Roman Lanno, SETAC North America President
Baltic Sea in Helsinki

The Baltic seascape in Helsinki mimics the sloping granite shores of the Great Lakes region.

This summer has been a blur with travel to several SETAC meetings. It all started with the SETAC Europe 29th Annual Meeting, which was held in the Baltic Sea port of Helsinki, Finland. The Baltic Sea is shallow with gently sloping granite shorelines, much like areas of Lake Huron. The meeting was held at the Messukeskus Helsinki, which holds an ISO 14001 environmental management certificate, lining up nicely with SETAC’s sustainability mission. The Messukeskus sustainability numbers for the conference were impressive, with 99% of waste recycled, 85% of food for conference catering locally produced, and a 400,000 kg CO2 reduction achieved through one vegetarian conference lunch, no conference-themed floor materials, and free public transit for all conference delegates. To that end, free public transit made travel easy to downtown venues and accommodations around the city. Finnish cuisine was on full display from the various Baltic style foods, including creamy potato salads and various fish options served at lunch during the convention, to battered and fried whitebait (a small fish) served in a french fries container at the dockside market downtown. There was some caution needed when consuming these fish since gulls would dive in and snatch them right out of your hand if you weren’t careful. Other delicacies included reindeer and moose burgers…yum! The meeting itself was a great success due to the efforts of Jussi Kukkonen and Kari Lehtonen, co-chairs of the local organizing committee, joined by Marko Virta and Lotta Ruokanen as additional co-chairs of the Scientific Committee. Program highlights included sessions on One Health, PFAS, science communication and environmental plastics of all sizes, among others. The poster sessions were vibrant and included the first ever beer brewed for SETAC, a lager with a distinctive SETAC label!

Student poster

Student poster presentations at the SETAC Australasia meeting were given digitally.

The next stop was the top end of Australia for the SETAC Australasia 2019 Conference in Darwin, Northern Territory. This meeting was brilliantly planned by co-chairs Andrew Harford and Jill Woodworth. Darwin boasts a tropical climate and tremendous beaches with the opening reception held at the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets area, complete with Aboriginal dancers and visiting reptiles. The conference gala dinner and dance was spectacular and held outside near a beach in East Point. The meeting was held at the very modern Darwin Convention Centre and was a paperless meeting. How, may you ask, do you have posters without paper? Four large screens were available for poster presenters to attend during their allotted times and delegates could go back and access their digital posters later if questions arose. The student poster competition was conducted with students displaying their posters on screen, giving a three-minute overview and taking questions. Following the conference, there was also a PFAS workshop that featured overview presentations of PFAS related to human, agricultural and ecological health issues. A specific case study of PFAS contamination of the groundwater in Katherine, Northern Territory, was also presented and featured a novel ion-exchange treatment system that was used to reduce PFOS and PFOA concentrations in groundwater to levels near detection limits.

Ecotoxicology working group members

Ecotoxicology working group at PFAS Focused Topic Meeting in Durham. (Photo courtesy of Anu Kumar.)

Finally, the Environmental Risk Assessment of PFAS – SETAC North America Focused Topic Meeting was held at the Durham Convention Center in North Carolina and was an astounding success. We started out planning for 250 attendees and wound up with 400 – PFAS is a hot topic! The meeting involved plenary sessions on analytical chemistry, exposure assessment, ecotoxicology, human toxicology and risk characterization followed by breakout groups for each of these working groups. The momentum of the plenary sessions carried over to the working group discussions with more than half of the attendees remaining until the bitter end. I was involved as a co-chair in the ecotoxicology working group along with Gary Ankley and Brad Sample, and with the other members of our working group, we are working feverishly to get a manuscript written on the current state of knowledge with respect to PFAS in ecotoxicology and what we need to know in order to develop environmental quality guidelines or conduct adequate ecological risk assessments.

After concluding my travels, I had a chance to sit back and reflect on how remarkable SETAC is as a non-profit society. The only reason all these meetings were so successful was the incredible contributions and efforts of our SETAC staff and all the local volunteers at all of the venues. My eyes have been opened to how effective SETAC is at conducting scientific meetings of all kinds and sizes all over the world. With five geographic units and many more regional chapters, there are options around the globe to take in great science and local culture, and I would encourage you to take advantage of these great opportunities.

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