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High-throughput ‘omics’ technologies, which allow exact and synchronised study of thousands of DNA, RNA, proteins and other molecules, are rapidly becoming more advanced and affordable. As these technologies develop, it is becoming quicker, easier and more affordable to generate unprecedented amounts of biological data, much of which could usefully inform environmental management. So far, however, the application of omics information in environmental management has failed to keep pace with the rapid development of omics-based research, meaning there is untapped potential. A recent study highlights the value of bringing omics information into environmental management and outlines practical ways in which omics can contribute to the risk assessment and management of chemicals.
The chemical 1,4-dioxane, a solvent suspected of causing cancer, is very difficult to clean up once it enters the environment. However, hope is offered by recent scientific developments that use plants, bacteria and fungi to decontaminate water resources. Scientists provided a round-up of these 1,4-dioxane bioremediation techniques in a recent analysis.
Personal Care Products (PCPs) are of increasing global concern, as thousands of tonnes enter the environment every year. Similar to persistent organic pollutants (POPs), some substances used in PCPs are toxic, persist in the environment and accumulate in the bodies of organisms that take them in. This study focused on the presence of ultraviolet filters (UV-Fs) (used in PCPs such as sunscreens and cosmetics) in the unhatched eggs of wild birds.
If the EU is to combat resource scarcity, it is necessary to develop and refine strategies for substituting raw materials with sustainable alternatives, such as recovered by-products from waste. A recent study presents a new approach for evaluating the sustainability of raw materials’ substitutions, based on the quantification of the embodied energy (energy required to produce the material from ores and feedstock) and carbon dioxide footprint (greenhouse gasses produced and released into the atmosphere during the production of the material) of both the raw material and its proposed substitute. The evaluation method has been applied to a real case, where it indicates that substituting a raw material (calcite) with stabilised fly ash for use as a filler in polypropylene composites in plastic manufacturing may be sustainable. The study also highlights the need for additional policy tools and legislation to encourage Europe’s transition towards a circular economy.
Water pollution by toxic elements is a major economic and environmental concern, and mercury is one of the most poisonous of the elements to be released into the environment by industry. Mercury exposure can cause severe ill health. Efficient, simple and convenient methods to remove mercury from industrial and other waste streams and drinking water are essential. This study successfully trialled a new technique, using magnetised multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs), to remove mercury from waste water.
Small streams are important refuges for biodiversity, yet knowledge of the effects of agricultural pesticides on these freshwater bodies is limited. Researchers have used national monitoring data to determine the number of small streams in Germany where regulatory acceptable concentrations (RACs) of pesticides are exceeded. An analysis of data covering almost 500 pesticides and over 2 000 small streams suggests that agricultural land use is a major contributor of pesticides to streams. Overall, RACs were exceeded at 26% of sampled streams, and exceedances were 3.7 times more likely if a stream was near agricultural land. This finding may have implications for environmental monitoring and agri-environmental measures.
The most important findings from over a decade of research into environmentally persistent free radicals (EPFRs), a new class of environmental pollutants, are presented in a recent review. These toxic particles could be partly responsible for some of the health problems, such as asthma, associated with particulate matter (PM) exposure. The researchers issue a warning that some engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) could increase levels of EPFRs in the environment.
Tiny polyester fibres, which are washed into rivers, lakes and seas every time we do our laundry could cause more harm to animals than plastic microbeads, finds a new study. The researchers looked at the effect of microbeads and fibres on a small crustacean called Ceriodaphnia dubia, which lives in freshwater lakes. They found that although both types of plastic were toxic, microfibres caused more harm. Both microplastics stunted the growth of the animals, and reduced their ability to have offspring; microfibres, however, did this to a greater degree, and also caused noticeable deformities in the crustacean’s body and antennae.
According to most EU legislation, regulatory assessment of chemicals should make use of all available and relevant studies. However, in practice, assessments tend to be predominantly based on research sponsored and provided by industry as part of their legal obligations to show safety of their products, rather than on independent peer-reviewed findings. To bridge this science–policy gap, a team of Swedish researchers, in combination with regulators at three Swedish governmental agencies, have published a list of recommendations aimed at increasing the regulatory usability and impact of academic research. This advice is aimed at researchers, for whom it clarifies relevant regulatory data requirements and quality criteria. However, it is also relevant to policymakers, in that it highlights the advantages and availability of relevant, reliable peer-reviewed research for use in the regulatory assessment of chemicals. The study’s recommendations contribute to the formulation of more science-based, sustainable policies.
Advances in nanotechnology mean that a rapidly increasing number of products are being produced using engineered nanomaterials, for example, nano-enabled thermoplastics. Many of these nano-enabled products are destined to reach their end-of-life through waste incineration or accidental fire. Now, an original study has revealed that the presence of nanofiller in thermoplastics significantly enhances both the concentration and toxicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) produced during thermal decomposition at the product’s end- of-life, resulting in concentrations of total PAHs and more toxic PAHs that are up to eight times higher than those found in pure (non nano-enabled) thermoplastics. This finding has significant environmental health implications.
Plastic waste in the environment presents cause for concern, but scientific understanding of its exact impacts is still in its infancy. A team of Dutch scientists has presented recommendations on how to develop a new assessment method which provides clear, specific evidence on the risks of plastic waste. Once developed, this method could inform scientifically sound policies for managing plastic waste.
The presence of organic pollutants in waste water and drinking water can have alarming environmental and public health implications. Current water treatment methods have limitations: they can only remove certain contaminants, to certain extents, and also produce harmful by-products. New and improved methods are required. A recent review paper presents radiation processing as a promising approach, providing strong evidence of its efficacy, efficiency, safety, and feasibility. Focusing particularly on the use of electron-beam processing for the removal of organic pollutants from waste water and drinking water, the researchers present a compelling picture, relevant to stakeholders involved in water treatment and management.
It is important to understand the extent to which atmospheric (air) pollution damages plants (i.e. its phytotoxicity) as well as the wider ecosystem (i.e. its ecotoxicity). For this reason, researchers have adapted the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Vegetative Vigour Test1 for the assessment of the ecotoxicity of samples of aerosol (suspensions of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in air). Typically, the test involves spraying the trial liquid on above-ground portions of the plant, such as the leaves. The adapted protocol involves extracting water-soluble aerosol compounds from aerosol samples to spray on the plant. The new protocol is sensitive enough to determine phytotoxicity and establish a clear cause–effect relationship, and as such has the potential to serve as a useful tool for the assessment of the effects of air pollution on environmental and human health.
Disease-fighting microbes, insect-eating predators and mating-disrupting pheromones are among the tools listed in a new review of methods that can be used to reduce synthetic pesticide use on grapevines in Europe. Using these alternative methods can reduce the environmental and health risks associated with chemical pesticides, but further development is required to make them attractive to growers.
Neonicotinoids are pesticides applied to plants to protect them from insects. The use of neonicotinoids may lead to contamination of aquatic environments through, among other routes, the input of contaminated plant material into waterways. While it is well established that direct exposure to contaminated water endangers aquatic invertebrates, scientists have now published findings indicating that dietary exposure through the consumption of contaminated plant material puts leaf-shredding species at increased risk. The researchers recommend that policymakers registering systemic insecticides (those whose active ingredients are transported throughout the plant tissues) consider dietary exposure, and its potential implications for ecosystem integrity, in addition to other exposure pathways.
A new study has examined the toxic effects of silver nanoparticles on plants. Using a range of spectroscopic and imaging techniques, the researchers demonstrate how silver nanoparticles can reduce the growth of wheat, as well as interfere with genes that help the plant deal with pathogens and stress.
A new study has investigated the movement of antibiotic resistance genes between farm animals, soil and water in Finland. The results show that many of these genes are spread from animals to the soil through manure application; however, these genes do not appear to persist in soil. The study suggests that practices that minimise the use of antibiotics, as used in Finland, may lead to lower levels of clinically relevant resistance genes in agricultural soils.
A recent study has assessed the environmental impact of a group of technology-critical elements (TCEs) — niobium (Nb), tantalum (Ta), gallium (Ga), indium (In), germanium (Ge) and tellurium (Te) — that, to date, have been relatively under-researched. The researchers reviewed published concentrations of these elements in environmental archives and evaluated trends over time in surface waters. Overall, they found no evidence that the rising use of these elements in modern technologies is causing environmental concentrations to increase on a global level. These findings are relevant to future policy discussions regarding the source, usage and presence of less-studied TCEs, particularly in relation to critical raw metals.
A technique called reflectance spectroscopy is the subject of a new literature review focusing on the use of this tool to study the effects of air pollution on vegetation. In particular, the researchers suggest that the technique could be more widely applied in the Mediterranean region, to study the effects of climate change and air pollution, which will be detrimental to crop growth as well as other vegetation. It could also be used as a more general biomonitoring technique for assessing pollutant levels in the environment.
