Providing the scientific knowledge, evidence and risk assessments needed for sustainable management of chemicals while protecting people, the environment and its services.

Polluted waters Photo: ShutterstockChemicals include such substances as pharmaceuticals, radionuclides, macronutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, trace gases and elements, particulates, and organic and inorganic compounds. They are used in, and directly or indirectly released from, processes and products that are essential for people’s health, nutrition and well-being. However, chemicals and their breakdown products have hazardous properties which can pose a risk to the environment, ecosystem services and human health. Risk assessments, based on fundamental knowledge of transport, fate, exposure and effects, are essential for safe chemical use and release.

Our research 

Pollution & Environmental Risk Science Area Summary front cover

CEH has world-class capability for integrated long-term monitoring, residue analysis, laboratory and field experimentation and multi-scale modelling of chemicals in the environment. Our close links with national and international policy-makers will ensure that the new knowledge we generate translates through to policies and mitigation strategies that deliver safe management of chemicals, now and in the future.

Focussing on priority and newly-emerging pollutants, we will study transport, fate, exposure and effects to discover and predict impacts on organisms, ecosystems, the services they deliver, and human health.

Research activity will include: 

  • quantifying spatial and temporal trends in fate, behaviour, exposure and effects for atmospheric, aquatic and terrestrial systems.
  • development of transport and bioavailability models to explain variability and reduce uncertainties in estimates of environmental concentrations and exposure.
  • development of exposure-response models, in particular for scenarios such as chronic low level exposure, exposure to chemical mixtures and simultaneous exposure to chemical and non-chemical stressors.
  • studies on how interactions between environmental conditions, climate change and air quality impact on human and ecosystem health.
  • identifying traits that underpin sensitivity and adaptation to assess risks to key organisms, food security, ecosystem services and biodiversity.
  • development of new approaches and tools for hazard screening, risk assessment and source apportionment for emergent technologies.
  • assessing the importance of the impacts of specific pollutants relative to other stressors.
  • determining the pollution risks to ecosystem services. 
  • exploration of how chemical risks vary with likely future climate and demographic change, increasing urbanisation and a move towards low carbon economies.

Future research objectives

To undertake short and long-term monitoring to quantify concentrations, pools, fluxes and impacts of key environmental pollutants

By 2019, we will:

  • measure or estimate how environmental concentrations of priority pollutants and their impacts vary in space and time and are driven by emission/release pathways.

Towards this end, by 2015:

  • we will quantify annually the risks of impacts from acid and nitrogen concentrations and deposition on UK designated sites of high conservation value.

Reduce uncertainty with which we predict the environmental dynamics, bioavailability and impacts of environmental pollutants

By 2019, we will:

  • deliver process-based predictive models and approaches to enhance quantification of the fate, exposure, effects and mitigation outcomes for selected priority pollutants.

Towards this end, by 2015:

  • we will have improved the accuracy of our models that predict transport, transformation and fate of priority air pollutants at multiple scales, including a more robust assessment of human health effects of urban air pollution.

Improve hazard screening and risk assessment processes for current and emerging technologies

By 2019, we will:

  • have developed new analytical capabilities, indicators and tools to improve the throughput, realism and efficiency of hazard and risk assessment techniques for the environment and people.

Towards this end, by 2015:

  • we will have delivered trained experts, new tools and approaches for more realistic assessment of environmental exposure concentrations and risks from manufactured nanomaterials.

Assess how, in our changing world, environmental risk will change in the future

By 2019, we will:

  • have advanced our capabilities for assessing the risks to the environment, ecosystem services and people that are associated with future changes in human demography, land management and climate.

Towards this end, by 2015:

  • we will publish a risk assessment for the effects of steroid oestrogen mixtures on fish for the rivers of England and Wales accounting for population growth and climate to 2050.


Our projects link closely to other CEH science areas and, outside of CEH, are typically delivered in partnership with national and international collaborators and policy-makers. This includes operation of national networks for monitoring atmospheric air pollutants, operation of monitoring supersites, leading international programmes, and modelling from plot to UK and international scales.

Our scientific findings, data and expertise support a diverse array of regulatory agencies, policy-makers, national and international advisory committees, emergency planners and industry (see the box below).

Data from many of our projects are available through the CEH Information Gateway or from other dedicated websites such as UK-AIR, the UK Pollutant Deposition portal and the Air Pollution Information System (APIS).

National stakeholdersInternational stakeholders
DefraEuropean Commission
Chemicals Regulatory DirectorateEuropean Environment Agency
Health & Safety ExecutiveUnited Nations Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)
Nuclear Decommissioning AuthorityEuropean Chemicals Agency (ECHA)
Environment AgencyEuropean Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
Scottish Environmental Protection AgencyInternational Atomic Energy Agency
Natural Resource WalesEuropean Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC)
JNCC and its devloped countryside agenciesInternational Fertiliser Industry Association
Forestry CommissionMetals and nanotechnology industries

Contact us

For general enquiries, please see our Contacts page.

Science Area Lead

Business Development Manager

Science Coordinator

Professor Richard Shore

Richard Shore

Dr Colin Mackechnie

Colin Mackechnie Photo: Heather Lowther

Anita Jobson

Anita Petrie

Tel: +44 (0)1524 595800
Tel: +44 (0) 1491 838800
Tel: +44 (0) 1491 838800

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