Science AMA Series: We are the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Europe: Ask us anything about environmental toxicology and chemistry!

Abstract

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Europe is hosting the 27th European annual meeting this week and has asked experts from across academia, government and industry to answer questions on an array of environmental issues and human health. We will have experts across a range of environmental science topics, pesticides, chemical risk assessment, microplastics, nanotechnology, personal care products and pharmaceuticals (in the environment), endocrine disruptors, metals in the environment, environmental disasters (such as oil spills), alternatives to animal testing, science communication and many more.

– we’ll try to get you the best possible answers according to the latest science. Please do note that we are asking members of the society who represent researchers from a variety of disciplines and sectors; the answers are not official SETAC positions. We encourage discussion and debate! Just please keep it professional.

For more information on SETAC see www.setac.org

Post your question and the organizers of the conference will find someone to answer it as soon as possible. Answers to questions will begin at 2 PM CET (8AM EST, 5 AM PST ) and continue till 6 PM CET (12 PM EST, 9 AM PST ), with a few breaks.

What impact do you think microbeads have on our oceans?

p1percub

Perhaps you are aware of microplastics as part of the "plastic soup". Those parts are much larger than the ones you just mentioned. Hence its name... its millimeter range and larger fish will have trouble with it.. but not with microbeads. Those will pass the digestive track.... but... eel larvae for example will do have a problem as their digestive track is likely in the same diameter range as those microbeads.

There is hope in the name of Galleria mellonella, the greater wax moth or honeycomb moth. This animal consumes wax, hence its name. However, recently, the scientist Bertocchini, a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council, and scientists at Cambridge University, found out that this moth is eating plastic bag when she collected them for later research in the lab. The result was holes in the bag. In short... with a little luck it will be likely that those enzymes from this moth will help in the near future cleanup rivers and seas from microplastics and microbeads.


Hi, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.

Usually we hear a lot about big scandals, but what are some major problems that the public as a whole isn't aware of?

Are there any simple actions that someone can take at an individual level to help keep the environment healthy?

PapaNachos

The following topics are widely addressed: - antibiotics resistance, - fossil oil is running out, - low hanging fruit in drug discovery has been picked, - electrical cars are there, - thorium reactors are being tested (alternative to uranium), - SETAC 2017 is being held right now in Brussels.

Something you may not be aware is that there are universities that haven't a collection systems for the gel-electrophorese liquids and minute amounts of ethidium bromide (shows the DNA bands in gels) is disposed through regular waste water channels.

What you can do: I recommend checking yours and see if there are taken the appropriate measures to dispose this the right-way. The same counts for many other substances used in the lab.


Hi, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.

Usually we hear a lot about big scandals, but what are some major problems that the public as a whole isn't aware of?

Are there any simple actions that someone can take at an individual level to help keep the environment healthy?

PapaNachos

You're welcome! Simply put, finding ways to decrease your carbon footprint are great ways to keep the environment healthy. For example: Using public transportation or cycling, using reusable shopping bags, avoiding plastic/paper/styrofoam consumables, recycling, investing in sustainable infrastructure, and supporting local environmental efforts (community gardens) are great ways to help the environment. These little efforts make a big difference, and it is great to include others with these practices!


Hi, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.

Usually we hear a lot about big scandals, but what are some major problems that the public as a whole isn't aware of?

Are there any simple actions that someone can take at an individual level to help keep the environment healthy?

PapaNachos

Are there any simple actions that someone can take at an individual level to help keep the environment healthy?

That is a good attitude; reduce use of nonrecyclable items which is much more useful than recycling; talk to friends and your doctor about not prescribing antibiotics or medications when healthy eating, daily excercise, or resting and waiting (if it is a virus) is the best and most effective solution/cure. Walk, bike or take public transit when that is an option and encouage others to do the same.
if you come from North America, think of why Europeans have a much smaller ecological footprint but just as good or better quality of life!


Hi, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.

Usually we hear a lot about big scandals, but what are some major problems that the public as a whole isn't aware of?

Are there any simple actions that someone can take at an individual level to help keep the environment healthy?

PapaNachos

this is a great question and one that I struggle with personally as an human and as a scientist -- especially in the light of the fact that I believe that all our actions (and inactions) result in both positive and negative outcomes -- also that our knowledge is constantly changing so what is good today maybe bad for the future.