New research has shown that flooding of soils contaminated with arsenic, which may occur as sea levels rise due to climate change, could lead to the mobilisation of this toxic element in the environment. The study shows that arsenic is more stable in soil flooded with saltwater, compared to river water, as salt stabilises mineral oxides and could inhibit microbial activity. However, microbes that transform arsenic into water-soluble forms may adapt to saline conditions, and the risk of arsenic entering waters due to rising sea levels should receive further attention.
An investigation into the attitudes of Canadian soil-remediation experts has shown that they tend to prefer conventional remediation methods over phytoremediation — which relies on plants to clean soils — despite evidence that the latter can have advantages. The researchers behind the study highlight that this ‘status-quo bias’ poses a barrier to the uptake of novel technologies such as phytoremediation, and that scientists may need to find different ways of disseminating evidence to increase the use of new techniques among practitioners.
A new study aimed at increasing knowledge of indoor air quality (IAQ) in recently built or refurbished office buildings has found that levels of pollutants are mostly within World Health Organization (WHO) air-quality guidelines, however they vary between seasons. In addition, some levels of particulate matter were found to exceed WHO guideline values. The OFFICAIR project was funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme.
Researchers in Spain have analysed waste water to calculate levels of exposure to phthalates in individuals. The calculations showed that levels of four types of phthalate exceeded safe daily limits in some of the sites studied, with levels of exposure in children being of particular concern. Using the results of waste-water analysis in this way can identify areas where action may need to be taken to lower exposure.
A new study has analysed the environmental impact of 15 products containing nanosilver, highlighting the contribution of this novel material to the items’ overall environmental burden. The findings show that nanosilver impacts, such as fossil fuel depletion and human-health impacts, are relative to content, and can be marginal when considered in the context of the product’s other materials. Based on their results, the researchers recommend considering the overall impacts and benefits of nano-enabled products in evaluation and environmental guidance on their development.
A new study has, for the first time, estimated total anthropogenic releases of mercury over the last 4 000 years, up to 2010. Overall, the study estimates that a total of 1 540 000 tonnes of mercury have been released; three-quarters of this since 1850, and 78 times more than was released through natural causes over this period. Therefore, human activity has been responsible for a significant level of contamination, and this inventory can be used to inform and assess mitigation measures. The publication coincides with the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the new EU Mercury Regulation1, which prohibits the export, import and manufacturing of mercury-added products, among other measures.
Researchers have shown that emissions from vehicles can react with emissions from urban trees and other plants, resulting in a decrease in air quality in cities in summer; this reduces the otherwise positive impacts of urban vegetation. The study, conducted in Berlin, showed that during a July heatwave, 20% of ozone concentrations were due to emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from vegetation interacting with other pollutants. To reduce this effect, lowering emissions of these other pollutants is crucial.
Evaluating the level of danger to human health from exposure to multiple chemicals in contaminated sites is a complex task. To address this difficulty, researchers have developed a new screening tool that can be incorporated into public health risk assessment, which may include polluted former industrial plants, waste dumps, or even land where pesticides have been used. This ‘hazard index’ approach indicates when risk to health is high, which organs are most affected, and where further evaluation should be conducted in the context of environmental or occupational exposure at such sites.
Although nanomaterials are already in widespread use, their risk to the environment is not completely understood. Researchers in the US have developed a next-generation risk-assessment model to better understand nanomaterials’ environmental impact. Applied to the San Francisco Bay area, the model predicted that even soluble nanomaterials could accumulate at toxic levels.
UV treatment does not always turn hazardous water pollutants into harmless substances. Recent lab tests suggest that the toxicity of the antibiotic linezolid to microorganisms appeared to increase post-treatment. This research did find, however, that UV treatment successfully reduced the antimicrobial activity of four other antibiotics tested, plus four artificial sweeteners.
Biological control agents are an environmentally-friendly way of controlling pests and diseases on crops and are advocated in the EU’s Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive1. The authors of a new review of the current state of biological control refer to a recent UN report2 which states that it is possible to produce enough food to feed a world population of nine billion with substantially less chemical pesticides — and even without these pesticides if sufficient effort is made to develop biocontrol-based Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods. The study suggests that policy measures can speed up the development and use of environmentally-friendly crop protection.
Mercury is a heavy metal that is well known for being the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and normal pressure. It is also a potent neurotoxin with severe global human health impacts. It can be converted from one form to another by natural processes, and, once released, actively cycles in the environment for hundreds to thousands of years before being buried in sediment. This In-Depth Report from Science for Environment Policy summarises the latest scientific studies and research results on mercury pollution in the global environment.
The majority of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) identified until now are banned or restricted around the world owing to concerns about their harm to ecosystems and human health. However, this is not the end of the story; even long-banned POPs still linger in the environment; others are still in use and are being directly emitted; and new POPs may be identified for which we have limited information. This Future Brief from Science for Environment Policy presents recent research into POPs’ potential impacts, the levels and future outlook for POPs in the environment and humans, and how we can reduce our use of POPs.
The removal of arsenic from water using a brown seaweed (Sargassum muticum), coated with iron hydroxide, has been tested in a recent study. Under optimal pH conditions, the method removed 100% of the arsenic, indicating the viability of this method for treating contaminated water.
A new study shows that run-off from de-icing road salts can affect freshwater aquatic ecosystems by increasing certain types of plankton. The study is the first to compare effects of the most popular road salt, sodium chloride, with the effects of alternative salts and additives used to increase de-icing efficiency. Based on their findings, the researchers recommend that magnesium chloride and salt additives are used cautiously near water bodies.
Researchers have analysed the ability of two organic nanomaterials to remove the heavy metal chromium from water. In the laboratory, the nanomaterials successfully took up around 95% of the chromium. Further work is needed to confirm the feasibility of using these nanomaterials to purify water in real-world conditions.
The pathways for removal of dissolved phosphorus within biofiltration systems have been examined in a new study. Over 95% of phosphorus was removed over the study period, with the majority of phosphorus stored within plants. The researchers say the findings demonstrate the value of using suitable plant species within biofiltration systems to treat polluted water.
Engineering at the nanoscale brings the promise of radical technological development — clean energy, highly effective medicines and space travel. But technology at this scale also brings safety challenges. Nano-sized particles are not inherently more toxic than larger particles, but the effects are complex and vary based on particle properties as well as chemical toxicity. This Report brings together the latest science on environmental safety considerations specific to manufactured nanoscale materials, and some possible implications for policy and research.
Microbes and biocatalytic enzymes could offer useful tools for cleaning soils polluted with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), suggests a new review of remediation approaches. However, risk assessments and further work are needed before their use can be extended beyond the lab to realworld situations. This comprehensive overview of available and novel methods indicates their constraints and potential for future development and research.
European policy permits the application of nutrient-rich sewage sludge on agricultural land as a means of recycling1. However, contamination of sludge with microplastics may pose a risk to ecosystems. This study looked at the characteristics of microplastics in sewage sludge after three types of waste-water treatment, finding that anaerobic digestion should be explored as a method of microplastic reduction.
Municipal wastewater is a major source of pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment. Results from a recent study suggest that collecting and treating urine separately from other forms of sewage could be a cost-effective way to reduce the harmful effects of pharmaceuticals on the environment, while also providing a source of nutrients for fertilising agricultural crops.
A new study has mapped levels of chemical elements found in European agricultural soils. In most places, unusually high concentrations are linked to geology, such as high levels of arsenic in the Massif Central in France. Human activity is to blame in some small areas, for example high concentrations of mercury were found near London and Paris. Abnormal concentrations, both too low and too high, could pose an environmental risk. This new data can be used in conjunction with the REACH Regulation1 and can help identify areas where action may be needed in relation to toxic elements in the environment.
Judging whether to replace a hazardous conventional chemical in a product with a nanomaterial — i.e. to assess which is the safer alternative — is challenging for many reasons. A new study suggests that chemical-alternative assessment frameworks could be adapted to better assess engineered nanomaterials with the help of new tools which provide data on hazards of, and exposure to, nanomaterials.
What has been the impact of Agricultural Environment Schemes (AES) on European farming? These schemes provide payments to farmers in return for the implementation of agri-environmental measures to encourage positive environmental outcomes and as a counterbalance to the profit incentive. The schemes might concentrate on low-intensity production, organic or integrated management or enhancement of biodiversity on farmland. This Thematic Issue presents recent peer-reviewed research examining the impacts AES have had on European farm ecosystems, biodiversity and farmers – and to what extent AES have benefited a range of animals and plants by increasing the number of individuals and species.
