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New developments in the area of assessing possible risks of chemical substances in water

Innovative tools on health risk assessment at EUROTOX 2019

During the 55th annual congress of the European Societies of Toxicology EUROTOX 2019 in Helsinki, toxicologists from all over the world meet to discuss recent developments in the area of toxicology, to address effects of chemical substances on humans and the ecosystem.

KWR wants to stay informed about new developments in the area of assessing possible risks of chemical substances in water. Chemicals can, for example, enter river water via wastewater treatment plants or emission by industry. Since 40% of the Dutch drinking water is made of river water, and not all substances can be reduced to 0% after treatment, we want to make sure that no effects are to be expected on human health and the ecosystem.

Innovative tools for risk assessment

Worldwide the number of chemicals produced and potentially released into the environment is still increasing. This includes substances for which there is very little information available. With new, innovative tools, the potential risks of these substances can be better assessed. These tools include computer models that can predict possible effects based on comparing the molecular structure of the new target compound with data from well-known compounds. Computer models which can make predictions about possible consequences of substances in the human body and on organisms in the ecosystem are called QSAR tools (Quantitative Structure-Activity  Relationships).

Other models that are already widely used for a while are the PBK models. Physiologically Based Kinetic (PBK) models are used by amongst others academia and industry to provide insight into the dose-effect relationship of observed adverse health effects in humans and other species. The goal is to translate effect concentrations from cell cultures into concentrations at which an effect can be expected on human physiology. PBK models are complicated computer models in which for several organs predictions are made about the behaviour of a substance in the organism. Integration of the predictions for all the relevant organs can be used to derive a concentration that may cause effects on human health.

Another increasingly used method is predicting characteristics of a substance by retrieving information about relevant toxicological mechanisms and important ‘key events’ in toxicity from several large databases. In this case, data scientists work closely together with toxicologists.