UKCEH scientists took part in the 34th Annual Meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Europe, the most important European meeting for research in the field of chemical pollution and its sources, fate and effects. This year's meeting was in Seville from 5-9 May. Read on for details of our involvement...

The scientific programme of SETAC Europe 2024 had the overarching theme of 'Science-Based Solutions in Times of Crisis: Integrating Science and Policy for Environmental Challenges'. This was an opportunity to exchange, discover and discuss cutting-edge research that helps to understand, predict and manage the impacts of pollutants on the environment, including solutions to reduce, replace and regulate the use of known pollutants. 

This year, UKCEH scientists were lead presenters of two talks and several posters on topics including microplastics, rodenticides, and risk assessments. We also co-chaired three sessions on modelling the exposure of the environment to pollutants; the environmental impacts of plastics; and a special scientific session on long-term exposure to chemicals in aquatic and terrestrial systems.

Oral presentations

Monday 6 May

Sam Harrison: Predicting plastic degradation and fragmentation in the environment

  • The fragmentation (breaking apart) of plastics in the environment is an important but poorly understood process. Fragmentation can impact processes such as how organisms absorb plastics, and the movement of plastics around the environment. In this presentation we introduce the FRAGMENT-MNP model, which has a detailed understanding of how plastic degrades and fragments, allowing realistic predictions of how a broad variety of commonly used plastics fragment in a range of environments and with different environmental stressors, such as UV degradation and temperature. Our model is open-source and pragmatic in its data requirements, making it an easily usable tool for industry, regulators and academia, as well as being easy to integrate into exposure models. 

Richard Cross: Considerations regarding the representativeness of microplastic concentrations in aqueous systems: are the data fit-for-purpose?

  • We present a framework to help people design representative sampling for microplastics in the environment. It focuses on synthesizing existing methods, communicating limitations and uncertainties of sampling strategies, and identifying additional data collection metrics to increase the reliability and utility of micro- and nanoplastic data.

Poster presentations

Tuesday 7 May

Melanie Gibbs: The revised EFSA Bee Guidance - first hands-on experiences in risk assessment and lessons learned so far

  • We reviewed the European Food Safety Authorisation (EFSA) revised Pollinator guidance document published in 2023 with the aim of supporting future development of the GB regulatory framework for pollinators post-EU exit. Our objectives were to provide a road map for identifying best practice by summarising the uncertainties, data gaps, data limitations and research gaps in current regulatory risk assessment frameworks. 

Wednesday 8 May

Shinji Ozaki: Biomonitoring of metals and second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides at the pan-European scale from 1996 to 2021 with wild Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo)

  • We conducted pan-European scale biomonitoring using Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) to study two types of chemical contaminants posing threats to terrestrial wildlife: heavy metals and second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs). Overall, metals in buzzards showed a spatial variation but did not change over time. In contrast, SGARs did not spatially vary but changed over time. Potential health risks from the analysed chemical contaminants on buzzards increased around the middle of the 2010s, mainly due to high brodifacoum concentrations. 

Lee Walker: Contamination of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides in the Eurasian Sparrowhawk and assessment of population level effects in the UK

  • We report levels of contamination of second generation anticoagulant rodenticides in the UK Eurasian sparrowhawk over a 30-year period and use the data to predict mortality rates induced by this exposure. These mortality rates were applied to a population model to predict how sparrowhawk populations in different regions of Great Britain would have changed over the last three decades had the predicted SGAR-induced mortality not occurred. Results are consistent with SGAR-related mortality potentially being influential at the population level in some regions of Britain. 

 David Spurgeon: Chemical mixtures: Additivity and beyond

  • Risk analysis might assume that chemicals work additively, ie that the effects of different chemicals in a mixture act independently and can simply be added together to determine the overall impact. What if this is not the case? Experimental studies show cases where chemicals interact in non-additive ways, such as synergism where the combined effect of two or more chemicals is greater than the sum of their individual effects - they amplify each other's effects. Adjusting risk assessments to account for synergistic effects could significantly increase the number of locations at risk from chemical mixtures in surface water.

Stephen Short: Untangling defensomes: 'Omic comparisons across species and chemical mode of action to aid species sensitivity prediction

  • Terrestrial invertebrate populations are decreasing, with pollution seen as a major cause. Accurate prediction of species' sensitivity to pollutants is crucial for better risk assessment. This involves understanding how different species interact with toxins at a molecular level. Defensomes are genes and molecular mechanisms within organisms that are involved in defending against or responding to environmental stressors, such as genes related to detoxification, damage mitigation and repair. These vary among species. Research focuses on understanding how these variations affect species' sensitivity to different pollutants including pesticides, using examples like annelids and cabbage moth larvae. We also explore the difficulty of studying these defensomic responses in species that are relatively poorly studied at the molecular level.

Thursday 9 May

Sam Harrison: Pharmaceuticals strategy for Europe: A call for continuous improvement towards environmental protection

  • In 2020, the European Commission launched its Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe, with broad goals to ensure equitable access to affordable medicines, support competitiveness, innovation and sustainability, enhance crisis preparedness, and ensure the EU has a strong voice in the world. A key step in its implementation was the acceptance of a draft legislation to ultimately replace the current European Medicines Agency regulation. In this poster presentation, we will highlight enhancements in environmental protection offered by this legislation and reflect on areas where there are still gaps and room for improvement. 

Stephen Lofts: Developing UK-specific chemical emission futures within the global context

  • Chemical emissions are influenced by various factors like the environment, technology, society, and politics. Using exploratory scenarios helps us understand how these factors might change and affect emissions in the future. The UK Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (UK-SSPs) offer different scenarios for the UK's future, providing a range of challenges. For chemical emission estimation, further scenario enrichment is needed to quantify the variables directly driving emission quantities and patterns (proximal drivers). Our approach involves identifying these factors and analyzing historical trends with input from various stakeholders. We discuss this method and share examples of trends to explore its strengths, weaknesses, and potential improvements.

Other sessions

On Tuesday, Elma Lahive co-chaired the session 'Direct and indirect impacts of (nano- and micro-) plastics in terrestrial ecosystems: current status and future trends'. This SETAC session focused on understanding the impact of plastics pollution on terrestrial ecosystems, including  how plastics are used in soils, strategies to reduce unintentional releases, and their direct and indirect effects on soil health and environmental risk.

Also on Tuesday, David Spurgeon co-chaired the session 'Beyond the conventional ecotox endpoints - advances to unravel low, chronic, exposure risks.' This session shared the current status of different aspects of low-level long-term chemical exposure including both aquatic and terrestrial systems, and highlighting future challenges and research needs.

On Wednesday, Sam Harrison and Stephen Lofts co-chaired the session 'Advances in exposure modelling to inform science-based environmental solutions'. This session highlighted exposure modelling advances, with a particular focus on how models can enhance environmental impact assessment and decision-making.

Additional links

SETAC Europe 34th annual meeting

UKCEH pollution science