New figures on how much titanium dioxide nanomaterial (TiO2-NM) could be released into the environment from photocatalytic cement — a new type of self-cleaning cement — are presented in a recent study. Based on experimental test results, the researchers estimate that between 0.015% and 0.033% of photocatalytic cement’s TiO2-NM content could potentially escape over several years of cement use, depending on the level of cement porosity. The study could help inform environmental risk assessment of TiO2-NM, as well as safer design of nano-products (i.e. commercialised products incorporating nanomaterials).
A common anti-parasitic drug used to control gastrointestinal worms in livestock has been shown to inhibit seed germination of three common grassland species. This recent study is the first to show that anthelmintics may negatively affect plant regeneration. The researchers say that treatments should be carefully timed in order to avoid the strongest impact of the drugs on germination and the consequential negative affect on grassland regeneration.
Combinations of antibiotics used in veterinary medicine could harm the growth of algal communities when they pass into water bodies from treated livestock, according to recent European research. Algae play vital roles in ecosystems by cycling nutrients and producing energy from photosynthesis; veterinary use of antibiotics should, therefore, be monitored in the environment, including for any biological impacts on algal species, the study recommends.
European Atlantic countries are, in general, at higher risk of being affected by oil spills than Mediterranean and Baltic countries, with the United Kingdom most affected, according to new research. The study developed a new risk index for analysing the potential vulnerability of coastal regions to oil spills at sea.
A recent study has evaluated frameworks and tools used in Europe to assess the potential health and environmental risks of manufactured nanomaterials. The study identifies a trend towards tools that provide protocols for conducting experiments, which enable more flexible and efficient hazard testing. Among its conclusions, however, it notes that no existing frameworks meet all the study’s evaluation criteria and calls for a new, more comprehensive framework.
A range of legislation, including the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), is designed to ensure the ‘Good Environmental Status’ (GES) of EU seas by 2020. Researchers have assessed the MSFD in relation to existing maritime policies, concluding that coordination between directives is important to achieve GES.
Silver nanoparticles are used in a range of household products. This study investigated the risk to plants of these nanoparticles in soil, showing that risk was overall low but increased when soils contained high levels of chlorine. The researchers, therefore, suggest that the risk of silver nanoparticles to plants may increase in salty soils or those irrigated with poor-quality water. These findings could be important for future risk assessments.
Long-chain perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) are persistent chemicals with proven toxic effects. This study estimated the emissions and concentrations of two such chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in 11 of Europe's most populated river catchments. Estimated emissions were lowest in the Thames and highest in the Rhine, while the EU environmental quality standard for PFOS was exceeded in all rivers. This study provides a picture of PFAAs contamination in rivers across Europe, and makes recommendations for achieving reductions.
A recent study develops a framework for implementing IAMs using the Lombardy region of Italy as a case study. Researchers have run an uncertainty and sensitivity analysis with an environmental model, specifically with an Integrated Assessment Model (IAM) for air quality, demonstrating how model components are sources of uncertainty in the output of an integrated assessment. Policy responses should therefore consider uncertainty and sensitivity when developing measures to improve air quality.
Up to 90% of consumed drugs enter the environment. This may have negative effects on wildlife, especially when the drugs take long periods to break down. This study assessed the breakdown of sulphonamides — a class of antibacterials — in samples from two rivers in Poland. The results showed that sulphamethoxazole, a common veterinary antibiotic, was the most persistent and that various factors inhibit degradation, including low temperatures, heavy metal pollution and low pH.
Many toxic pesticides have been banned by the EU, however some can remain in the environment for many decades. Aquatic invertebrates are particularly vulnerable to pesticides, which can alter their feeding behaviour, growth and mobility. New research has found that persistent pesticides can increase toxicity in streams by up to 10 000 times compared to the residues of currently used pesticides. The researchers recommend these be taken into account when calculating overall toxicity.
Maps of the risk of griffon vultures’ exposure to lead in north-eastern Spain have been produced in a new study. High-risk places are mountainous areas where there are high levels of bioavailable sources of lead in the soil, but also where game hunting is prevalent, and carcasses scavenged by the birds may contain lead ammunition.
The EU would not be breaking World Trade Organization (WTO) rules if it chose to extend REACH’s authorisation scheme on substances of very high concern (SVHC) to products imported to Europe, a recent legal analysis concludes. At present, the scheme — which is effectively a ban on SVHC, with some exceptions — applies only to products made within the European Economic Area (EEA).
Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide, able to kill a broad range of plants ('weeds') that compete with crops. This study used a validated method to assess its presence in 10 German estuaries that lead to the Baltic Sea. All but one was contaminated with glyphosate, and all were contaminated with its metabolite AMPA. The researchers recommend risk assessments for these chemicals in the Baltic Sea and other marine environments.
Sources of biocidal active substances (BAS) in common household products have been assessed in a new study from Germany. These could potentially be released into wastewater and may be toxic to wildlife and humans. The main household sources of BAS were found to be washing, cleaning and personal-care products, which together accounted for over 90% of the observations of BAS in the products found in homes surveyed by the researchers.
Fertilisers have boosted crop yields but at the same time can have negative effects on the environment. This study investigates fertiliser ‘ecoinnovations’, with reduced environmental impact, in Germany. By gathering the views of experts, producers, traders and farmers, the researchers make recommendations for increasing uptake of environmentally friendly fertilisers, including increasing knowledge and awareness among traders and farmers.
Pesticides used on agricultural land can leach into nearby surface water; this is called run-off and can harm aquatic ecosystems. This study evaluated the potential of ditches to reduce run-off, using Italy’s Po Valley as a case study. Grassy ditches were able to significantly reduce the concentration of herbicides, even during extreme flooding. The researchers therefore suggest that the promotion of vegetated ditches via agri-environment schemes would be beneficial for pesticide mitigation.
A method for developing ecological scenarios for assessing pesticides’ risks to aquatic wildlife has been developed. It is based on the selection of vulnerable taxa according to biological trait information, exposure conditions and environmental properties. The method should help decision makers define what to include in ecological models used for future pesticide risk assessments and is proposed as a way to increase the ecological realism of pesticide risk assessment.
A species of mussel has been used to investigate the connectivity of two marine protected areas (MPAs) along the central Portuguese west coast in a new study. The chemistry of mussel shells was used to trace the dispersal routes for larval mussels, demonstrating that the Arrábida MPA is an important source population in the area.
Researchers have shown that in the Baltic Sea the abundance of common fish species, used as an indicator of ecosystem health, is influenced by climate-related oceanic conditions at a local scale, such as sea temperature. The researchers suggest, therefore, that the environmental status of coastal fish communities in the region should be assessed and managed at a local scale.
Micropollutants — small, persistent and biologically active substances — are found in aquatic environments all over the world and can have negative effects on plants, animals and humans. The EU recently adopted a ‘watch list’ of potential priority substances, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals and personal care products that need to be monitored to determine their environmental risk. A new study reviews data on their worldwide occurrence and options for their removal from wastewater, and from surface and groundwater used to produce drinking water.
A new study from Poland has confirmed the potential of fungal Trichoderma species to control diseases of oilseed rape crops. The use of Trichoderma can reduce the growth of disease-causing oilseed rape pathogens, which may allow a decrease in the use of harmful pesticides.
Sewage sludge and manure are sometimes added to soil to improve crop production. However, these ‘natural fertilisers’ may contain not only nutrients and organic matter but also antibacterial agents. This study investigated their impact on the microbes in soil, revealing an increase in antibiotic resistance genes. The researchers recommend greater efforts to remove antibiotic residues from wastewater and manure.
Researchers have developed a new approach to hierarchise pesticides based on their risk to or via the aquatic environment, which has been implemented in the Pinios River Basin of Central Greece. The analysis indicated that a number of pesticides were found in concentrations that could cause negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems. The results provide detailed information to inform decisions regarding the monitoring of pesticides in the Pinios River Basin and outline an approach that could be used in other watersheds.
Coastal areas are under threat of pollution from a variety of marine activities. This study focused on pollution caused by a range of activities with no specific discharge point (diffuse pollution) in three areas — a European harbour, marina and industrial area — by measuring biological responses in mussels. The researchers say biomarkers are useful for assessing diffuse contamination and comparing pollution between sites.
Azole fungicides are active ingredients in a range of pharmaceutical and personal care products, and are also used in agriculture. This study reviewed the sources, presence and risks of these compounds in the environment, finding evidence of toxic effects on aquatic organisms. The researchers provide directions for future research and warn caution should be exercised until more toxicity data becomes available.
Chemicals that persist in the environment can harm humans and wildlife. This study describes a computer modelling-based approach to predict which chemical compounds are likely to be persistent. The models were correctly able to predict persistence for 11 of 12 chemicals tested and could provide a cost-effective alternative to laboratory testing.
