiversity. In those cases, many aspects need to be tackled, including:

  1. Missing data
  2. Consistency of data
  3. Specificity
  4. Temporality
  5. Coherence of the data
  6. Existence of reference sites

Due to the different aggregation and statistical methods, as well as increased computational power, we can get more information out of those datasets than what is currently the case. In this session, we recommended focusing on meta-analyses of existing datasets, with an aerial view on meta-analyses in scientific research in general and ecotoxicology more specifically.

The session was opened by building further on one of the pending questions at the end of a similar session in 2017 at SETAC Brussels: “What are big data?” It was argued that big data is a buzzword and that for the broad audience, but also for fellow scientists, big data often relates to -omics data in which whole genomes are sequenced, social media data that we spread via our mobile computer devices, or industrial processes in which big data analytics are used for commercial purposes, to quality check, reveal patterns from or even improve processes.

In our opinion, big data has certainly its place in eco(toxico)logy. Examples are the continuous monitoring of water and temperature levels or observations of ecotoxicological experiments by means of a flow cytometer or high-throughput methods. Also, in terms of collecting existing data, big data applies to ecotoxicology and applied ecology, some examples given in this session were EDAPHOBASE, the REACH database and the USEPA ECOTOX database. These databases can be used to answer long-lasting questions in various environmental regulations, such as the assessment of contaminated land.

We started the session with a talk from Martina Ross-Nickoll, RWTH Aachen University, who presented on the EDAPHOBASE soil diversity warehouse. This talk illustrated how data are collected in a soil-zoological information system and how it combined existing taxonomical primary data on soil organisms from collections, scientific literature and reports. In addition to collecting data, EDAPHOSTAT is the very first interactive web application that provides data exploration. The future intention of EDAPHOBASE is to expand towards a pan-European soil-biology data warehouse, providing a reference base of the ecological quality of soils as described by structural and functional data of soil organism communities.

Once the data are collected and first steps in data exploration have been performed, Erwan Saouter, EU Commission JRC, showed us how to use the big datasets in the context of the EU Commission Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) activities. The potential impact of chemicals emitted during the life cycle of a product is assessed via the USEtox multimedia fate model. For each single chemical, this model requires dozens of physico–chemical parameters, as well as data on ecotoxicity to freshwater aquatic life and toxicity to human for cancer and non-cancer endpoints. In his talk, Saouter illustrated how user-friendly R is thanks to its free access, free packages, clear guidance documents and responsive community. In his work, all REACH registration data were used to calculate chemical effect factors.

Sanne Van den Berg, Wageningen University, guided us through the technical decisions taken at the start or during modeling processes. These decisions can impact the ultimate trends and patterns that are inferred from the data. She showed us what the impact is of modeling decisions made while or at the start of different modeling approaches. These impacts of decisions were compared against each other by using cross-validation errors by using adjusted R squares and Akaike Information Criterion. For the eco(toxico)logical modeling applied by van den Berg it was found that 1. using AIC as model selection criterion results in models that are better in predicting sensitivity outside the training data, 2. species-traits matching should ideally be done at the genus level, 3. the method chosen for trait predictors depends on the envisioned modeling purpose (mechanistic understanding or improved predictions), and finally, 4. that the collinearity threshold greatly determines the reliability of the resulting models. If we want to look into the future, images and image recognition will become increasingly important in ecotoxicological research.

In this context, Sizandreu Abreu, University of Aveiro, illustrated a D counter to the audience, which is a counter that can be used for image recognition and automatic counting of test organisms. This device is one of the tools considered to produce a lot of data in future. In the final platform presentation of this session, Kristin Connors, Proctor & Gamble Company, argued that both Daphnia magna and Ceriodaphnia dubia should be fully accepted for regulatory toxicity requirements based on a meta-analysis of existing data that given their shared life history, geographic range, and acute and chronic sensitivity. This has huge consequences for regulatory documents because it can result in the fact that multiple species can now be used in toxicity tests, and this way, the number of ecotoxicity data can be extended hugely. We ended this session with three poster spotlights that illustrated some hands-on applications of big data in ecotoxicology, i.e., on the “holistic” assessment of a huge data set from standard earthworm field studies, presented by Frank Staab, BASF SE; the use of historical control data from aquatic mesocosm studies to improve the interpretation of results from individual studies, presented by  Hanna Schuster, Cambridge Environmental Assessments; and new tools for data visualization and database interoperability using the USEPA database ECOTOX as an example presented by Kellie Fay, CSRA.