Without being paralyzed by this position, I think we need to keep trying to educate ourselves, families, communities about the latest evidence and potential actions to try to keep the environment and ourselves healthy. Currently this involves trying to be respectful of the natural environment physically and supporting groups that try to clean up and sustain natural environments. On an individual level currently this means re-use, recycle, less consumption of resources overall.

The area I struggle with most personally is the clear impact in terms of climate change and pollution of transportation (especially air travel). I don't have an answer except to hope for more environmentally sustainable forms of transportation in the future.

Finally there seems to me to be a need to reverse our thinking from human-centric to a more balanced view where the needs and health of the environment (locally and writ large) are as important as our own for human health and wellbeing because it is clear that these are all inter-connected.


I am writing a paper about glyphosate right now. What is your take on the toxicity of glyphosate in the general public. I think we have seen acute exposure problem in epidemiological research but there hasn't been a lot that I have found on the general public's exposure. Should we (I am American) be regulating the herbicide more closely?

Bens_bottom_bitch

This herbicide should have been tested in a range of species that inhabit rivers, lakes and seas. So, testing these compounds should have been done with insects, snails, worms, algae, etc. to give a general view of impact of the compound. You'll get the picture (with DDT https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). Adding up to the complexity one should perform closed environmental studyies in which the output from one species acts as input for another species, and a third.. etc. Why? Some waste compounds have short half life (e.g. 30 minutes) and are therefor not easily detected; neither there effects.


I am writing a paper about glyphosate right now. What is your take on the toxicity of glyphosate in the general public. I think we have seen acute exposure problem in epidemiological research but there hasn't been a lot that I have found on the general public's exposure. Should we (I am American) be regulating the herbicide more closely?

Bens_bottom_bitch

This product has a long and controversial history; many scientific publications have shown it to cause reproductive and health problems in amphibians - which are diappearing world-wide; there are major concerns with its effects on other wildlife including birds, Spanish institutions are carrying out studies because of concerns of ecotoxicity from glyphosate and its use has recently been banned in Sri Lanka because of toxicity concerns - so regulation and close, non-political scrutiny is warranted!


Hi and thank you for doing this AMA.

What role does climate change play in potentially exacerbating the way toxic compounds enter into and impact our local ecosystems?

SirT6

I am physician and epidemiologist involved in environment and human health so I will answer from my knowledge base -- I think the major (as yet just beginning to be explored) factor is the ocean acidification associated with climate change. This results in a change in pH (more acidic) which can affect all sorts of substances such as proteins or hormones for example as well as anthropogenic (manmade) chemicals. There is ongoing research to explore this but one might imagine that if hormones for example are changed by exposure to more acidic environments, this could affect reproduction of marine organisms for better or worse. Also manmade chemicals may become less or more able to be incorporated into living systems (i.e. bioconcentration in our food chains) so one might imagine that humans and other animals may become more or less exposed to these chemicals through the food chain

The good news is that there are are researchers at SETAC looking at these issues right now!


My dream was to work for the EPA. What kind of goals can I set until a competent adult is running America again?

What technologies do you predict will be the "next big thing" for getting pharmaceuticals out of wastewater?

recovering_spaz

This depends at what stage you are in your career. If you can wait it out a few years and get some experience working in some kind of related discipline, then that might be a god idea. While it appears that the EPA may be about to suffer some large financial cuts, there are still many jobs available in similar agencies in different countries which you could consider if relocating is an option.

I've seen many papers in biotechnology journals (like this one: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0964830500000718 this one: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10532-008-9185-3 and this one: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02543877?LI=true ) which are using enzymes extracted from bacteria and fungi to break down certain pollutants. If we can get some of these techniques scaled up sufficiently cheaply, then I'd predict that some of these may be used for wastewater treatment in a targetted way - only using them where there are particularly high levels either predicted or measured in the wastewater.


My dream was to work for the EPA. What kind of goals can I set until a competent adult is running America again?

What technologies do you predict will be the "next big thing" for getting pharmaceuticals out of wastewater?

recovering_spaz

I suppose lots of people think about modified bacteria doing this job. Recently its shown that genetic content is shared between different microbial strains. It may be a good way to use algae for this job. Less harmful and have major difficulty to penetrate the human skin or innerworks compared to e.g. MRSA bacteria.


My dream was to work for the EPA. What kind of goals can I set until a competent adult is running America again?