Personal care products (PCPs) are a diverse group of products, including toothpaste, shampoo, make-up and soaps. The number and use of these products has increased over recent decades, generating concern about their impact on the environment. This literature review analysed over 5 000 reports of environmental detection of 95 different chemicals from PCPs. The analysis reveals toxic levels of PCP chemicals in raw and treated wastewater, and in surface water. The researchers recommend treatment methods focusing on antimicrobials, UV filters and fragrance molecules.
Synthetic biology is an emerging field and industry, with a growing number of applications in the pharmaceutical, chemical, agricultural and energy sectors. While it may propose solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing the environment, such as climate change and scarcity of clean water, the introduction of novel, synthetic organisms may also pose a high risk for natural ecosystems. This future brief outlines the benefits, risks and techniques of these new technologies, and examines some of the ethical and safety issues.
Chemicals are everywhere and new substances are regularly being introduced to the market. However, only some pose a risk to the environment. How do we decide which of them to monitor? A new study using a database of chemicals found in fish in the Baltic Sea has assessed which chemicals are commonly monitored. The researchers suggest that monitoring is biased towards known, already regulated hazardous chemicals, and recommend changes to address other chemicals.
Pesticide exposure can have negative impacts on many species and is a major threat to biodiversity. A new study is one of few to assess the risks specifically for European reptiles. The results suggest that at least one third of European reptile species are at high risk of exposure, with lizards showing the highest sensitivity to pesticides.
The effects of antibiotic contamination may be attenuated by the common reed, new research shows. The study found that the common reed (Phragmites australis), sourced from a temperate estuary with brackish water, had capacity for the bioremediation of the veterinary antibiotic enrofloxacin (ENR). The authors suggest that salt-marsh plants and their associated micro-organisms could be a valuable asset in the recovery of contaminated estuary environments.
Researchers have experimented with microwave heating as a way of cleaning soils polluted with fuels, such as diesel and petrol. Soil type and moisture levels, as well as the strength of microwaves used, had a strong bearing on the overall effectiveness of the cleaning. The research shows that, at certain depths and in certain types of soil, microwaves can be a cost-effective way of cleaning polluted soils.
Researchers have presented a comprehensive new classification manual of asbestos-containing products (ACP), materials (ACM) and waste (ACW) in a recent study. They also mapped suitable landfill sites for the proper disposal of ACW in Italy and developed guidance on assigning ACW to correct European Waste Catalogue (EWC) codes. The research will help operators engaged in asbestos waste disposal across Europe and should contribute to aims for the total removal of asbestos from the EU.
Poisoned bait is a major threat to endangered bird species in Europe. The LIFE+ VENENO project was set up to tackle this problem in Spain, developing an action plan for eradication of the illegal use of poison and protocols for law enforcement. As well as improving the prosecution of illegal poisoning in Spain, LIFE+ VENENO provides a useful model for other European countries.
How does the law protect the environment? The responsibility for the legal protection of the environment rests largely with public authorities such as the police, local authorities or specialised regulatory agencies. However, more recently, attention has been focused on the enforcement of environmental law — how it should most effectively be implemented, how best to ensure compliance, and how best to deal with breaches of environmental law where they occur. This Thematic Issue presents recent research into the value of emerging networks of enforcement bodies, the need to exploit new technologies and strategies, the use of appropriate sanctions and the added value of a compliance assurance conceptual framework.
Weathering of treated wood and other construction materials can lead to the release of chemicals into the environment. Researchers have investigated the release of biocides from wood and roof paints, demonstrating that the amount of water in contact with exposed surfaces is a key factor in determining the level of active chemicals released. The study provides guidance for testing biocidal products in line with the European Biocidal Products Regulation.
Nanotechnology is a key enabling technology predicted to have many societal benefits, but there are also concerns about its risks to the environment. This study reviewed the effects of nanoparticles on soil microorganisms, showing that toxicity depends on the type of particle. The researchers make recommendations for improving environmental risk assessment, including performing experiments in soil and over longer time periods.
Pesticide-related poisonings in EU Member States must be reported to the European Commission under current legislation, but there is no standard information collection and reporting system. A new system has been proposed, which harmonises data collection, categorisation and reporting, enabling exposure data to be compared among Member States. The new system would improve the monitoring of pesticides in Europe and aid the identification of emerging problems.
The Alang shipbreaking yards in India recycle almost half of all end-of-life ships worldwide. The major activity at the yards is plate-cutting, used to recover steel from ships. This process consumes nearly 29 kg of oxygen and 7 kg of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and emits almost 22 kg of CO2 per 1 km-long cut with a 1 mm depth. This study reveals the carbon footprint and resources consumed in the cutting of steel plates. The method used to derive these findings could be adapted to ship dismantling yards worldwide.
Bangladesh’s economy is heavily dependent on ship recycling. However, the shipbreaking industry is polluting the Bay of Bengal, an area of high biodiversity. This study measured trace metals in sediments around the area, concluding that heavy metal pollution is at an alarming stage and an urgent threat to marine life.
Pollutants have been shown to alter the structure of bacterial communities in the coastal waters around the Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yard in north-west India. The research analysed seawater from two sites near Alang-Sosiya and from pristine sea water taken 10 km from the coast. The results provide a clearer idea of changes to the microbial ecology near a large ship recycling yard.
A study of the pollution caused by ship scrapping in Alang, India, shows significantly higher levels of heavy metal and petroleum hydrocarbons in sediment and seawater, compared to a control site. The researchers also found reduced populations of zooplankton — a critical food source for marine biota — and increased numbers of pathogenic bacteria.
The ship-recycling industry — which dismantles old and decommissioned ships, enabling the re-use of valuable materials — is a major supplier of steel and an important part of the economy in many countries, such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Turkey. However, mounting evidence of negative impacts undermines the industry’s contribution to sustainable development. This Thematic Issue presents a selection of recent research on the environmental and human impacts of shipbreaking.
The use of two methods to systematise evidence-evaluation methods is reviewed in nine EU regulations dealing with chemicals risk assessment. The majority of frameworks were found to promote the use of ‘weight of evidence’ or ‘systematic review’-style approaches, but the study found a lack of structured, consistent and detailed guidance for these approaches. The researchers recommend this guidance is developed collaboratively by European regulatory agencies and points to best practice for this guidance.
Two chemicals used as co-formulants in pesticides have been found to reduce the predatory behaviour of the wolf spider Pardosa agrestis, an insect predator found within agricultural landscapes. A third co-formulant was found not to affect the predatory behaviour of females and increased the prey behaviour of male spiders. This is the first time that pesticide additives have been shown to alter the predatory activity of a potential biological control agent of crop pests.
Researchers have developed a technique to recover indium, an important raw material with limited supply, from liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. The method could contribute to a resource-efficient, circular economy.
Oestrogens are ‘female’ hormones that can enter the aquatic environment after excretion by humans and animals, causing ‘feminisation’ of male fish. This study carried out a risk assessment for oestrogen-like endocrine disruption in the UK in the 2050s, based on likely changes to the human population, river flows and temperature. The authors found that risk is likely to increase under future conditions and recommend further research to assess whether improving sewage treatment could reduce oestrogen pollution.
Mercury levels in bream (Abramis brama) collected from six European sampling sites from 2007 to 2013 exceeded the Water Framework Directive’s safety limit for fish in all but one site in 2012, a new study discovers. The findings suggest greater efforts need to be made to prevent mercury pollution.
The non-restricted production and use of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) has led to their presence in effluents from treatment plants, which can pose a threat to aquatic organisms downstream. This study analysed the breakdown of six common chemicals in four Danish treatment plants. The findings shed new light on the factors affecting removal of PPCPs from waste, showing that the composition of waste is more important than the design of the treatment plant.
Growing sugar beet varieties which are resistant to their pest, the cyst nematode, is the best way to achieve high sugar yields in northern Germany, recent research has concluded. The researchers say this method is better than growing trap crops or using pesticides to control the pests.
Wastewater sludge is widely used to remove toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from soil, and yet the mechanisms underlying this process remain unclear. A new study reveals the extent of PAH removal following different treatments, and could provide a useful resource for those looking to diminish the effects that these pollutants have both on people and on the environment.
How can we better anticipate environmental changes? In our rapidly changing world, risks occur from ongoing changes (such as those occurring in the climate), to more sudden-onset risks, such as mutating microbial pathogens. This Future Brief explores some of the tools and approaches that can be used to identify emerging risk, including strategic foresight tools, citizen science and state-of-the-art monitoring technologies.
