KWR and Utrecht University jointly assist British WRc in quality assurance for Toxicity Datasheets

Fruitful collaboration thanks to our network

Toxicologists from Utrecht University and KWR collaborate on assessing the quality of toxicological data and risk assessment. They are conducting the quality assurance for the British Water Research Centre (WRc), which produces datasheets that provide British water utilities the basis for decision-making – for example regarding monitoring of contaminants in surface water, or actions to be taken in the event of standard exceedances or emergencies. This national and international collaboration is mutually very satisfactory and offers interesting future prospects. After all, the British and Dutch water sectors face similar problems when it comes to emerging contaminants.

Together with colleagues from the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (IRAS), which is part of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University, KWR toxicologists have since last year provided, within an independent review, the quality assurance of the toxicological risk assessment contained in datasheets for the British water utilities. These datasheets were developed by the UK’s National Centre for Environmental Toxicology (NCET) which is part the Water Research Centre (WRc)  and the UK Water Industry Research. The UK water utilities use them as a source of information whenever they need to make decisions about the monitoring of contaminants in surface water, and to take action in the event of exceedances or emergencies. For relevant (groups) of contaminants, the datasheets contain background information about how their concentrations can best be measured, their possible sources, and what risks they present to human health and the environment.

‘Our involvement began with an urgent request,’ says Milou Dingemans, senior toxicologist at KWR. ‘On a commission from UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR[SG4] ), WRc produces datasheets for the British water utilities about emerging contaminants that might represent a hazard for the drinking water provision. They wanted KWR to carry out an external, independent quality control of the toxicological information and risk assessment contained in the datasheets. This meant that we needed, within a short period of time, to control dozens of datasheets, on the basis of public information sources for instance. KWR can do this, but the timing presented a problem. Fortunately, we have had a successful working relationship with the IRAS of Utrecht University for years. I myself worked there in the past and have, for over a year now, besides my activities at KWR, also worked at the IRAS as a visiting researcher in the field of toxicology and risk assessment. With the agreement of WRc, we therefore formed a project team with people from KWR and the IRAS, and together had the sufficient capacity and time to rapidly check the datasheets given to us.’

KWR-IRAS project team

At the beginning of 2021 a mixed project team got to work on the quality control requested by WRc: besides Dingemans, it included researchers Milo de Baat and – from December 2021 – Sanah Shaikh, and project manager Astrid Reus of KWR, with reinforcement from toxicologist Sander Lentz of the IRAS. Reus: ‘It was an especially big challenge at the start, both in terms of the budget and time. But we learned to adjust quickly and well and, progressively, over the course of the first project, the task allocation and coordination started to work fine – even under the constraints associated with COVID-19. Every two weeks we hold a fifteen-minute joint consultation with WRc and reach effective agreements. In the first project we controlled 50 datasheets. We are now into the second project, which concludes in the first quarter of 2022, and in which we are assessing and supplementing an additional 50 datasheets. The collaboration is mutually very satisfactory and the discussions that the Dutch researchers are now having and the approach applied in this project is also useful for the Dutch water world.’ Dingemans adds: ‘After all, the British and Dutch water sectors face similar problems when it comes to emerging contaminants, from pesticides to (veterinary) pharmaceuticals. This research is in line for instance with the required activities surrounding the Water Quality Guide for the Dutch water sector. The project also offers the opportunity to inform the WRc toxicologists about the Dutch approach to the risk assessment of emerging contaminants, and to jointly discover research questions.’

Task allocation

Lentz, or De Baat, always makes the first assessment of sections of the datasheets dealing with toxicology and risk assessment, and controls whether they are complete and contain sufficiently detailed information about the toxicology and water-quality standards – recently, Shaikh began providing assistance in this task. Dingemans then assesses whether these sections satisfy all quality requirements, and discusses possible revisions with the client.

Exciting research field

For Lentz this research project is his first experience with toxicology in the context of drinking water: ‘Up until now, I have done numerous animal and epidemiological studies on airborne exposure. In the aquatic environment there is a lot more at play than simply the ingestion of a hazardous substance, you also look at what is done to the water in order to make it potable, and what effect this has on the substance. You also look at what the impact is on the environment. You consider a larger whole; it is an exciting research field to delve into.’

Dingemans sees a future in further collaboration with the IRAS and WRc: ‘We come across all kinds of subjects which we could also think about together. It would be great to do more joint projects with WRc. The Dutch and British water sectors face many similar knowledge questions, which we should be able to tackle exceptionally well together.’