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Environmental Factor, January 2013

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Papers explore chemical risk assessment in light of climate change

By Ed Kang

Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry cover
John Balbus, M.D.

Balbus has taken the lead in NIEHS global health initiatives, including participation in the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A new series of papers, by leading experts in ecology, toxicology, and public health, explores the issues surrounding chemical risk assessment and management, in light of a changing global climate. Published online Dec. 18, 2012, the papers appear in the January 2013 issue of the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C). The seven publications detail the ways climate change might affect how chemicals are transported and cause toxicity to ecosystems and humans, and consequently how chemical risk assessment and management practices may have to be adapted.

“Risk assessors and public health practitioners need to understand how climate change may alter chemical risks to people in the future,” said one of the papers’ lead authors John Balbus, M.D., who is leading the NIEHS Global Environmental Health and Sustainable Development projects. “Existing data sources and assumptions used in exposure and risk assessment may not apply. Environmental health researchers and risk assessors will need to consider interactions between climate-related stressors and chemical stressors and other ways that future risks may be changing,” he added.

In their report, Balbus and his co-authors detail four broad groups of chemicals — natural toxins, pesticides, air pollutants, and legacy contaminants, such as dioxins, PCBs, and mercury — to illustrate the impact of climate change on the likelihood and severity of chemical insults to human health.

The authors call for research to inform how chemical use may change in the future; improved data sets and models to determine human exposure; focus on understanding how climate, weather, and human sensitivity interact; and refinement of regulatory models to utilize updated risk assessment and chemical management programs. They underscore that future projections of chemical risks will also need to explore how factors, including heat stress, psychosocial factors, urbanization, demographic shifts, and technology development, can potentially impact exposure, human susceptibility, and risk.

The authors conclude, “The potential cumulative impacts of multiple influences could significantly alter risks to human health. These alterations in risks have implications for national and international decision-makers involved in the regulation and authorization of chemical products.”

The series of seven papers stems from a Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) international workshop held in July 2011 and sponsored by NIEHS and the NIEHS Superfund Research Program. In an editorial accompanying the release of the publications, ET&C Editor-in-Chief Allen Burton, Ph.D., notes, “This collection of peer-reviewed papers represents the consensus of expert participants from across academia, government, and business.”

“The papers tackle the impacts of global climate change on chemical contaminants, organism acclimation, and vulnerable communities, as important considerations for future assessments of human and ecological risk,” the editorial states.

(Ed Kang is a public affairs specialist in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a frequent contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

The following publications in this series can be located on the ET&C website:

Balbus JM, Boxall AB, Fenske RA, McKone TE, Zeise L. 2013. Implications of Global Climate Change for the Assessment and Management of Human Health Risks of Chemicals in the Natural Environment. Environ Toxicol Chem 32(1):62-78.

Gouin T, Armitage JM, Cousins IT, Muir DC, Ng CA, Reid L, Tao S. 2013. Influence of Global Climate Change on Chemical Fate and Bioaccumulation: The Role of Multimedia Models. Environ Toxicol Chem 32(1):20-31.

Hooper MJ, Ankley GT, Cristol DA, Maryoung LA, Noyes PD, Pinkerton KE. 2013. Interactions Between Chemical and Climate Stressors: A Role for Mechanistic Toxicology in Assessing Climate Change Risks. Environ Toxicol Chem 32(1):32-48.

Landis WG, Durda JL, Brooks ML, Chapman PM, Menzie CA, Stahl RG, Stauber JL. 2013. Ecological Risk Assessment in the Context of Global Climate Change. Environ Toxicol Chem 32(1):79-92.

Moe SJ, De Schamphelaere K, Clements WH, Sorensen MT, Van den Brink PJ, Liess M. 2013. Combined and Interactive Effects of Global Climate Change and Toxicants on Populations and Communities. Environ Toxicol Chem 32(1):49-61.

Rohr JR, Johnson P, Hickey CW, Helm RC, Fritz A, Brasfield S.  2013. Implications of Global Climate Change for Natural Resource Damage Assessment, Restoration, and Rehabilitation. Environ Toxicol Chem 32(1):93-101.

Stahl RG, Hooper MJ, Balbus JM, Clements W, Fritz A, Gouin T, Helm R, Hickey C, Landis W, Moe SJ. 2013. The Influence of Global Climate Change on the Scientific Foundations and Applications of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry: Introduction to a SETAC International Workshop. Environ Toxicol Chem 32(1):13-19.

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