Given the increasing amount of data generated under (inter)national monitoring programs, in research projects and under laboratory conditions, and in order to have these data available for meta-analyses, we should respect the FAIR data principles on Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable data. Only by doing so, data can be found by fellow scientists for meta-analyses and can be used to answer long-lasting environmental questions.

Authors’ contact information:, and

Summaries Published in the September 2018 Issue

Francisca Fernandez-Piñas and Miguel Tamayo Belda, Autonomous University of Madrid, and Roberto Rosal, University of Alcalá

Microplastics have long been recognized as environmental pollutants causing effects to marine and terrestrial life. However, the importance of the smaller fractions, nanoplastics, has only been documented in recent times. Nanoplastics, like other nanomaterials, have unique properties due to their size, shape and their capacity to interact with other substances due to their large surface area. Nanoplastics can produce physical damage, but they may also be transported across cell membranes and persist in the environment due to their relative inertness. In this regard, mechanistic approaches are needed in order to identify the cascade of signaling events at different levels of biological organization, which induce a cellular, whole organism or ecological response to micro and nanoplastic exposure.

Plastic materials can act as vectors of environmental contaminants or can cause an indirect toxic effect due to the release of the additives they contain, such as flame retardants or plasticizers, which, on average, represent about 4% of the weight of plastic materials. These additives may impose an additional risk factor for which very little is known.

Microorganisms may get adsorbed onto the plastics and form stable biofilms; in this context, plastics materials may also become a vector or reservoir for the spreading of potential pathogens or antibiotic resistance genes at a global scale.

The main purpose of the session was to gather the information required to evaluate the risk posed by micro- and nanoplastics to the environment and human health in real-world scenarios. In this context, reports on mechanistic approaches to study the biological action of plastic materials on organisms at different trophic levels and those on the role of micro- and nanoplastics as vectors for other pollutants and also as habitats for microbial communities were particularly welcome.

The session attracted high interest; initially 41 abstracts were submitted, 15 of them to be considered as platform presentations. Ultimately, five platform presentations and three poster spotlights were delivered in the session. These were selected in order to cover as much as possible of the main goals of the session.

The first presentation by Shima Ziajahromi, Griffith University, addressed the presence of microplastics in wastewaters with a novel validated sampler, finding that wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) play an important role in releasing microplastics to the receiving bodies. The study showed there was a dose-dependent effect of real environmental concentrations of microplastics on Ceriodaphnia dubia and the sediment dwelling larvae of Chironomus tepperi. The second platform presentation by Lisa Zimmermann, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, presented a thorough study on the biological effect of additives already present in daily-use plastics; extracts from 34 plastic consumer products were tested for unspecific and specific toxicity using different whole cell bioreporters, demonstrating that the intrinsic plastic additives, when released, may be toxic for the biota. The third presentation by Chang Bum Jeong, Sungkyunkwan University, reported a thorough mechanistic approach to understand the toxicity of a range of sizes of polystyrene microbeads in a rotifer. The fourth presentation by Bettie Cormier, EPOC University of Bordeaux, and the fifth presentation by Leticia Vidal-Liñán, University of Vigo, dealt with microplastics as vectors for pollutants. The former focused on toxicity derived from the sorption of model pollutants on microplastics using embryos of zebrafish, which demonstrated that microplastics may act as vectors of persistent organic pollutants, particularly PFOS, but did not find any associated toxicity for the embryos. The latter presented a comparative study of the role of microalgae and microplastics as vectors of the organophosphorus insecticide chlorpyrifos and the subsequent effect on marine mussels. The study found a similar effect for both vectors, which was clearly different from waterborne exposure of the insecticide.