What technologies do you predict will be the "next big thing" for getting pharmaceuticals out of wastewater?

recovering_spaz

One important goal is to become highly competant in your ability to communicate complex science concepts to non-scientists. Beyond that do not shy away from politics. Get involved in local politics, perhaps even run for office. In democracies we get the leaders we deserve. The current situation is a result of abject apathy that allowed state leadership to be dominated by candidates who reject science and gerrymanded districts to tip the scales against progressives. Until and unless there is widespread participation, the situation will only worsen.


Hi all! How should we think about the environmental risks of new nanotechnologies? Are there new considerations above and beyond that of chemical contaminants?

superhelical

I'll answer the second part first. Nanoparticles of a material can behave very differently to the material in bulk. For example, in the bulk Gold is very unreactive - if I were to drop a lump of gold in a river and come back 1000 years later, there would still be a lump of gold sat there. However, gold nanoparticles behvave differently in several ways: they are very mobile, and can be transported by currents, they can sediment, be ingested by organisms. They may be sufficiently small to cross the blood-brain barrier. Certain gold nanostructures can have highly reactive surfaces (see this paper: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cctc.201200261/full ).

Nanoparticles cannot be risk-assessed in the same way that conventional pollutants can be - many of the standard assays cannot be used. This paper gives an example: http://pubs.rsc.org/-/content/articlehtml/2014/en/c4en00043a . However, we have yet to develop any universally applicable alternatives, though there is much current research into new approaches to risk assessment. This paper contains some interesting analysis of the sutiation. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969714017276

So to answer the first part of your question - we should probably think (in my opinion - and I did a PhD in nano and the environment) about nanoparticles as just another class of pollutant. Nanoparticles can be an environmental risk, but this does not mean they always are, just like any other possible pollutants. So we should be cautious about releasing them into the environment willy-nilly, but we shouldn't quake in the face of some kind of nano-apocalypse.

EDIT: grammar


If human industry didn't exist, what would your jobs look like? Would you still be employed? If so, what would we be on the lookout for?

jb0ne

If it didn't exist... we're extinct or back in the cave and not writing online answers to questions.


Hi! Thanks for coming to reddit and giving us the opportunity to interact directly!

Now to my question, as a University student, I've chosen a rather unconventional path in pursuing both a chemistry degree and a law degree simultaneously. Do you think that the future holds a place for graduates that have followed unconventional paths like these?

Is there currently the need for literacy across different fields of study to help address problems with say regulation or policy?

sciqt

Hi and thanks for the question!

Personally, as a unconventional path taker myself, I think there is definitely a future. Interdisciplinary studies allow for a greater appreciation and connection of others works and can lead to excellent collaborations. By having an understanding of two very different fields it is possible to bridge connections and help others along. In the case of chemistry and law, using a scientific knowledge to help build policy will lead to more effective policy and understanding of how each influences the other. Often we get caught up in just knowing one specialty causing doors to close on us. But when we open multiple doors, we can see multiple paths to create a cohesive solution.


Hi! Thanks for coming to reddit and giving us the opportunity to interact directly!

Now to my question, as a University student, I've chosen a rather unconventional path in pursuing both a chemistry degree and a law degree simultaneously. Do you think that the future holds a place for graduates that have followed unconventional paths like these?

Is there currently the need for literacy across different fields of study to help address problems with say regulation or policy?

sciqt

It think that would prepare you well for several career paths. I work for a natural resource conservation agency in the government, so I see issues all the time that involve science and law -- as such, training in both would seem to make you well-prepared for any field or employer with a connection between science and public policy or science and law enforcement.

I'll add (as a father of a 20-year-old) encouragement to chase you interests and dreams during college -- you'll have time to chart a career path later. So by all means, pursue study of multiple disciplines of interest to you just to learn and grow. Best of luck in your academic pursuits and in your application of that time later!


Hi! Thanks for coming to reddit and giving us the opportunity to interact directly!

Now to my question, as a University student, I've chosen a rather unconventional path in pursuing both a chemistry degree and a law degree simultaneously. Do you think that the future holds a place for graduates that have followed unconventional paths like these?

Is there currently the need for literacy across different fields of study to help address problems with say regulation or policy?

sciqt

The pursuit of a degree in two different fields is broadening your view of the world beyond the "regular". I (Eric) did a similar thing. I started with Biotechnology, did some medical biology and bioinformatics. Now building Zebrafish Egg sorters in my company after finishing up my four years PhD period in Leiden.