Wastewaters from fruit-packaging plants may contain preservative chemicals. When spread onto fields, these wastewaters affect the way soil microbes cycle nitrogen, new research has found. Although this may impair crop growth, according to the authors, the results could also lead to the development of new substances that reduce nitrate run-off from agricultural land.
European buildings built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s may contribute towards levels of toxins in the body, a new study suggests. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found at elevated levels in children that lived in houses and studied in schools built during this period, before PCBs were more thoroughly regulated in the construction industry. Although food is generally a more concentrated source of these toxins, the authors say exposure through these environments should be minimised wherever possible.
Widespread use of antibiotics has led to pollution of waterways, potentially creating resistance among freshwater bacterial communities. A new study looked for antibiotic resistance genes in a river basin in Spain, revealing that wastewater discharges can promote the spread of antibiotic resistance in streams and small rivers.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that is widespread in the environment. Researchers reviewed and critically discussed the sources and routes of human exposure to chlorinated derivatives (ClxBPA) and alternatives to BPA (BPF, BPS), as well as their metabolism, toxicity and concentrations in human tissues. The researchers suggest BPA alternatives and derivatives may have similar effects, and provide directions for future research.
Chickens foraging on soils containing environmental pollutants can accumulate these chemicals in their tissues and eggs. This study assessed levels of dioxins in eggs produced in Poland, in some cases finding concentrations several times above the safe EU limit. The researchers identified the source as preservative-treated wood in the chicken coop, which they say is a public health risk.
Research has found evidence for recent contamination of Lake Como, northern Italy, with chemicals banned in the EU since the 1970s. Levels of DDT and PCBs in sediment, aquatic microorganisms and fish were examined. The results suggest glacial meltwater as a source for renewed DDT contamination and show recent contamination of fish above safe levels. The findings demonstrate the need for continued monitoring of persistent organic pollutants in European waters.
Pesticide-sparing approaches to farming do not have to compromise on crop yields, new research suggests. A study that explored the impact of reduced herbicide use across a variety of different farming contexts found that herbicide-efficient systems could be just as productive as conventional systems — and more so than organic systems — whilst having other important environmental benefits.
Growing demand for biorenewable chemicals could lead to conflicts with food production and unwanted environmental impacts. Against this context, this study investigated different types of feedstock and conversion technologies. The authors recommend use of only non-edible feedstock alongside green and carbon neutral conversion technologies, such as algal fermentation.
Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and its derivatives — linked to health problems in animals — have been found in levels exceeding EU thresholds in some outdoor textiles, leather goods and ski waxes, according to a recent analysis of everyday consumer items. Better quality control in the processing and manufacture of goods coated with the substances is among the recommendations made by researchers to reduce human exposure to these toxic chemicals.
Farming fish together with seaweed and other species could help improve the sustainability of aquaculture and reduce pollution. A new study provides a tool for designing sustainable fish farming systems and calculates their potential to recycle waste. An example of a salmon farming system incorporating seaweed and sea urchins could reduce nitrogen releases to the environment by 45%.
Researchers have recommended that fish from some sections of the River Po and the River Lambro, one of the Italian River Po tributaries, should not be eaten due to high levels of some endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the river sediments and fish. This recommendation is based on an extensive update regarding pollution levels of such substances in the rivers.
Mercury-resistant bacteria could help scientists to understand more about mercury cycling in the environment. In a new study, researchers identified one particular strain of soil bacterium that could serve as a model for the conversion of the toxic metal into less toxic forms. They also discovered a new gene involved in the conversion process.
Hydrocarbons are precursors to hazardous air pollutants including ozone and particulate matter. Hydrocarbons from diesel make up over 50% of all hydrocarbons in the air in London, a new study has found. The authors also estimate that they contribute up to half of total ozone production potential in London, and say future air quality control strategies must focus more on these pollutants.
To assess the risk posed by metals in the aquatic environment, Biotic Ligand Models (BLMs) were developed, and are now considered suitable for use in regulatory risk assessments. This study reviews the advantages of BLMs and BLM-based software tools, providing examples from across the EU, and offers recommendations for their widespread implementation.
A growing body of evidence suggests that endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) are contributing to declines in fertility. This case-control study found that EDCs were associated with changes to sex hormones and risk of subfertility in men. The researchers say environmental levels of these chemicals should be reduced to protect male fertility.
Aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of worldwide food production and is facing a new era of expansion in Europe. What are the environmental implications of this, and can the sector expand sustainably? This Future Brief presents an overview of research into aquaculture’s impacts, and considers how it could develop in balance with environmental goals.
The emissions of two perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) into the Danube River Basin have been estimated in a test of four different hypotheses regarding the factors affecting those emissions. The results were used to simulate water concentrations for comparison with measured data. The researchers found that incorporating wastewater treatment information and wealth distribution alongside population data can improve the accuracy of emissions estimates.
Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution change the relationship between the tropical coral Stylophora pistillata and the algae living inside its tissues, a recent study has found. The researchers say the pollutants, mainly from urban and agricultural discharges, affect algae photosynthesis and the essential transfer of carbon from algae to the coral.
Active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) — responsible for the biological activity of drugs — have been widely found in the environment, yet the precise sources and relative importance of emissions via wastewater are not quite clear. This study assessed emissions from three health institutions in Germany — a hospital, a psychiatric hospital, and a nursing home — and found their contribution was low compared to that from households. However, more research is needed to understand the environmental effects of neurological drugs, emissions of which were in some cases relatively high.
Lithium production has increased dramatically during the past decade. A new study has found that exposure of rainbow trout to lithium results in fast accumulation in plasma and the brain, along with decreased concentrations of ions such as sodium.
Chemicals regulation in Europe could be improved through integrated risk assessment, says an EU project. The project team presents a range of perspectives on how the integration of hazard, exposure and socio-economic assessments can be promoted and implemented.
A methodology for assessing ‘chemical footprints’ has been developed by researchers to evaluate human pressures and the impact of chemicals released by the production and consumption of goods. The study integrates a life-cycle approach with different methodologies, such as those developed in the context of environmental risk assessment and sustainability science, with the aim of assessing the extent to which chemicals impact on ecosystems beyond their ability to recover (i.e. surpass planetary boundaries).
Assessment (ERA), each with different goals. The researchers find that overlaps between the three assessments could be combined to create a more comprehensive form of ERA, usable by regulators and environmental decision makers.
Chemical risk assessment and governance can be integrated and harmonised, but only up to a limit, albeit a variable limit, finds new research. The study’s authors examined the socio-political processes and factors surrounding integrated risk assessment and governance associated with chemicals in the EU. The research suggests there are opportunities for improvement if different views and implications of risk integration are considered through open communication and negotiations.
New research has combined two different techniques for identifying hazards and assessing risks into a single dynamic risk assessment process. The new approach fills a gap in many current risk assessment techniques as it can be applied throughout the lifetime of a process, not just during its design phase, taking into account new information to update risk assessments and calculations systematically.
Environmental risk assessment is challenging because of the complexity of the physical and ecological systems around us. Natural disasters, the spread of dangerous substances, ecosystem changes leading to food and health security issues, and the emergence of new materials, new events and new knowledge make it essential to update our understanding continually, to be able to identify threats and opportunities for timely action. This Thematic Issue presents some collaborative and integrated paths towards forward-thinking assessment and management of environmental risks.
The traditional method for estimating contamination levels of vegetables grown in contaminated soils may not be as reliable as previously thought, a new study finds. A new risk assessment technique showed that the daily intake of cadmium in lettuce grown in soils near Swedish glasswork sites was above the safety threshold for a fifth of the study population.
Bioremediation is a technique that harnesses the power of nature to treat contaminated soils and groundwater. This study explored a technology that is effective at capturing groundwater pollutants and shows promise in extreme environments — the Permeable Reactive Barrier (PRB).
Environmental specimen banks (ESBs) first emerged in the 1960s and are now essential to environmental management across the globe. ESBs sample and archive environmental specimens and can be used to identify the distributions of chemicals within ecosystems and trace their exposure over time. This study uses the German ESB to illustrate their potential for chemicals monitoring in the EU.
Intersex fish, in which male reproductive tissues become ‘feminised’, are increasingly being identified. This effect has traditionally been attributed to birth-control medications. This study exposed fish to a widely prescribed anti-diabetic, metformin. Male fish developed female sexual characteristics and reproductive rate decreased, which suggests that metformin may be a non-traditional endocrine-disrupting compound.
Different management practices using pesticides affect the diversity, number and ecological traits of ground spiders in apple orchards, a new study finds. Because spiders are viewed as good indicators of the quality of an entire ecosystem, the results reveal that organic orchard management may be better for local management and landscape characteristics when compared to those with pesticide use.