Thirty-two posters were submitted to the session. Among these, three were presented as poster spotlights. Salla Selonen, University of Helsinki, presented the first poster spotlight, which dealt with the potential effect of synthetic textile fibers on soil organisms as these fibers may end up in agricultural soils causing slight negative effects on soil-dwelling worms. Migel Pleiter, Autonomous University of Madrid, presented the second poster spotlight and reported that the abiotic depolymerisation of the biodegradable plastic PHB, usually regarded as safe, resulted in nanoparticles that were toxic for phytoplankton. Messika Revel, Catholic University of the West | UCO, presented the third poster spotlight. She studied the bioaccumulation and toxicity of two types of microplastics in blue mussel, Mytilus edulis, at environmentally relevant concentrations, where it was found that microplastics were only present in the digestive glands of the mussel and only at the highest concentrations tested. The findings reported potential oxidative stress in the organism.

The poster session was very interesting with studies covering different aspects of detection, bioaccumulation and toxicology of micro- and nanoplastics in a myriad of cells and organisms of environmental relevance: phytoplankton, Daphnia, bivalves, crustaceans, fishes, nematodes, echinoderms and polychaetes. Several posters addressed thorough mechanistic studies – biochemical and molecular – on the biological effect of micro- and nanoplastics, while others focused on ingestion and bioaccumulation. Several dealt with plastics as vectors of pollutants and additives, studying kinetics of pollutant sorption on the plastics and effects of mixture toxicity. Three posters generated attention as they dealt with contamination and effect of plastics in polar regions. Finally, two posters openly discussed the true impact for both environmental and human health of the presence of microplastics in different environmental compartments, including food and beverages. Unfortunately, not a single study on plastics as vectors of microbial communities was presented.

The session was very successful and the congress room was completely full, with many people standing up. The discussion was fruitful and dynamic with intense debate.

In conclusion, the presented works tried to address the question of whether micro- and nanoplastics may pose a threat to environmental and human health:

  • Some works demonstrated that these kinds of materials may be harmful for some organisms of ecological relevance, while in other studies it was not so clear that micro- and nanoplastics could be considered as toxic.
  • Toxicological studies should be made at environmentally relevant concentrations, though that is difficult to determine for the smallest fraction, nanoplastics. Although, higher concentrations could be needed to determine mechanistic mode of action on most model organisms.
  • Plastic may behave as vectors of adsorbed pollutants, but more studies are needed in order to find out which have toxicological consequences.
  • Bioaccumulation might be an issue, but further studies are also required, in particular, for those organisms that may ingest but also egest the plastics.
  • Long-term studies are needed to fully understand the effect of micro- and nanoplastics on the biota in different environmental compartments.

For the general public, the accumulation of plastics in water, particularly in the oceans, is becoming a serious concern. No one can deny that they are an important factor when considering environmental pollution. But besides the aesthetic issue, there is a need for further multidisciplinary research to get insights into the true impact of these materials in nature.

Authors’ contact information:, and

Hans Chritian Bruun Hansen, University of Copenhagen, and Gemma Gimémez Papiol, Fondazione IMC – Centro Marino Internazionale Onlus

The session comprised 12 talks and 36 posters with a focus on natural toxins produced by aquatic micro-organisms or terrestrial plants with implications for food and drinking water quality and safety. The session, which was attended by more than 150 people, gave new insight with advances in analysis, monitoring, distribution, toxicity and handling of risks of both known and new classes of cyanobacterial toxins, palytoxins, geosmin and emerging natural toxins from plants such as terpenoids and saponins. Many of these are highly toxic, may be produced in substantial amounts and, thus, present serious threats to food and water quality. However, the challenges faced with these natural toxins are complicated due to the very high number of toxins, their structural diversity, biological controls of production and diverse modes of action. There is a strong need to develop sensitive analytical methods to enable monitoring and to combine with fate processes and toxicology for proper risk assessments. Toxin production is linked to anthropogenic perturbations, such as eutrophication and monocultures, and also the climate dimension is apparent through influence on the spread of toxin-producing, sometimes invasive, organisms, toxin production and forms of toxic producers. The talks may be arranged into the following five groups:

  • Cyanotoxin analysis
  • Distribution
  • Biological interactions
  • Toxicology
  • Regulation

Anastasis Hiskia , National Center for Scientific Research “Demokritos,” gave an overview of sample preparation and Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (LCMS) methods used for cyanotoxins in Greek lakes emphasizing the need for selective and sensitive methods. Samples were measured for microcystin and nodularin peptidic toxins, as well as cylindrospermopsins, anatoxins and saxitoxins. Microscysins were not dominating in the lakes, and with total concentrations reaching mg/L levels.