Its a good thing to have "broad" specialists. The majority takes the other route and "hyper" focus on one particular topic and become specialists in a certain field.

Personally... IMO..go for it and be that "broad" specialist. You'll have a job as "intermediate/interface" between different worlds.


Hi! Thanks for coming to reddit and giving us the opportunity to interact directly!

Now to my question, as a University student, I've chosen a rather unconventional path in pursuing both a chemistry degree and a law degree simultaneously. Do you think that the future holds a place for graduates that have followed unconventional paths like these?

Is there currently the need for literacy across different fields of study to help address problems with say regulation or policy?

sciqt

Good for you for becoming as trans/interdisciplinary in your training as possible -- as someone who has worked in environment and human health for over 30 years, I believe that you are the kind of person we need to address the complex "wicked" issues facing humanity now and into the future.

Personally as an academic, I think it is important to bring specific (disciplinary often but can be larger) skill sets to the table but also the other skills are to be open to working in an interdisciplinary environment, to feel (often) insecure, and realize that there are truly no stupid questions -- if you don't understand or know, ask your colleague who is the expert

your particular brand of law and chemistry will be very powerful in the future around regulation/laws/policies trying to understand and address the complex mixtures of chemicals and other exposures (microbial pollution, climate and other environmental change, and even demographic change with people living longer) we now face.

good for you and I wish you the best with your future career


Hi! Thanks for coming to reddit and giving us the opportunity to interact directly!

Now to my question, as a University student, I've chosen a rather unconventional path in pursuing both a chemistry degree and a law degree simultaneously. Do you think that the future holds a place for graduates that have followed unconventional paths like these?

Is there currently the need for literacy across different fields of study to help address problems with say regulation or policy?

sciqt

As someone nearing the end of my carreer, I am more convinced than ever that there needs to be greater emphasis on transdiciplinary efforts. Yes, have one or two areas in which you become an expert, but be comfortable interacting with people who have other skills. I do not believe that "conventional" paths will be a practicql or useful as they once were.


Are there relatively unknown emerging fields in science you think will have great impact on toxicology?

edenapple

Not sure if its a field but more a state of mind. Over the past decades people have worked with 2D tissue culture for research. Cells were tortured and became "cancer-like" cells; they swapped over to primary cell cultures.. but still it didn't get a headache. Mice and rats were used.. but expansive and a lot of ethics surrounding it. Now there is 3D tissue culture... which is basically the next step to a "in vivo" model. So why not using a simple 3D model?

As you may know ... zebrafish embrios are small, look like a mouse, rat and human (general development). Combine zebrafish eggs with microfluidics and you get BioWell plates that can be used to administer 24/7 a compound that needs to be investigated for toxicological properties. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21491052 Does that answer your question?


Are there relatively unknown emerging fields in science you think will have great impact on toxicology?

edenapple

Depends what you mean by 'relatively unknown'. I think that micro- and nano-plastics may be the next big thing. This is because there are two mechanisms by which they can have a toxic effect: firstly, the plastics themselves may be toxic to organisms. However, the surfaces of plastics can be very attractive for other chemicals and pollutants, and can carry them into organisms which would otherwise not take up the secondary pollutant - plastics can act as vectors for other nasties. This paper contains some interesting analysis: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.5b06069

That's just the opinion of one member of SETAC - I'm sure others will have their own ideas...


Are there relatively unknown emerging fields in science you think will have great impact on toxicology?

edenapple

There are many hidden gems in the field, as in science in general. I believe that strengthening the combination of chemical and biological analysis will really advance toxicology in the years to come: We will learn so much more on which chemicals we and wildlife are actually exposed to. This will help us to sort out, which chemicals we should deal with primarily.


Which industries do you believe contribute the most to environmental issues?

What simple things can we do in our every day lives to reduce our contribution to big environmental problems?

lady_clover

I would say humans and human activity in general currently and historically have contributed to massive environmental change and destruction. you might want to read "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari as this is one of the issues he touches on. In terms of a particular industry, it is constantly changing and is somewhat definitional and framing. For example when I googled your question just now, Fashion was mentioned repeatedly while in a course I teach around living with environmental change, the conclusion has been "food industry" writ large as the biggest contributor to climate change.

there have been several useful posts already about your important question as to how we as individuals can reduce our contribution to big environmental problems which might be helpful to review.

thanks for the question


Which industries do you believe contribute the most to environmental issues?

