8th International Congress on Arsenic in the Environment (As2021) – Bridging Science to Practice for Sustainable Development

Digital conference, hosted in The Netherlands

Over 250 participants from over 40 countries and more than 10 scientific disciplines participated in As2021. More or less the same as As2018 although As2021 was the first digital version of the biennial Arsenic congress. Being part of the organizing team, I learned a lot! Start to organize a “normal” congress, postpone it due to Corona, switch to a hybrid format and in the end make it a digital event. It was certainly a rollercoaster as chair Bert van der Wal (Evides/WUR) said during the opening session.

The amount of participants, sessions, topics, disciplines, discussions and take home messages show the worldwide importance of the topic “Arsenic in the environment”. From June 7 to 9, Erwin Beerendonk and Luuk de Waal attended the digital As2021 congress on “Bridging science to practice for sustainable development”. After 3 years of preparation by the organizing committee, the congress on Arsenic in the environment was a big success!

Bridging science to practice (and policy)

The title of the congress was “Bridging Science to Practice for Sustainable Development”. Especially “bridging science to practice” was repeated several times during the congress, with also speakers using the “bridging practice to science” as we often do at KWR.

Looking back at the conference, a lot of topics which are related to Arsenic in the environment, are also related to challenges in the water sector world wide. One of these challenges is realizing SDG6: ensure access to water and sanitation for all ( Presence of Arsenic in drinking water is still a problem for 150 to 250 million people! Solving this challenge with science and water treatment is “no problem” but generating knowledge to enable the water sector to operate water-wisely in societies all over the world is not as easy. We need to create water-wise solutions! Create solutions that are sustainable, using the circular economy approach to benefit businesses, society and the environment.

Scientific research is necessary to create solutions and the resulting practical innovations contribute, worldwide, to a sustainable water provision. Besides that it was often concluded during the congress that cooperation, connecting science with practice and policy, is needed to solve the Arsenic challenges.

Take home messages

During the congress, I was mainly focused on the panel-, plenary- and water treatment sessions. From all the sessions I followed, I collected a few take home messages, important findings or conclusions:

  • Success is when the poorest child has access to clean water.
  • Improve technologies with low costs and energy.
  • People are the key, not the technology. The system approach is the way forward.
  • Research is not only for journals, also for policy making.
  • Darwinian selection for adaption to Arsenic. The human body can adapt to high levels of Arsenic in drinking water.
  • Biologic conversion of Arsenic may be part of the sustainable water treatment solution.
  • Recover resources from the water sector, or use waste streams from other sectors, for removing Arsenic from drinking water.

And last but not least: organizing congresses like As2021 helps. Awareness is key and we need to bridge science to practice and policy!