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Complex relationships, complex analyses, complex problems: Akademie Fresenius Conference discussed current ecotoxicological risk assessment issues

On 29 and 30 November, Akademie Fresenius hosted their 18th international “Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecotoxicology and Risk Management" symposium in Mainz. Top-ranking speakers from Europe and China discussed the hazard potential of both authorised and new environmental chemicals for ecosystems. The presentations not only focussed on the latest efforts within the EU to harmonise risk mitigation measures but also on innovative approaches to integrated exposure and effect modelling and new goals for protecting biodiversity.

Higher-tier environmental risk analyses can become very complex. Modern ecotoxicological methods allow refinements of simple tests to be made but also increase the complexity of the application in the risk assessment process. As a result, the proportionality of the required evidence and documentation is a constant topic of debate amongst ecotoxicology and risk management experts – and the conference in Mainz was no exception. Peter Campbell of Syngenta, representing the industry, highlighted the problems arising from the complexity of the Guidance Documents drawn up by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the application procedure for pesticides. This European agency provides scientific advice to the European Commission amongst others on the potential risks of pesticide applications for the environment and is also responsible for revising the scientific methods used in and guidelines on pesticide risk assessment. These guidelines are intended to provide applicants and Member States with guidance on how to conduct risk assessment in specific areas as part of a peer review covering the authorisation of pesticides and the active substances contained therein at national level. 

Industry proposes the full complexity of EFSA’s Guidance Documents should only be focused on critical issues and products

In Peter Campbell’s opinion, despite their huge complexity, EFSA’s Guidance Documents have not helped to reduce the uncertainty of risk assessments from the viewpoint of the supervisory authorities. He stated that a great deal of effort was required on the part of the national authorities and the industry to meet the high demands posed by the application process: “When combined with a very conservative approach, this results in increased costs, length of time required to achieve registration and uncertainty for the industry”. This also left the farmers with less choice. He welcomed the holistic approach to environmental risk assessment followed by the Swedish Chemicals Agency, KEMI. Campbell said that the KEMI method combined basic environmental risk assessment with an empirical approach. He was convinced that this offered a useful shortcut to simplify the first tier of risk assessments, in as far as calibration was carried out correctly. He said that more complex, higher-tier tests were still necessary but that these could be reduced, as they would only be needed for critical issues and products. 

Modelling helps to calculate mixture effects more easily

Andreas Focks from Wageningen Environmental Research was of the opinion that risk assessment was only reflecting the diversity and variability of the environmental conditions. Modelling could help to account for environmental complexity and uncertainties and lead to more general and robust risk assessment results, he said. Integrated exposure and effect modelling could for examples be used to consider the whole lifecycle of a species in a risk impact assessment and mixture effects could also be more easily calculated using such models. Andreas Focks would like to see more effort being put into development work in the effect modelling area – “ideally with input from the regulatory side”.

Radio-tracking can deliver more and more accurate data

Olaf Fuelling of Tier3 Solutions, Jan-Dieter Ludwigs of RIFCON and Michael Fryer from the UK Health and Safety Executive presented new opportunities for evaluating data collected using GPS radio-tracking. Radio-tracking can be used to measure how much time a creature spends in a certain habitat and how much food it absorbs in that habitat (proportion of diet = PT). Above all, radio-tracking data can be used to fine-tune the PT parameters in analyses covering long-term risks to birds and mammals. Michael Fryer was convinced that: “We can make better use of existing data in the evaluation process”. 

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