Highlights from SETAC Europe: Advancing Environmental Science and Collaboration in Seville

The SETAC Europe 34th Annual Meeting took place in Seville, Spain, from May 5th to May 9th, 2024. The theme of the conference was “Science-based Solutions in Environmental Protection.” SETAC (the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry) aims to advance environmental science and science-informed decision-making. The Europe annual event aimed to bring together professionals from academia, government, and industry to discuss and exchange ideas on environmental science and related fields.

The 34th Europe conference was the most attended in years: over 3000 participants, 7600 authors, 500+ presentations, and 1600 posters. This year, the conference was held in beautiful (and hot) Seville, Spain. In four days, four KWR researchers contributed to several topics, ranging from PFAS to microplastics, and from prediction tools for risk assessment and new chemical analytical methods to wastewater research.  As for microplastics, especially rubber received a lot of attention; both the particles themselves and the compounds released from them.  

On Monday, Patrick Bäuerlein chaired a session and presented a poster on his work on lower micron and nanosized plastics and the use of machine learning. In the session, challenges, analytical methods, occurrence, composition, local sources, long-range transport and human exposure was highlighted. The session showed that microplastics is a broad topic and a lot of research is still needed. Challenging analytical methods, preparation of reference materials and assessment of their whereabouts in the environment are still hotly debated topics.

On that same day, Stefan Kools chaired a session on “Next-Generation Urban Water Management”, aiming to improve our understanding about the fate of micropollutants, transformation products, pathogens, and antimicrobial resistance. A wide range of topics was discussed since water scarcity asks for water reuse concepts. Nature based methods, including open pavements and purification systems were investigated and assessed. Due to chemical and biological analyses (bioassays) we are more and more capable to feed risk assessment of chemicals and pathogens. We noted examples from other labs, in line with our research on using new techniques to identify polar chemicals, by applying SFC (Supercritical fluid chromatography) and HILIC (Hydrophilic Interaction Chromatography) methods. The transfer of chemicals (incl. pharmaceuticals) to crops was presented and interesting to see our work on Effect Based Trigger values to be cited. 

On Tuesday, Patrick Bäuerlein presented another poster, which describes the application of a computer model to identify not only microplastics based on their infrared spectra but also to identify different kinds of solutions based on their impedance. This shows that the model is applicable to several types of data. As a result, Patrick was approached to try this model on data from another research group.  

On Wednesday, Renske Hoondert presented her poster on implementing in silico approaches for human toxicity prediction in the Dutch drinking water sector and met several other people on this topic. Here, the take-home message was that prediction tools and QSARs (Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationships) are more and more implemented in risk assessment, as they are becoming increasingly reliable. Moreover, new approach methodologies (NAMs) are growing and reducing/replacing animal test methods for certain toxicological endpoints, which was also extensively discussed during the annual meeting. Both are in line of KWR research, and it is so good to link to current state of the science. 

Renske Hoondert presented her poster on implementing ‘in silico approaches’ for human toxicity prediction in the Dutch drinking water sector

Frederic Béen’s (VU Amsterdam/KWR) team of PhDs and Postdocs from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam presented their research activities, ranging from the development of bioanalytical and computation methods to prioritise and identify toxic transformation products in water, to machine learning and chemometrics applications to improve the identification and quantification of micro- and nanoplastic particles in humans.  

One of the keynote presentations was given by Marlene Ågerstrand (Stockholm University). It’s interesting to hear about the Science-Policy interactions and how you, as researcher, may influence the risk assessment and management of chemicals. Timing matters, so keep an eye when guidelines and regulations may be reviewed…one of the tips for our work to bridge science to practice (and policy!). 

Other highlights were presentations on PMT chemicals, including PFAS, also detected in drinking waters, the complex drivers for (eco)toxicity of PFAS, and risk assessment of chemical mixtures. Additionally, there was a strong focus on modelling and mapping contaminants of emerging concern in surface waters (and their transformation products!) that may also be used as drinking water sources.   

Several Dutch parties were well-represented, including Frederic Béen (VU Amsterdam/KWR), and others from the University of Amsterdam, Wageningen University, Leiden University, Radboud University and also parties that we work for and/or collaborate with in projects: Aquafin (B), ECHA, Concawe, Rijkswaterstaat, RIVM, Deltares, HWL, RIWA, ….   

By engaging in discussions with peers and by attending thought-provoking presentations, attending the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Seville provided a way to form long-lasting connections and collaborations for KWR researchers.