Tox to the future: KWR joins the Dutch Society of Toxicology in its 45th Anniversary

The 45th anniversary of the Dutch Society of Toxicology was marked with the annual symposium, bringing together 200 toxicologists from different subfields and levels of expertise. Of course, KWR’s own toxicologists from the Chemicals Water Quality and Health team did not miss this opportunity to learn and connect. This year’s edition, besides being special because of the anniversary, was uniquely marked by the inclusion of more diverse branches of toxicology. Topics ranged from drug safety, new approach methodologies, ecotoxicology, risk assessment, regulation, and chemical warfare, to frontiers in toxicology. Clearly, great and encouraging strides are being made to advance toxicology into the future.

You do not need to be a toxicologist to appreciate the essential role of water for life and how vital it is for a healthy and thriving society. After all, the human body is comprised of 60% water, and the drinking water sector goes to great lengths to provide safe and high-quality water. At this year’s conference, PFAS, nano/microplastics, nanomaterials, BPA, pharmaceuticals, EDCs, and pesticides were discussed, all very relevant for water quality. The latest developments in hazard characterization, immune toxicity, in silico toxicology, computational modeling, microfluidic systems, oxidative stress, neurotoxicology, quantitative in vitro to in vivo extrapolation (QIVIVE), physiologically-based kinetics, non-target metabolomics, immunotoxicology, genotoxicity, adverse outcome pathways (AOP), risk-based monitoring, reverse dosimetry, inhalation toxicology, computational chemistry, risk communication, large language models for safety assessments, safe and sustainable by design, multilayered testing strategies, study validation, regulatory toxicology, and much more, were presented.

The great uniting theme across the event was: “Tox to the Future,” with New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) clearly in the spotlight. NAMs are a collection of tools allowing the field to move away from relying on animal subjects to test and study toxic agents (in vivo testing) towards animal-free assessments, i.e., ex vivo, in vitro, in chemico, and in silico. This shift is not only a scientific urge but a practical necessity with the hundreds of thousands of chemicals being produced and marketed in Europe and around the globe. We know all too well that a meaningful fraction of these chemicals ultimately reach our environment and can become critical sources of drinking water contamination. To ensure that KWR and the drinking water sector keep pace with relevant scientific breakthroughs, events like the NVT 2024 symposium offer an opportunity to translate these into water practices, with an emphasis on the European and Dutch context. However, despite the fascinating and much-needed efforts being made by the toxicology community and its diverse experts, KWR’s toxicologists still noted that water and drinking water are not yet on many people’s minds. For example, only a few of the poster presentations explicitly studied or included water in their research, despite the many cross-links and potential utility of some of these tools and approaches for water practice.

Fortunately, KWR has noticed the growing interest and awareness in this year’s presentations on interconnecting hazards and bridging disciplines. Highlights included effect-based methods in water, the prioritization and identification of endocrine disruptors in, innovative ways to test water in a virtual human platform for safety assessment, exploratory research on the neurotoxic potential of by-products from plastics. KWR presented ongoing research on the applicability of alternative regulatory frameworks and NAMs in mixture assessment for water quality standards, and the potential of innovative risk characterization methods to guide climate change adaptation measures. These topics triggered substantial curiosity from attendees eager to learn more about KWR’s work and appreciation that (drinking) water toxicologists enriched the event.

Image 1. Tessa Steenhof, a master’s student from Utrecht University, has been actively involved in KWR’s research project on mixture risk assessment and regulatory frameworks for water quality limits.

In one sentence, KWR’s toxicologists summarize the event: effective future human health risk assessment relies on toxicology data, exposure models, and in vitro studies to evaluate the safety of substances and the potential effects of pollutants, including water contaminants. This was an inspiring event where KWR continues to be welcomed as a valuable stakeholder, assuming a unique position by keeping drinking water on the radar of experts across the chemical and toxicological landscape and by fostering collaboration with old and new partners.

Congratulations to the Dutch Society of Toxicology, and KWR looks forward to the next edition!