Regiane S. Natumi, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, gave an overview of peptide toxin classes produced by cyanobacteria and sensitive analytical methods for these toxins. She demonstrated that different species produce toxins belonging to different classes and that nitrogen and phosphorus deficiency may stimulate toxin production.

Klara Hilscherova, Masaryk University, presented a new class of retinoid (vitamin A-like) compounds produced by cyanobacteria. These compounds are important in signaling and regulating cell processes and may produce theratogenic effects in exposed organisms. Hilscherova gave examples on effects in zebrafish and frog embryos, and the compounds shown to be present at concentration levels in field samples able to produce theratogenic effects.

Claudia Wiegand, University of Rennes 1, presented a lab study to show that Daphnia magna (representative of zoo-plankton) – although being harmfully affected by grazing on cyanobacteria – also has reverse effects on these, causing an increase in antioxidant activity. Thus, cyanobacteria and zooplankton interact not just one way.

Finally, Maura Manganelli, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, presented data for cyanotoxin adverse effects on humans and presented threshold values to protect humans during bathing via either oral, dermal or inhalation exposure with focus on microcystins, anatoxins and cylindrospermopsins. Manganelli found it was important to both measure microbial cell and toxin concentrations.

High-Throughput Methods for Monitoring of Cyanotoxins

James Lazorchak, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, presented a new method to determine total microcystins in fish tissue. The method has been tested for different fish species spiked with the toxins. First field measurements show that the method needs further improvement.

Sergio Bodini, SYSTEA S.p.A., presented an automated immunoaffinity-based method for determining three algal toxins in seawater. A portable unit has been developed, which allows for online determination; first testing has shown successful; inclusion of a preconcentration step may improve sensitivity.

Other Water-Born Toxins

Carmella Dell’Aversano, University of Naples Federico II, gave an overview of palytoxins (including ovatoxins) produced by Ostreopsis spp. (dinoflagellate) and with examples of Liquid Chromatography High Resolution Mass Spectrometry (LCHRMS) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) structural elucidation and toxicity of this class of non-peptidic toxins. Toxin monitoring along the Mediterranean coasts have spotted regions with high polytoxin levels covering different toxic profiles. Dell’Aversano emphasized the huge need for reference materials, fate and toxicity studies. 

Carmen Espinosa, University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia, presented a temporal monitoring study of geosmin toxins in the Ter catchment in Spain. Geosmin produced by cyanobacteria and actinomycetes were generally produced above the human detection level of 5–10 ng/L and showed to increase with growing eutrophication but were also affected by nitrogen/phosphorus imbalances.

Plant Toxins as Water Pollutants

Lars H. Rasmussen,  Metropolitan University College, gave an overview of carcinogenic toxins (ptaquilosides) produced by Bracken – their global presence, mobility, degradation (hydrolysis) and occurrence in surface and groundwaters. He elucidated how geographical, biological, climatic and temporal factors may control bracken toxin pulses in water reservoirs.

Nina Cedergreen, University of Copenhagen, highlighted species sensitivity towards saponin toxins, of which some are being used as biopesticides. She emphasized that toxicity cannot be read across but depends on both saponin structure and the species exposed. Examples were given of apparent high stability of Quillaja saponins in lake water.

Climate and Food Safety

Angelo Maggiore presented European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) work with early awareness and screening of how climate effects food safety. He presented the climate change and emerging risks for food safety project (CLEFSA) and gave examples of how natural toxin contamination (such as ciguatoxins, cyanotoxins, tetrodotoxins and BMAA) may be affected by climate. He asked for further input and stretched the importance of communicating the emerging risks to the public.

The environmental chemistry and toxicology of natural toxins is developing as a field, with much still to be learned. There is a strong need for development of robust sample preparation and analytical methods, and for studies of fate, mobility and toxicity, to lay the basis for proper risk assessment, actions and communication. Analysis of the toxins suffer from lack of standards and reference materials, as well as availability of radioactive labeled substances. In particular, there is a serious lack of monitoring data for non-cyanobacterial toxins. Controls on toxin production and ecosystem effects are complex and need further elucidation.