Nutrient leaching, the movement of plant nutrients from soil to water, can have negative effects on aquatic ecosystems due to eutrophication, which reduces the oxygen available in water, causing species and habitat loss. Ecological Recycling Agriculture (ERA), which is based on ecological principles and integrates crop production and animal husbandry, may limit this effect. This study investigated the impact of ERA on agricultural fields in Finland, showing that the practice can reduce nitrogen leaching and may help to achieve agricultural nitrogen-reduction targets.
Thematic Issue 52
Land use changes over time have altered relations between soils and water cycles throughout the world. Soils have been lost and degraded, and the closely interlinked processes of soils and water have become an urgent issue for European policymakers. This Thematic Issue aims to provide a review of new research into the links between soil and water issues in Europe, including a message that the soil-water links must be considered at their proper spatial scales.
A novel approach for identifying and isolating anthropogenic – including microplastic – particles in fish stomachs has been devised by researchers in Belgium. The new method may enable scientists and policymakers to better assess the presence, quantity and composition of particles ingested by marine life, and improve understanding of the environmental effects of marine plastic pollution.
The use of pesticides in orchards may be threatening populations of wild bees, which are important pollinators that increase crop productivity, a new study concludes. However, the damage was mitigated in areas where the orchards were surrounded by natural landscapes, such as deciduous forests.
Several mitigation techniques can greatly reduce spray drift pollution from pesticide spraying in agricultural systems, shows a new study. Researchers tested the effectiveness of several strategies; results ranged from a 38% reduction in spray drift using low-drift equipment to a 98% reduction when hedgerows are present alongside fields.
Herbicides in aquatic environments can have negative consequences on local plant life. This study investigated the effects of glyphosate, one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, on a marine plant species. The herbicide caused significant changes to the plant, reducing the number and chlorophyll content of leaves, and high concentrations were lethal. The authors say use of this chemical may be dangerous to plants in estuaries.
Fragments of microplastics are readily incorporated into groups of microscopic algae, altering the rate at which the plastics move through seawater, a recent study has found. In laboratory tests, polystyrene microbeads, which usually sink to the bottom of seawater at a rate of 4 mm a day, sank at a rate of several hundreds of metres a day when part of microalgae aggregates.
The framework for a Europe-wide biomonitoring programme has been established by a new study. The preliminary investigation of 17 European countries showed that monitored levels of toxic chemicals varied significantly between countries. Although the levels were mostly within recognised health-based guidance values, in a few cases these values were exceeded. The researchers suggest that a fully-fledged European biomonitoring programme would help to develop policies to avert public health risks presented by environmental chemicals.
This study assessed the effects of herbicides on non-target plants in Denmark and Canada. The findings showed that some plants are more sensitive to herbicides in the reproductive stages of their life cycle and can experience delays in flowering and reduced seed production. The authors say future ecological assessments should consider reproductive outcomes.
Cereal fields provide a staple food, but are also home to a wide array of invertebrates. This study analysed over 40 years of data to investigate the effects of extreme weather, climate and pesticide use on invertebrates in cereal fields in southern England. As pesticide use had a greater effect on abundance than temperature or rainfall, the authors also recommend reducing pesticide use.
A link between particulate matter (PM) exposure and inflammatory disease has been shown by many studies, but few have explored how the chemical composition of PM influences inflammatory processes. This study investigated the connection between different components of PM and markers of inflammation in the blood, finding that long-term exposure to transition metals, emitted by traffic and industry, may cause chronic inflammation.
Migrating tundra peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus tundrius) experienced increased levels of harmful hydrocarbons in their blood following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a new study finds. Blood from juvenile females was found to have the highest levels of contamination.
Pharmaceutical pollution of marine environments has important biological consequences for aquatic organisms. This study investigated the effects on mussels of treatment with environmentally relevant levels of an antidepressant, fluoxetine, and a beta-blocker, propranolol, using biomarkers including DNA damage. The results showed that mussels are most vulnerable to these drugs in combination.
The overall ecological impact of 10 engineered nanomaterials has been modelled for the first time using toxicity data from multiple living species. These models will allow researchers to assess the effect nanomaterials may have on both ecosystems and people.
Vermicomposting livestock manure with maize can increase agricultural benefit by 304%, shows a new study. The combination of increased crop yield and the additional earthworms produced as a result of the process led to a substantial increase in output compared to a traditional composting system.
Groups of chemicals used as flame retardants were present in the bodies of Antarctic rock cod (Trematomus bernacchii), young gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua), and brown skua seabird (Stercorarius antarcticus) collected from King George Island, Antarctica. This study is the first to find some of these chemicals in Antarctica, confirming that they undergo long-range transport and can reach isolated areas where they are not widely produced or used.
Halogenated nitrogenous disinfection by-products (N-DBPs) in water increase bacterial resistance to antibiotics, new research shows. The study found that a strain of bacteria which can cause disease in humans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, increased its resistance to a range of different antibiotics by an average of 5.5 times after the bacteria were exposed to chemicals which form as by-products of common water treatment procedures. The results highlight the risks to public health which these currently unregulated by-products may cause.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are priority pollutants that pose a risk to human health, and can be passed on to children via breast milk. This study investigated how concentrations of POPs in breast milk vary worldwide by reviewing studies published between 1995 and 2011. They found that levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins in breast milk are higher in Europe and North America, whereas pesticides are more prevalent in Africa and Asia. The authors call for harmonisation of methodologies to enable high quality comparisons between studies.
Cyanobacteria — often referred to as blue-green algae — are found in water bodies around the world and can produce toxins with potential health risks. This US-wide study found a significant positive association between cyanobacterial bloom coverage and death by non-alcoholic liver disease. The researchers say their study suggests some evidence of a potential health risk and should be used to generate further investigation into the health impact of cyanobacteria.
The economic benefits of the ecosystem services provided by constructed wetlands far outweigh the costs of maintaining them, new research has confirmed. Analysis of a wetland that treats the third largest lake in Florida, US, shows that it provides ecosystem services worth $1.79 (€1.64) million per year, against costs of less than half that figure.
Oil spills at sea can be catastrophic events, with oil and discharged toxins, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, threatening marine wildlife and coastlines, damaging healthy ecosystems and harming livelihoods. A recent study found that using dispersants moderately decreased the number of cod eggs and larvae affected by spills off the Norwegian coast.
Aeration is an effective means of eliminating antidepressants from landfill leachate, a new study finds. The concentrations of five different drugs were reduced by this treatment process, which could be an effective means of tackling the growing problem of pharmaceutical infiltration into aquatic environments.
Honeybees and bumblebees prefer feeding on nectar laced with certain neonicotinoid pesticides to uncontaminated food, new research has shown. Far from the predictions of some, that bees would avoid food contaminated with neonicotinoid pesticides if given the choice, a new study has shown that bees did not avoid any of the three most common neonicotinoids: imidacloprid, thiamethoxam or clothianidin. Furthermore, they showed a preference for imidacloprid and thiamethoxam over uncontaminated sugar solutions.
Controls on pharmaceutical production in the EU should be changed to guard against the spread of antibiotic resistance, protect wildlife and improve transparency in the industry, a team of scientists from Sweden and the UK recommends. The scientists propose 10 changes to the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of pharmaceuticals.
The contamination of hazardous substances in estuaries can have negative effects on biodiversity. Using experimentally supported indicators, this study analysed the environmental risks posed by 22 different contaminants in UK estuaries and coastal waters, finding that substances banned over 20 years ago continue to persist in the marine environment.
The ability of organisms to adapt to toxic chemicals like pesticides is essential for their survival, but also an agricultural annoyance. This study shows that interactions between different species can delay the development of pesticide resistance and therefore suggests that biodiversity supports effective pest management.
Phosphorus can be extracted in viable quantities from fly ash, a by-product created when municipal solid waste is burnt in incinerators, according to research conducted in Sweden. Sufficient phosphorus could be recovered from the country’s incinerators to meet 30% of the Swedish annual demand for mineral fertilisers, say the researchers.
Under the United Nations Minamata Convention on mercury, China and India could avoid a combined 242 tonnes of mercury emissions in 2050 from coal-fired power plants, a new study predicts. This amount is equal to approximately 12% of total emissions in 2010. While the benefits will be mostly regional, lower mercury deposition in surrounding oceans is good news for Europeans who eat fish sourced from those waters.
The risk of eutrophication as a result of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Europe’s freshwaters fell by 22% in lakes and by 38% in rivers between 1985 and 2011, new research has shown. The researchers analysed data across 88 European river basins using a new statistical approach which could be used to help identify factors which increase eutrophication risks.