What simple things can we do in our every day lives to reduce our contribution to big environmental problems?

lady_clover

I think the first part is probably nearly impossible to answer - there is a huge range of different environmental issues which human activity contributes to, but comparing one negative impact with another is like comparing apples and oranges (yes, this is a massive cop-out, but at least it's a scientifically literate cop-out!).

Again, it's a dreadful chiché, but I quite like it: 'take only photographs and leave only footprints'.

To give one specific issue I'm familiar with, deforestation is a massive issue. Modern deforestation has several causes. One of these is meat production, and another is palm oil production. It should be obvious that the easiest means to resuce your impact in this regard would then be to 1) only purchase wood products from sustainable sources, 2) reduce your meat consumption, and 3) avoid purchasing products containing palm oil. These are three steps I've taken myself, and is reality they have had very little impact upon my lifestyle...


Which industries do you believe contribute the most to environmental issues?

What simple things can we do in our every day lives to reduce our contribution to big environmental problems?

lady_clover

Have you watched the movie cowspiracy... it makes you wonder what a fart can do. http://www.cowspiracy.com/


What is Europe's current stance on flame retardant chemicals used in household items, such as furniture, bedding, clothing, cushions, etc.?

PinPointSnarkuracy

EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, is providing an update on what is EU is doing about flame retardants: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/topic/brominated-flame-retardants For instance, most brominated flame retardants have been banned or restricted. However, the problem is that we do not know a lot about the health effects of the replacements, so we must be aware of potentially regrettable substitution: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0045653514002380 P.S.: We are having a hot discussion whether we need flame retardants in each product we are using or whether we should empower people to deal with fire responsibly.


Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!

There is a giant buzz around aromatherapy and use of natural essential oils instead of traditional chemicals in everyday products in the US right now... Has there been any solid evidence that these alternatives reduce environmental impact? Also, chemically, is there science showing that these natural oils provide the same properties as their chemical counterparts?

I apologize if this is searchable on the web, or not the right topic to ask under, I've tried googling and come up with nothing straightforward. Again appreciate the time!

StonerSally27

This might be an emerging field of research in the next 20 or so years.


Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!

There is a giant buzz around aromatherapy and use of natural essential oils instead of traditional chemicals in everyday products in the US right now... Has there been any solid evidence that these alternatives reduce environmental impact? Also, chemically, is there science showing that these natural oils provide the same properties as their chemical counterparts?

I apologize if this is searchable on the web, or not the right topic to ask under, I've tried googling and come up with nothing straightforward. Again appreciate the time!

StonerSally27

No one sitting here is familiar with any research on this topic, so our colleague there is right - this may be something that we are researching in future.


Hi, thanks for doing this.

Ivermectin is used a lot in cattle, as a vermifuge, and in humans for head lice, as knowledge it has a residual in the animal meat that extends to a long period after injection.

So my question is, Humans consuming meat, treated with Ivermectin it's causing lice epidemics to disappear? and if yes, does any other pharmaceutical does some similar?

juleibs

Any animal whose meat ends up in the food system, has strict withdrawl periods, to ensure that there is absolutely no residue of ivermectin left when the animal is slaughtered! Meat is regularly, randomly tested for drug residues If residues of any drug treatment are detected, all the meat from that animal will be condemned and not enter the food chain


Hi, thanks for doing this.

Ivermectin is used a lot in cattle, as a vermifuge, and in humans for head lice, as knowledge it has a residual in the animal meat that extends to a long period after injection.

So my question is, Humans consuming meat, treated with Ivermectin it's causing lice epidemics to disappear? and if yes, does any other pharmaceutical does some similar?

juleibs

If I understand correctly, you are asking whether ivermectin residues in meat for human consumption actually prevent lice infection. First of all, you should not use such pharmaceuticals/pesticide preventively (i.e., without having lice). Second, we are exposed to pharmaceutical/pesticide residues in food involuntarily, which is a problem in itself. Third, pharmaceutical/pesticide residues in food may promote resistance (antibiotics resistance being the most pressing issue), so ivermectin in meat will probably not prevent lice epidemics but may indeed promote resistant lice populations.


Hello,

I hear a lot about factory farming, i.e. cattle farms, having "the biggest" impact on the environmental change and being a major contributor to green house gases. This mainly comes from people promoting vegan or vegetarianism lifestyles not that that's relevant but just thought it may lead to bias on the issue.