The natural toxin group started with about 25 attendants and a poster corner at SETAC Brussels in 2017, but this year it has grown to a much larger group, with almost 50 contributions. It demonstrates that this group of emerging contaminants is of growing interest, and we look forward to adding new data and insight next year at the SETAC Europe 29th Annual Meeting, which will be held from 26–30 May 2019 in Helsinki, Finland.

Authors’ contact information: and

Anna Barra Caracciolo, Paola Grenni and Luisa Patrolecco, Italian National Research Council – Water Research Institute, and Donato Ludovici, Italferr S.p.A.

Spoil material, soil

In the coming years, due to the numerous tunnelling projects planned in Europe and worldwide, several hundreds of millions of tons of spoil material will be produced. Tunnel debris is composed of soil and rock treated during excavation processes with different chemical products (e.g., foaming agents and polymers) used for soil conditioning. While tunnel debris can be used for many purposes, three potential uses of tunnel debris are refilling old quarries, road construction material and as a raw material for industrial production. Commercial foaming products are chemical mixtures that can include multiple compounds. The persistence and ecotoxicity of these chemicals can influence the subsequent possible reuse of the huge amount of soil debris as byproducts or its discharge as waste. There are currently neither soil threshold limits in European or Italian legislation for several chemicals present in the chemical formula of soil conditioning additives, nor comprehensive studies on its ecotoxicological effects on soil and water organisms. The development of modern and efficient high-speed railway and motorway networks requires a responsible innovative technology and common criteria to assess and manage the possible environmental risk of the residual mixture of chemical occurring in the spoiled material.

The session “Environmental risk assessment and management of the spoil material produced in tunnelling excavation” took place at the SETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting in Rome and was aimed at promoting an interdisciplinary discussion among chemical producers, engineering contractors, stakeholders (e.g., railway and motorway operators), environmental scientists and regulators on the complex topic of management of the spoil materials obtained from excavation performed with tunnel boring machines (TBM).

In fact, this topic was discussed in this session from different points of view, such as using low-impact commercial products, evaluating common criteria for the environmental risk assessment of spoil material, taking into consideration different possible exposure scenarios and proposing new European guidelines or regulations in order to make the environmental protective goals uniform between the various countries. Six oral presentations (including case studies) from stakeholders and researchers from academia, chemical producers and engineering companies were delivered. Additionally, 10 posters in the dedicated poster session were presented. Please reference the SETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting abstract book for a full list of presenters and details of their talks.

Authors’ contact information:,, and d.ludovici@italferr.i

Jessica Legradi, VU Amsterdam; Riccardo Massei, UFZ – Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research; and Jorke Kamstra, Norwegian University of Life Sciences


Fish model species are widely applied in human and environmental toxicity studies, since they present several advantages in respect to other model organisms. As major examples, fish species cover a wide range of habitats (from salt to fresh water), types of reproductions (from livebearers to egg-laying species) and size (species that are only a view centimeter in size and others that are up to several meters). It is clear the heterogeneous characteristics of each species allow their application in disparate research fields, ranging from human medicine and disease etiology to ecotoxicological studies. Therefore, the proper selection of a fish model can improve the scientific outcome and relevance of toxicity studies. In this context, one of the major goals of the session “Fish model species in human and environmental toxicology” was to bring together the latest scientific outcomes in toxicological studies using fish species and to create a link between international scientists from different research fields. As result, the session showed an outstanding participation characterized by a great interest throughout the platform presentations and poster sessions.

The Session

The first part of the session was dedicated to research performed with zebrafish (Danio rerio). Within the first session, new state of the art technologies were applied with zebrafish to gain deeper insights into specific toxicological mechanisms. The first impression was that the days of simple dose–response curves and LC50studies are over. In fact, many scientists are now trying to achieve a deeper understanding of specific molecular processes, in particular an understanding of the metabolic capacities of zebrafish during adult and embryonic stages.

