Helping Europe to Understand the Impact of Chemicals in the Environment

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Scientists have identified the key research priorities that Europe must focus on around the impact, management and regulation of chemicals in the environment. The research hopes to result in a more coordinated approach to chemicals in the environment.

Chemicals released into the environment by human activity are resulting in biodiversity loss; increased natural hazards; threats to food, water and energy security; negative impacts on human health and degradation of environmental quality. Now an international study, involving scientists from the University of Portsmouth, has identified the 22 most important research questions that need to be answered to fill the most pressing knowledge gaps over the next decade. They include questions about which chemicals we should be most concerned about and where the hotspots of key contaminants are around the globe, as well as how we can develop methods to protect biodiversity and ecosystems.

The research, which resulted from a recent ‘big questions’ exercise involving researchers from across Europe, aims to serve as a road map for policy makers, regulators, industry and funders and result in a more coordinated approach to chemicals in the environment from the European environmental science community.

One of the authors of the study Professor Alex Ford, from the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Marine Sciences, said: “Our understanding of how chemicals impact the environment and human health is still poorly developed. There are many questions that need to be addressed around the risks of chemicals in the environment and it will be impossible to tackle them all. There is therefore an urgent need to identify the research questions that matter most to the broad community across sectors and multiple disciplines so that research and regulatory efforts can be focused on the most pressing questions.

“The results of this European effort should increase the relevance of environmental research by decreasing scientific uncertainty in assessing and managing environmental risks, and increasing the credibility of technical and policy responses to global environmental stressors.”

Towards Sustainable Environmental Quality: Priority Research Questions for Europe is published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. It is one of six papers in a global horizon scanning study, with parallel activities in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and North America.

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