Is this the case?

I mean to ask just how big of an impact does the industry have compared to other sources?

Thanks,

Edit: it appears you have already answered this, my mistake

TheeMrBlonde

There are a range of estimates for contributions to climate change. Of the anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases, off the top of my head (these statistics may be a few years out of date) international shipping contributes about 12% of emissions, and aviation somewhat less than 10%. By comparison, livestock farming contributes 45-50%, though these estimates will depend upon how it's measured. For example, cattle farming causes a lot of methane emissions, and it's hard to directly compare the effect of carbon dioxide and methane.


there had been much talk about the ozone layer being depleted. why has no one started putting ozone generators at an appropriate altitude in order to help resolve the problem? it doesn't seem to me to be that logistically improbable to work as a means to slow or possibly reverse the decay to me, but then i am only one opinion.

Elenda

Can you give an example of a means of achieving this? The ozone layer is at an altitude beyond human wit to build a stucture, so it would need to be mounted on a plane or specialised balloon... With all this type of geo-engineering scheme, we have to weigh up the financial cost against the possible benefits which could be reaped from it...


Can hemp be used to clear up old gas/oil spills?

sobakablack

Hi, thanks for the question! Many plants can be used for bio- and phytoremediation processes, however, I do not think any studies to date have used hemp. Most common is plants belonging to the Asteracaeae family, or simply put, Sunflowers! Sunflowers and other aster species are used in nuclear contamination remediation (See Chernobyl). In terms of gas and oil spills, often birch species are used, but perhaps there might be a future for hemp species to be used. We can't make any recommendations for other applications!


As a parent what can I do to protect my kids from background toxicity?

Obviously I understand it will depend where I live but assume I live in a progressive western economy.

chuckademus

Taking a guess that you're asking about protecting yourself from trace level of background pollutants, there are several things you can do. I'm sure someone else will add some suggestions later but here are a few of mine:

-Try to avoid walking along major roads - if there's a parallel road with less road traffic, then you could take that instead.

-When you get exercise, try to take it in parks away from major roads, or more in the countryside. When you get out of breath and start breathing more deeply, you can draw pollutants deeper into your lungs.

-Quite frequently, cheap products purchased online from the far east may not meet the regulations for pollutant content from your own country - it is usually best to purchase products from a company based within your own country, particularly when it comes to textiles - there are several harmful textile treatments which have been outlawed in many western countries which may be present in 'grey import' products.

-Get out the house! Perhaps surprisingly, indoor air quality in dwellings can be quite bad, particularly if you have a very dusty house.


As a parent what can I do to protect my kids from background toxicity?

Obviously I understand it will depend where I live but assume I live in a progressive western economy.

chuckademus

Another interesting question and as per the question above (PapaNachos) it is an ongoing issue which I believe requires us to keep educating ourselves, our children and families, communities and society at large.

In terms of "toxicity" to children, there are several issues including what and how something is toxic and over what time period since our children will hopefully live with good quality of life for many years after us.

For something to be toxic to a child it has to get into their bodies (i.e. a route of exposure) and there has to be sufficient and specific exposure within their body to cause problems. and the exposures can be acute and/or chronic (especially if the toxin is stored in the body even at low doses). and there is evidence with many toxins that children can be more sensitive because they are rapidly growing organisms and because they hopefully will live a long time.

I remember an episode in my own child's life where the question was if it was safe for the children to play soccer in a "brown field" (i.e. a site with some sort of contamination) which had been cleaned up. My response as a scientist was to ask about what the contaminants were and what the clean up consisted up. In general I felt that if the parents and children were aware of the situation, and there were no obvious routes of exposure, that this particular site was fine for soccer. but I also felt some fear as a mother saying that and made sure that my child practiced good hygiene when playing at this site.

I think we need to try to educate ourselves as much as possible without succoming to fear -- and model for children and our communities working towards healthier environments for humans and other organisms.


As a parent what can I do to protect my kids from background toxicity?

Obviously I understand it will depend where I live but assume I live in a progressive western economy.

chuckademus

One important way is to get to know farmers and growers near you; learn how they manqge their farm and how they handle produce; and support the efforts of those you are comfortable with. Not only will you get better tasting food that has fewer pesticides, but you will also develop a sense of community. If you have suitable space, try growing some of your own vegetables as this will also provide useful education to your kids about where food comes from.


As a parent what can I do to protect my kids from background toxicity?