As an example, the effects of environmental levels of selenium on energy metabolism were shown. Swimming performance was assessed via a “fish treadmill,” a tube where fish must swim against a constant current. Energy metabolism was monitored by linking resting and swimming performance with oxygen consumption. Moreover, the heart function was analyzed measuring cardiac output using ultrasound bio-microscopy. These results suggested that aquatic selenium pollution might induce a “metabolic syndrome,” thus acting as an “obesogenic” and an “endocrine disrupting” compound. Especially relevant for zebrafish studies using embryonic stages was a presentation about the metabolic capability at different developmental stages. A high capability and capacity of the zebrafish embryos with respect to the biotransformation of xenobiotics was found after 24 hours of development. An interesting applicability for zebrafish embryo toxicity testing was the use for particulate matter of different particle sizes. Still in the field of -omics, new insights into sex- and organ-specific estrogenic effects using non-targeted proteomics were found using High-Performance Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (HPLC-MS). Such studies might help find candidate molecular toxicity biomarkers for early prediction of apical endpoints such as reproduction. Finally, a couple of studies argued for the use of zebrafish embryos as potential monitoring and diagnostic tools in environmental studies. Zebrafish embryos were also presented as a diagnostic whole mixture assessment tool. Toxicological profiles were established after direct sediment exposure. Site differences for locomotor responses, malformations, acetylcholinesterase activity and heartbeats were shown.

In the second half of the session, the focus switched from zebrafish to other widely used fish species. Also in this case, the presentations confirmed the growing interest of scientists for new molecular techniques and their possible application in toxicology and ecotoxicology. The first presentation focused on dietary effects of methylmercury of the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) and the house mouse (Mus musculus)Effects on behavior, growth, immune function, metabolism or energetics, neuroendocrine function and central nervous system structure were reported. Similar effects were observed in mice, highlighting the strong correlation between fish and mammalian species. It was suggested the gut microbiome might be a key player in directly or indirectly regulating these effects. In the next presentation, the effects of Fluoxetin (a widely used antidepressant) on rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) using RNA sequencing were presented. The two-test species showed very different transcriptional responses, which might be due to metabolic or uptake differences. Neurotoxic effects could be seen but not the suspected response on anxiolytic genes. This might indicate that fish might respond differently than humans to such substances.

Transgenerational effects were also assessed using Menidia beryllina, aeuryhaline species. Effects of endocrine disruptors like 17β-ethinylestradiol (EE2) were monitored in three generations. Malformations were seen also in non-exposed offspring. Epigenetic analysis will be performed to assess transgenerational inheritance via epigenetic mechanisms, a topic which is also emerging in the field of toxicological fish research. Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) were applied as a model to gain further insights into polycylclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-induced cardiotoxicity. Different PAH’s induced various changes at the level of the transcriptome, and for some genes, direct effects on ion channels were shown. The species Percilia irwini were used by another study to investigate water quality in a river in central Chile. Percilia irwini were collected along the river and a variety of biomarkers (weight, size, EROD activity, gene response) were assessed and an Integrated Physiological Biomarkers Response (IPBR) was calculated. The session was closed with two poster spotlights. One was trying to make a link between gene expression patterns and in vivo endpoints like movement, heart beat and malformations. The second one presented new insights on cross-species differences in the modulation of human and zebrafish nuclear receptors by single chemicals and environmental mixtures.

Following the oral presentations a poster session was held with nearly 50 posters about a variety of different toxicological studies using different fish models. Different toxicological mechanisms like endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity and carcerogenicity were presented, including studies focused on specific compound groups (i.e., PAH and metals).

The poster session was closed by a poster corner focusing on studies using complex environmental samples. One study used caging experiments as a tool for in situ assessment of neurotoxic effects. Another study focused on effects of treated sugar cane vinasses on gills of Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). Violet Goby (Gobioides broussonnetii – Gobiidae) were used to assess toxic effects from one of the most productive estuaries in Brazil. Caging experiments with rainbow trout were used to assess the effects of ozonation on waste water treatment quality. The RADAR (Rapid Androgen Disruption Adverse Outcome Reporter) assay was presented as a novel medium-throughput tool to assess androgen disruption in environmental samples. The final poster in the corner discussed the results of environmental samples collected near vineyard parcels on rainbow trout larvae (Oncorhynchus mykiss).

