Environmental toxicology

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About half of the lectures will focus on a variety of timely additional issues. In the practical part of the course you will use a set of experiments to identify two unkown chemicals based on their toxicity profiles. This will be presented both orally as well as in a small report. After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to: - summarise the most relevant terms, principles and methods in environmental toxicology; - distinguish the main sources and types of environmental pollutants and assess their potential environmental fate; - evaluate the characteristics of compounds, organisms and ecosystem for their consequences for environmental fate and effect propagation: - design and execute toxicological dose-response experiments in a comprehensive way and analyse and critically discuss the results written ; - create an experimental approach with meaningful endpoints to assess the environmental and human risk for a topical environmental contamination case;.

Lectures and the excursion will provide detailed information on the relevant topics of the course learning outcomes 1, 2 and 3. An intensive practical will enable to the students to acquire hands-on experience in designing, performing and analysing experimental dose-response studies learning outcome 4 and 5. Lectures and excursion will be assessed at the individual level by the exam.

Practical will be assessed by the written report and an oral presentation, group wise persons per group. The case simulation 4 persons will be performed in different and will be assessed by an poster presentation and a pitch presentation. Assessment will be based on two outcomes.

Walker, C. Principles of Ecotoxicology. ISBN Thus, in deciding whether to use a chemical, any identified risk has to be balanced against benefit in the context against which it is going to be used. For the use of chemicals in the natural environment this ratio can be more difficult and controversial usually due to uncertainty discussed below to compute.

Environmental Toxicology | Applied Ecology | NC State University

It is best addressed by ensuring that the risk part of the ratio is a small as possible, which leads to a need to have the best testing regimes that can be devised using current scientific knowledge. To achieve this, the chemical industry, the EU and national governments dedicate significant resources to assess the potential environmental toxicity of chemicals. Ultimately, the most important part of these three is the end user, who makes the ultimate call on whether to use a chemical, relying on the expertise of the industry and the regulator in providing and assessing toxicological risk, respectively and of course, their own analysis of the benefit.

At this point, three common and important toxicological terms must be introduced, these are hazard, exposure and risk. Consider again for a moment, Socrates. At the time of his execution, he held in his hand a vial containing Hemlock.

Hemlock affects the nervous system; thus, it is a hazardous poison, but it is contained within a vial and as such, it does not pose a risk. It becomes a risk when Socrates drinks it because at this point, exposure occurs. When there is both hazard and exposure, then there is risk.

Environmental Toxicology

Those chemicals with the greatest hazard potential, usually interact very specifically with a critical part of a biological system. Those having the greatest exposure, are often those released without control into the environment. The absence of either hazard or exposure removes the risk.

Master’s Programme in Environmental Science: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ES-ETC)

Toxicology concerns itself with assessing and reducing the hazard, so risk management concentrates on reducing or eliminating exposure. Both are effective in reducing risk. A chemical in the environment is not hazardous if it has no interaction with any biological component of that environment and, thus, does not perturb the homeostasis normal equilibrium of the environment.

Environmental Toxicology

Similarly, if a chemical is used but not released into the environment, it does not pose a risk though risk management would include in this case, an assessment of accidental release. An environmental risk occurs only when a chemical has an adverse effect on the environment hazard and is released into that environment exposure. Therefore, we can define risk as the product of exposure and hazard, which is the essence of toxicology.

We cannot quite stop there though. There are two further factors that need to be taken into account when assessing risk and these can be amongst the most challenging facing the environment and indeed human health, as well as the toxicologist. These factors are both time and uncertainty. It is fairly apparent that the longer a chemical is in an environment, the greater the probability and likely magnitude of exposure is. Once released into an environment, a chemical may start to degrade.

This can be a slow or rapid process, or any time in between. Additionally, alterations of the chemical may take place in the environment from the actions of species in that environment, such as microorganisms.


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These processes may remove a chemical from an environment but can produce new forms that also have their own hazard properties that may be greater or less than the parent chemical. Therefore, part of the work of the environmental toxicologist is to assess what happens to a chemical in the environment, over what time frame and how this changes the risk.

Arguably, this is the greatest challenge for the environmental toxicologist. No testing is perfect, no assessment of exposure is perfect.

Environmental toxicology

Both have uncertainties associated with them that can be due to measurement or biological uncertainty, often arising from an incomplete understanding of the exposed biological system. For this reason, testing methods and existing risk assessments need to be continually re-visited as scientific understanding advances to determine how new measurement technology or a greater understanding affects the assessment of risk.

For example, a notable current challenge in the field of environmental toxicology is the question as to whether current standardised test methods have greater uncertainties associated with them when used for new materials, such as chemicals in nano form nanomaterials , microplastics and polymers.

If the uncertainty of the testing method is too great for these new materials, then the data obtained is not fit for purpose. Similarly, there are questions about the appropriateness of current approaches in the field to assess the degradation of chemicals in the environment and, therefore, the time factor of the exposure assessment.