Obviously I understand it will depend where I live but assume I live in a progressive western economy.

chuckademus

As said previously, food and air are major routes of human exposure to chemicals and there are plenty of ways to reduce exposure. Another source of chemicals are personal care products. While personal hygiene is great, so you should critically revisit which cosmetics you use. There ways to avoid products containing mineral oils, parabens, phthalates and other chemicals you do not want to get in contacts with. Check http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ for US infos.


Hello! Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA! I'm currently a student at a relatively competitive university studying public health and sociology. However I'm pretty lost in terms of where in the broad field of public health I want to enter! What would you guys say is a good field to enter in terms of financial stability and benefit to society?

OrdinaryParkBench

Getting people to change their behaviors to support environmental well being and the general public is one of the biggest challenges. There are many government agencies, think tanks, and NGOs that are looking to the social sciences for guidance on this topic.


Hello! Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA! I'm currently a student at a relatively competitive university studying public health and sociology. However I'm pretty lost in terms of where in the broad field of public health I want to enter! What would you guys say is a good field to enter in terms of financial stability and benefit to society?

OrdinaryParkBench

Hi OPB, One of the emerging fields is microfluidics and the other is zebrafish eggs/larvae use in eco-tox field. I'd say you mix what you currently do and medical technology (e.g. biology and fine mechanics). That is part of broadening your view and become a multidisciplinary professional and on the side-way earn a good buck or two.


Thanks for taking time to answer question.

The drop in ocean pH as a consequence of increased atmospheric CO2 has been well described. However, I am not familiar with the terrestrial environment literature. Can anyone comment on the impact of decreasing pH in surface or ground water with respect to how it might change the chemical environment, either through enhanced weathering or other reactions?

Wrathchilde

Hi Wrathchilde

The negative effects of falling pH of terrestial waters has actually been a known issue for longer than ocean acidification - acid rain! While some of the effect of acid rain originates from dissolution of sulphur and nitrogen oxides to form sulphuric and nitric acids, there is a lesser proportion of this effect due to dissolution of carbon dioxide to form carbonic acid.

Again, most of the science of surface water acidification has focussed on sulphuric and nitric acids (as they are significantly stronger acids than carbonic), but the effects are the same.

One thing which is important to note is that freshwater ecosystems tend to be more robust in the face of changing conditions - it takes relatively little to change the pH of a river (indeed, the pH of many rivers can change with the time of day by as much as some of the worse-effected parts of the ocean), while changing the pH of an ocean requires a vast change in conditions - ocean organisms therefore tend to be less tolerant to rapidly-changing conditions.


Thank you for answering all of our questions.

Can you suggest a home water filtration kit, or items one should have in their home water filtration? I.e. UV lamp system, anthracite filters, micron filters etc.

urkellurker

Before we try to answer this question, what would the purpose of the filter be? Would you just want water as pure as possible, or is there anything in particular you're trying to achieve? For example, a UV lamp is only effective against biological contamination, which shouldn't be an issue if you have chlorinated water. In the EU I believe it is a requirement that all drinking water is UV-irradiated at the treatment plant...


Yes, I would mainly want the most pure water that the city provides to my home. And the extra filtration in my home would be just an added measure from over chlorination and other impurities.

urkellurker

Ok, so there are a few things to consider. This does really depend upon where you live, and what your local water quality is like. I'm lucky enough to have access to a full analytical lab, and I've been able to convince myself that my local tap water is sufficiently well treated that I don't have to worry about this. It's possible that your own local water has been tested by an independent laboratory, so I'd have a quick google to work out which water treatment plant your water is provided by and see if I could find any data.

It's important to realise that water treatment is always a tradeoff - water shouldn't be made too pure or it can start to cause some health issues - water with no minerals in it can be quite harmful! Indeed, at desalination plants which produce drinking water, they first produce completely pure water, and then they add a load of dissolved minerals back into it! If you filter your water, remember that you don't want to remove everything, you just need to remove sufficient to make it safe to drink.

I assume this question has partly been prompted by the Flint drinking water issue in the US, and this nicely frames my next point - metals are one of the hardest things to remove from drinking water. Generally, the most effective way of removing metals from drinking water is filtering through granular activated carbon (GAC) - this is commonly used in commercial water treatment plants. It's possible to purchase domestic GAC solutions (though I won't recommend any - I have no experience of the domestic variety, only the commercial solutions I'm familiar with).


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