Seaweed may prove to be a valuable tool to monitor metal pollution in coastal waters, new research has found. Spiral wrack seaweed (Fucus spiralis), which is common to rocky coastlines across western Europe, was found to contain concentrations of metals that rose and fell in line with concentrations in the surrounding seawater. This makes it a good candidate for inclusion in the European environmental specimen banks as part of an environmental monitoring network under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
Ocean acidification and eutrophication may affect the growth of microscopic algae - phytoplankton - with knock-on impacts for marine food chains and fisheries, warns a new study. By growing phytoplankton under different scenarios the researchers found that phytoplankton species are affected differently according to the acidity and nutrient content of the water.
Weathering and abrasion are reported to cause titanium dioxide nanoparticles to escape from a self-cleaning coating for buildings. These particles may be toxic to humans and wildlife. The researchers have developed three indicators from the test results to help predict levels of nanoparticle release from these coatings.
Brown trout (Salmo trutta) embryos exposed to oestrogen during development hatched earlier, grew more slowly and had a lower heart rate than unexposed individuals, according to a recent Swiss study. These findings may indicate that oestrogen pollution in some European rivers is contributing to the decline of wild populations of such species.
Petrochemical lubricants have toxic effects on Antarctic seafloor ecosystems even after five years of degradation, a new study suggests. Examining the impacts of a standard lubricant and one marketed as biodegradable, the researchers were able to show that algae, which form the basis of the food chain, remained affected even after five years. Furthermore, the biodegradable lubricant appeared to provide no environmental benefits, as it had greater impacts in the long term.
Concentrations of three pharmaceuticals (ethinylestradiol, oestradiol and diclofenac), have been mapped in a recent study of European rivers. The researchers predict that levels of ethinylestradiol, a contraceptive and hormone replacement drug, could exceed the WFD's suggested environmental quality standards in 12% of the total length of Europe’s rivers
Disposable components of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), such as e-cigarettes and e-pens, could pose a potential environmental risk unless properly regulated, suggests new research. The study examined the levels of potentially toxic chemicals in disposable battery and 'cartomiser' ENDS components.
Fish fed polystyrene nanoparticles are less active and show changes to their brains and metabolism, according to a study by Swedish and Danish researchers. The findings suggest that nanoparticles in the environment could have a major impact on fish and aquatic ecosystems.
The health of almost half of all European freshwaters is at risk from organic chemical pollution, finds new research. The study, a continental-scale risk assessment of the potential effects of toxic organic chemicals on freshwater ecosystems, based its conclusions on data for over 200 pollutants measured at 4000 monitoring sites across Europe.
Anti-depressant drugs can affect the behaviour of wild animals in ways which may reduce their survival, new research has shown. The researchers fed half a group of starlings fluoxetine (commonly produced as ‘Prozac’) at concentrations they would be likely to encounter in the wild, if they fed on invertebrates contained in the waste water at treatment plants. Those fed the anti-depressant showed reduced feeding rates compared to the rest of the group, possibly putting their survival at risk.
Rodents poisoned by pest control substances may pose a threat to protected birds if the carcasses are not removed quickly enough. A new study found that dead water voles on farmland were scavenged rapidly by red kites and buzzards, suggesting that regular removal is needed to reduce poisoning risks.
Nutrient pollution in The Netherlands is falling as a result of national and EU policies, new research has shown. However, many waters still routinely fail to meet environmental quality standards. The study, which focused on the headwaters of 167 rivers where agricultural fertilisers are the main cause of pollution, showed that up to 76% of these did not meet water quality standards.
Neonicotinoid and fipronil insecticides have a range of impacts on birds, mammals and fish, a new review of scientific literature has found. A house sparrow would need to eat just one and a half beet seeds treated with a common neonicotinoid to receive a lethal dose, for instance. The insecticides may also have equally important effects on vertebrate wildlife, such as reducing insect prey and hence food supply.
The combined effects of pollution and rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including CO2, may have effects on marine ecosystems that are more damaging than expected, warns new research. The study found that bacteria capable of breaking down oil pollution were far less abundant in sediment in acidified waters. Although increased ultraviolet-B (UV-B) light reduced these negative impacts, the researchers caution that deeper waters or other waters with less UV-B, may still suffer.
Nanolithography — a way of making finely detailed patterns or structures, such as those found in advanced computer microchips, uses toxic and corrosive chemicals. Researchers have now shown that these could be replaced with eco-friendly silk proteins and water, eliminating the need to use and dispose of hazardous chemicals, while achieving similar levels of detail to conventional methods.
A guide has been published on the known and potential health and safety effects of human exposure to graphene. It is designed to help inform those working with graphene and graphene-based nanomaterials and could be especially useful as a growing number of industries begin to experiment with and use these materials.
Bacteria taken from underground petroleum reserves could be used to effectively break down crude oil from spills at sea, new research has found. The study measured the breakdown of crude oil components in simulated seawater by four bacterial strains that had been isolated from petroleum reservoirs, as well as by four genetically modified stains. The findings raise the possibility of tailor-making organisms to clean up specific types of contamination.
Green walls, designed so they are covered in vegetation, could help cut the amount of noise that enters buildings, a new study has found. In lab. tests, researchers found that a modular green wall system reduced sound levels by 15 decibels (dB). This leads them to believe that it is a promising sound reduction device that could improve quality-of-life for city residents.
Fires in forests contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear accident could lead to areas of Europe and Russia being exposed to further radioactive fallout, new research has found. The study examined the spread of the fallout and the health effects on people and animals under three different scenarios: 10, 50 and 100% of the forests being burnt.
Combining steam with heat-producing chemicals could control pathogenic viruses in soil, finds new research. The study examined how effective different forms of heat sterilisation of soil were at inactivating three plant viruses. While steam alone was enough to eradicate two of the viruses, the highly resilient tobacco mosaic virus required the addition of exothermic chemicals to reduce it by 97%.
Wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, has been chemically analysed in the most comprehensive study of its kind to date. The researchers found that produced water from three US fracking sites contained a diverse array of chemicals including toxic metals such as mercury and the carcinogens toluene and ethylbenzene. However, a group of harmful chemicals, ‘polyaromatic hydrocarbons’ commonly found in mining and coal extraction wastewater, were absent.
A drug used to treat parasite infections at fish farms can contaminate the surrounding environment and threaten local wildlife, a new study shows. Following a week-long treatment at a Norwegian salmon farm, the authors found concentrations of an anti-sea-lice drug that were high enough to kill some crabs, shrimps and lobsters. However, they suggest the drug is not likely to pose a risk to humans.
Wastewater emptied from commercial fishing boats is an overlooked source of marine pollution, a new US study shows. The researchers suggest that this type of pollution should be given further consideration when assessing the overall environmental impact of fishing, as it may pose a risk to human health and marine life.
Beetles that are helpful to farmers can be poisoned if they feed on slugs that have eaten crops treated with neonicotinoids, a new study reports. The slugs themselves are not harmed by neonicotinoids. In American field trials, researchers found that plots planted with neonicotinoid-treated soybeans contained more slugs, fewer beetle predators and had 5% lower yields. The insecticide may be reducing the beetles’ effectiveness as a natural control of slug pests.
Ninety-eight per cent of radioactive iodine in Arctic sea ice may come from Europe, new research suggests. The study concludes that atmospheric transport of Iodine-129 from European nuclear fuel reprocessing plants is the most likely source.
A new method for mapping the spread of oil released by ships is presented in a recent study, where it is applied to the Adriatic and Ionian Seas of the Mediterranean. The method pulls together a range of data, including information on shipping routes, oil particle behaviour, currents and climate. In this case study, it reveals pollution hotspots in the south-western Adriatic Sea and north-eastern Ionian Sea.
Oil spills can decimate seabird populations. Some birds can be saved, if the oil is washed from their feathers in time; however, this long process is stressful for the birds and requires numerous volunteers. Researchers have now developed a ‘bird-washing machine’ which reduces the washing time from two hours to four minutes. When trialled on oiled birds rescued from the Caspian Sea this resulted in a substantial increase in survival: 88.5% survival after seven days compared to 50% survival with current washing techniques.
Levels of particulate matter (PM) in the atmosphere are linked to ammonia emissions. However, reducing ammonia emissions only as far as targets set out by the Gothenburg Protocol will not necessarily ensure compliance with EU PM limits, according to a new study. Greater reductions in ammonia emissions would reduce the number of days when PM limit values are exceeded, the researchers found.
Mercury contamination of some wild fish species in areas of the Czech Republic may put anglers’ health at risk, a new study suggests. The research showed that EU-wide and Czech national regulatory limits for mercury were exceeded in at least one analysed sample at 63% of the sites surveyed. However, contamination levels varied substantially between locations and species, the researchers say.