Conclusion From the Session

The session clearly showed that a big step forward has been made when applying fish model species for toxicological studies. State of the art methods are now usable for many different species due to the ever-increasing amount of genome assemblies and more accurate annotations of genes. RNA sequencing and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry proteomics are widely applied. Thereby, visual malformations can now be linked to molecular mechanisms. Better understanding of compound metabolism and uptake in fish further improves understanding of toxicological processes. More studies are now focusing on transgenerational and epigenetic effects, which is clearly aided by the fast development in fish model research and established methodologies for epigenetic research. As a novel endpoint, which receives much attention in the field of toxicology, were the effects on the microbiome. The times of simple dose–response lethality curves, identifying only at what concentrations toxicity is caused, have clearly passed. Fish models now help to understand how compounds cause toxicity. Despite this progress, the presented data was barely used for risk assessments. We hope that further studies will help to make findings in fish models more accepted in toxicological risk assessment.

Based on the great success of this session, we are looking forward to the contributions for the SETAC Europe 29th Annual Meeting, which will be held from 26–30 May 2019 in Helsinki, Finland.

Authors’ contact information:, and

Laurence Deydier Stephan, European Chemicals Agency (ECHA); Sonia Manzo, Italian National Agency for New Technologies Portici Research Centre (ENEA); Simona Scalbi, Bologna Research Centre (ENEA); and Doris Voelker, German Environment Agency (UBA)

In the EU, nanomaterials are implicitly covered by the substance definition of the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulation, even if nanomaterial-specific obligations will only enter into force in January 2020. Other regulations, such as the Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR) and the Cosmetics Regulation, already consider them explicitly.

As a regulatory agency, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is proactive in the international debate on the regulation of nanomaterials. Together with other stakeholders, such as competent authorities and scientific institutions, the agency works to have the most recent scientific research developments integrated into the relevant regulations. Regulators have recognized the need for new or updated standardized test methods, guidance and approaches. Accordingly, efforts have been made to strengthen the implementation of existing methods and guidelines and develop new ones. Research activities have been initiated worldwide to promote more appropriate and representative nanomaterial risk assessment. Furthermore, the scientific and regulatory communities have progressed in the development of life cycle-based approaches for eco-design of new nano-enabled products as well as grouping approaches specific to nanomaterials.

The session covered the major findings and latest developments of regulatory relevance in the risk assessment of nanomaterials.

The session consisted of six platform presentations and 14 posters. Two presentations focused on the regulatory situation under REACH, BPR, CLP (Classification, Labeling and Packaging Regulation) and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), while one provided an overview on reliable tools and methods currently available for risk management and safe innovation in Europe. Three presentations covered scientific advances on nanomaterial behavior and effects. The safer-by-design concepts and advanced approaches for refined environmental risk assessment through test strategies developed under the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) Horizon 2020 projects such as NanoREg2, EC4Safe Nano, and NanoFase were also presented and discussed. The platform presentations sparked discussion and interest among the 50 participants that continued through the poster session.

Anu Kapanen of ECHA provided an overview of the agency’s regulatory and scientific activities, with a particular focus on the work related to nanomaterials and the tools used to assess their hazards and risks. As a science-based regulatory body implementing the EU chemicals legislation, the agency complements the formal, legal instruments available under the different regulations with softer approaches to support and advise stakeholders, including expert groups, as well as various communication and exchange platforms, such as the European Union Observatory for Nanomaterials (EUON). The EUON website and its structure drew several questions from participants after the presentation; other topics discussed included the European Commission’s recent decision to adopt specific requirements for nanomaterials in the REACH annexes and ECHA’s upcoming update for guidance on information requirements and chemical safety assessment specific to nanomaterials.

Marie Claude Sauvé, Environment and Climate Change Canada, presented the development of a risk assessment framework under CEPA for nanomaterials. The framework, based on identified scientific challenges in nanomaterials testing and data gaps for prioritization, aims to improve environmental risk assessment of nanomaterials. While Europe has regulations allowing direct requests for information and testing, under CEPA, Canada needs to first collect information from existing literature, international programs or open databases before assessing what potentially could be the need or risks of collecting and requesting further information. A web page will be launched soon to initiate and motivate collaboration and discussion on critical data and knowledge gaps among regulators, scientists and industry.

The first two presentations were followed by a question and discussion period on the use of data and the potential to strengthen collaboration within and beyond Europe so that, among other benefits, the work carried out by Canada and by ECHA could feed into each other.