Silver nanoparticles are toxic to common bacteria at concentrations found in many aquatic environments across the globe, new research has found. Bacteria often form a key part of ecosystems and these impacts may be felt by the entire system, the researchers warn.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a sustainable approach to reduce pesticide use and risks of adverse effects on human health and the environment. However, its adoption by European farmers cannot be based only on mandatory regulation by the European Union, a new study suggests. The research identified four key factors driving IPM adoption; including market forces, policy instruments and farmers’ attitudes to the environment.
A more efficient method for sorting plastic electronics waste containing harmful chemicals is proposed by a new study. The method combines two analytical techniques that together can quickly and accurately detect levels of flame retardants in plastics used by the electronics industry.
Levels of aquaculture pesticides exceed UK environmental quality standards (EQSs) in samples taken from near Norwegian fish farms, a recent study has shown. The researchers examined five pesticides used to kill sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) and showed that in many cases their concentrations exceeded UK EQSs. They used UK standards, they explain, because there are currently no Norwegian EQSs for these chemicals, and call for international quality standards to be drawn up.
Our lifestyles determine how often we are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, such as those in traffic emissions and cigarette smoke. A Swedish study reveals how exposure to these chemicals varies from person to person. Among its findings, the amount of time a person spends in traffic or refuelling their car significantly affects how much benzene and butadiene they could inhale.
Mercury and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) reduce albatrosses’ chances of successfully breeding, a recent study finds. These pollutants add to the list of environmental pressures, including climate change, disease and fishery bycatch, affecting this highly threatened species.
Ash from waste incineration can be made safer simply by mixing it with rice husks, water and other forms of waste ash at temperatures under 100 °C, according to new research. Once dried, the end product not only locks away toxic metals lead and zinc, but also stores carbon. Furthermore, it can be used in the polymer industry to lower costs, improve polymer properties and reduce the use of natural resources.
Pregnant women living within 16 km of unconventional gas wells in Colorado, US, are up to 30% more likely to give birth to a baby with a heart defect, new research has found. These findings suggest that more research is needed to understand the potential health impact of natural gas developments, say the researchers.
High blood pressure is linked to long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution, new research suggests. After accounting for lifestyle factors, socioeconomic status and pre-existing health conditions, the researchers found that a rise in traffic emissions of nitrogen dioxide corresponded to a rise in blood pressure of exposed individuals.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contamination in catfish in Italian rivers has been found to exceed EC limits, a new study has found. Benz[a]pyrene, which can potentially cause cancer, was found in all samples and in 9% exceeded limits set in EU food safety legislation. Heavy road traffic and inadequately treated wastewater are the most likely cause of these high levels of PAH pollution, say the researchers.
Halving meat and dairy consumption in Europe could reduce agricultural greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 42% and nitrogen pollution by 40%, new research suggests. The amount of land needed to grow food for each EU citizen would fall from 0.23 to 0.17 hectares and the reduced intake of saturated fats and red meat could have substantial health benefits, the researchers conclude.
Oil spills can affect seabird populations for at least a decade after a major incident, a new study suggests. The authors studied the long-term effects of the Prestige oil spill on European shags and found that the numbers of chicks raised by breeding pairs were reduced in the ten years following the disaster.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is likely to have damaged large numbers of tuna and amberjack fish embryos, new research suggests. Fish embryos exposed to oil samples taken during the spill developed abnormalities in their hearts and, consequently, their spines, fins and eyes. This is likely to have caused population declines in these commercially important species, the researchers conclude.
Thousands of tonnes of chemical warfare agents were dumped into the Baltic Sea after the Second World War. A recent study has shown that fish caught near the dumping grounds show high levels of genetic and cell damage, revealing the long legacy of these toxic substances.
Synthetic oestrogens in wastewater from contraceptive pills can have effects on fish reproduction and survival that worsen over several generations, new research has found. The study suggests that some fish populations may not be able to recover from levels of oestrogen pollution found in many freshwater environments.
The world's first full-scale artificial wetland designed to treat both sewage effluent and mine wastewater has been found to continuously remove high levels of pollutants, a recent study concludes. Treating both types of wastewater at the same time proved to be highly beneficial because they contain pollutants which are more easily removed when mixed together.
EU air pollution legislation to reduce sulphur dioxide (SO2) has effectively reduced rates of premature deaths, new research suggests. Moreover, additional reductions would lead to even further public health benefits, the researchers say.
A risk-based tool built using multi-criteria decision analysis has been developed to rank environmental contaminants, giving each a level of concern. It can be used by decision makers to prioritise areas for further assessments, based on expected human health impacts.
Four ozone-depleting gases, previously undetected in the atmosphere, have been found by new research. The work suggests that more than 74 000 tonnes of these human-made substances have been released since 1978, and that two are continuing to accumulate in the atmosphere. However, it is not yet known where they come from.
Carbon nanotubes (CNT) could be released into the environment as the plastic they are embedded in degrades, a new study suggests. The research found that general wear combined with exposure to UV light and moderate humidity would expose CNTs, posing a potential threat to human health.
The health impacts of consuming food that has been grown using cadmium-contaminated fertilisers are an increasing concern. New Danish research has estimated that the annual monetary cost of these impacts is 15.53 per km2 of agricultural land treated with mineral fertilisers. This cost rises to 37.04 per km2 if pig manure is used.
The European eel could act as an indicator of the ecological quality of aquatic environments, according to a new study. The research suggests that new pollution limits could be developed based on levels of pollutants in eel muscle, with the aim of improving the ecological quality of water under the Water Framework Directive (WFD).
Pollution from agricultural pesticides can present a serious threat to aquatic ecosystems. Researchers have now developed a guide to identify the most appropriate measures to reduce pesticides entering waterways. It focuses on reducing pesticide entry via spray drift or runoff.
Emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) can have damaging effects on human health. New research has now revealed that only three substances out of a large number of NMVOCs are responsible for almost all damaging effects on human health. Air pollution policies should be designed to target these substances specifically, rather than overall NMVOC emissions, the researchers recommend.
Computer models can be powerful tools when developing policies to address nitrogen pollution from agriculture. In a new study, researchers have made recommendations regarding the best design and use of these models to aid the effective implementation of European legislation on nitrogen.
Use of the rodenticide bromadiolone to control water voles in France may also result in population declines of the near-threatened red kite, a new study suggests. The researchers propose a range of alternative forms of controlling vole populations, limiting the need for environmentally-damaging poisons.
The EU's Nitrates Directive has led to significant decreases in nitrogen pollution in Europe, a new study suggests. Modelled scenarios with and without implementation of the Directive showed that it had resulted in a 16% reduction of nitrate leaching by 2008. These improvements could be further increased as implementation becomes stricter, the researchers conclude.
New research has provided the first conclusive evidence that microplastics ingested by marine wildlife can transfer toxic pollutants to their tissues. The researchers studied lugworms fed on PVC particles contaminated with either widespread marine pollutants or plastic additives and found that these 'earthworms of the sea' absorbed the chemicals into their gut tissue, which reduced their ability to perform essential functions.
A technique that can detect the array of pesticides bees might be exposed to has been developed in Poland. The simplicity, speed and small sample sizes required for screening makes this technique an improvement over other methods, say the researchers behind its development.
Natural wetlands can provide effective long-term remediation of contamination from abandoned mines, new research suggests. The study examined a natural wetland receiving water from a copper mine in the UK, and showed that the water’s acidity and levels of toxic metals were significantly reduced once it had passed through the wetland.
Certain chemicals that were once used as flame retardants are now banned in the EU, but can remain in the environment. A new study adds to our limited knowledge regarding the presence of the chemicals polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) in humans. The study suggests levels in Polish and Ukrainian men are lower than in those living in the US and Greenland.
Levels of toxic metals in batteries were not immediately reduced in line with new limits imposed by EU regulations, according to a survey from Germany. The study focuses on concentrations of toxic metals contained in batteries sold in Germany in 2010 and 2011, but its authors say the results are relevant to other EU countries.
Moderate levels of nitrogen in streams and rivers can make it difficult to assess the effects of pesticides on aquatic wildlife, because nutrients mask the pesticides' impacts, according to recent research. This highlights the importance of considering nutrient levels when developing measures to protect aquatic ecosystems.
A measure of ‘chemical footprint’ is being developed by researchers to assess the environmental impacts of the toxic chemicals released by the production and consumption of goods. The methodology, based on life cycle and risk assessment, is also designed to be linked to the resilience of ecosystems to chemical exposure.
Ecotoxicity tests that are used to understand the impacts of chemical pollutants on aquatic organisms and ecosystems could be improved by including all life stages of the test animals. These are the conclusions of a study by Belgian researchers, who found that the apparent absorption of some pesticides by the dormant eggs of water fleas may have negative effects on the invertebrates' later survival and reproduction, although the development and hatching of the eggs are not affected.