Simona Scalbi, Bologna Research Centre – ENEA, presented the preliminary findings of the EC4SafeNano project, set up to develop a distributed center of European organizations offering services for risk management and safe innovation for nanomaterials and nanotechnologies. One of the first actions of the project is the development of a validated inventory of tools, trainings and best practices available in human and environmental nanosafety, available via a website. The inventory also includes quality criteria, such as the level of evaluation and validation of the resource and its acceptance under REACH. At this stage, the findings show that training is the most markedly missing element.

Andrew Barrick, Bretagne Loire University, from the NanoReg2 project, presented some recent developments related to safer-by-design strategies for nanomaterials and environmental safety. Studies applying Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) test guidelines and in vitro or in vivo testing strategies have been carried out to assess toxicity of different types of carbon nanofiber. The results obtained using characterization methods, standard test guidelines using algae and daphnids, and in vitro or in vivo testing of mussel haemocytes have shown carbon nanofibers to exhibit different levels of toxicity at different concentrations and durations of exposure dependent on the manufacturing process. Interestingly, differences in in vitro toxicity of carbon nanofibers were dependent on the dispersion used for the environmental test media (with and without bovine serum albumin), indicating that the method used to prepare suspensions can affect toxicity, with obvious implications for comparing interspecies toxicity results. While this research promotes safer production design of carbon nanofibers, this does not necessarily ensure safer use of products.

Jerome Labille, French National Centre for Scientific Research, CEREGE Laboratory, presented research on sunscreen formulations that use a different functionalization of titanium dioxide (TiO2), grounded on an eco-design approach that considers all lifecycle stages in the risk assessment, from fabrication through to the end-of-life of the product. This research, carried out with an industry consortium, seeks to minimize the risks posed to consumers and the environment by lowering either the amount of TiOreleased or the hazard of the product. Different compositions have been tested. The first results on dispersion and size distribution in seawater media show that silica-coated TiOloses its coating once placed in water for aging, leaving bare and photocatalytic TiOin the environment. Further work related to beach and seawater monitoring and the testing of potential skin irritation are planned to determine which formulation delivers the best compromise between efficiency as sunscreen and the hazards connected to exposure levels.

Bernd Nowack, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, illustrated some research on modeling nano-specific environmental risk assessment in different regions of Europe.  For this, he presented the environmental risks of five different nanomaterials based on a dynamic probabilistic model flow analysis to predict their environmental concentrations. These data were further compared to effect concentrations assumed to be of no hazard to environmental organisms, derived from probabilistic species sensitivity distributions using ecotoxicological data for each nanomaterial. First results show that while some nanomaterials in specific regions will pose a risk due to their potential fate, release and known hazards, others may be of no concern. All these estimations include uncertainties and will be more reliable if and when proper data on production and recycling is available to researchers. This work will be continued and further developed for local scale modeling and the recycling stage, which is one of the known sinks and potential local hot spots for release.

Conclusions From the Session

The session made clear that progress has been made in nanomaterials safety, by way of chemicals regulation, improvements in environmental risk assessment and safer-by-design concepts. Current emphasis lies on the systematic investigation of the status quo regarding the knowledge on human and environmental nanosafety, the implementation of adequate standards and tools for risk assessment, as well as on the communication of these findings. Enhanced interest and effort in comparing the fate and effects of different nanoforms will support relevant environmental risk assessment approaches (e.g., in terms of grouping forms or even materials) as well as safer innovation of nanomaterials by applying safer-by-design tools as a pre-regulatory step.

Questions and issues raised by the audience demonstrated that despite headway made in the regulation and environmental risk assessment of nanomaterials over their lifecycles, there is a still a need for much discussion. The legal obligations may provide opportunities not only to generate data but also to promote the gathering and sharing of all the available research findings and tools, which can in turn assist in deciding on further testing strategies that will promote research innovation towards safer nanomaterials.

Authors’ contact information:, and

Laura Cutaia and Grazia Barberio, ENEA, and Serena Righi and Alessandra Bonoli, University of Bologna

Emerging technologies are often considered a benefit for future generations and a key for a better life quality and a safer environment. They are helping to solve some of the most challenging issues of the twenty-first century, inclu