Mitigating the risk of micropollutants in the environment

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Civil Engineering and Geosciences

Abstract

The vision of this research is to achieve a chemical safe world where the benefits of modern products and processes can be enjoyed by all without undue detriment to the planetary ecosystem on which all life depends. It aims to improve our understanding and prediction of a key uncertainty (i.e. microbial biotransformation) that underpins ways in which society can reduce the risks posed by potentially hazardous chemicals to environmental and human health. Such chemicals are manufactured and present in many everyday products that benefit the health and well-being of consumers world-wide, and the economic prosperity and productivity of societies, examples include: personal care, domestic and hygiene products; pesticides; pharmaceuticals; and plastics. Environmental and human exposure to these chemicals can occur throughout the life cycle of a product; from its manufacture, distribution and use, to exposure after disposal and breakdown of the product. There has been widespread concern about the pervasive use of chemicals and their potential dangerous side-effects on wildlife and humans ever since Rachel Carson's landmark book in 1962 about the environmental hazards of the pesticide DDT. For instance, the 'feminising' effects on fish populations caused by low concentrations of natural and synthetic estrogens (e.g. in the contraceptive pill) and their chemical mimics (so-called micropollutants) is well publicised. It is widely suspected, though not proven, that many micropollutants are linked to cancers, reproductive and developmental diseases in humans. In fact there has been a relative rise in the incidence of such chronic diseases in the last two decades, making them surpass infectious diseases as the biggest global killer. These facts together with other case studies of environmental, occupational and consumer hazards, have led the European Union to enact the precautionary principle in a number of comprehensive legislative directives including chemical regulation and management of the water environment to protect the environment and human health. Analysis has shown that the benefit of such measures far out way their costs.The ways in which we can reduce risks to these chemicals are: i) by identifying hazardous chemicals and restricting their manufacture, distribution and use more effectively - so called chemical regulationii) by improving engineered technologies to remove hazardous chemical pollutants when they are released into the environment e.g. wastewater treatment worksiii) designing chemicals that have no hazardous properties - so called green chemicals . Microbial biotransformations, such as biodegradation by bacteria, play a direct and key role in each of these risk reduction strategies. In chemical regulation (i above), biodegradation is one of the most important factors in determining the extent and likelihood that a given chemical will persist in the environment (air, water, soil and sediment) and therefore the likely concentration to which wildlife and humans will be exposed. Known hazardous (toxic) chemicals tend to persist longer than non-hazardous ones. Biodegradation is also a central process in which many engineered technologies remove chemical pollutants (ii above). We also need to evaluate biodegradation in order to understand what chemical structures are resistant to biodegradation, and thereby avoid their use in the design of new products (iii above). This research has two objectives towards providing greater certainty and improvements in risk mitigation strategies:1. To build a world class team to tackle this challenging issue.2. To discover the fundamental rules that govern micropollutant biotransformation through case studies.The research will benefit policy-makers, governmental regulatory agencies, the chemical and water industries, and eventually the whole of society as this scientific understanding improves ways in which chemical risks are managed.

Planned Impact

Our project partners will benefit most immediately from the research as they will have greater access to the knowledge and data that we generate, the expertise and facilities we possess, and the technologies and tools that we develop. Our project partners are; - AstraZeneca (in particular their regulatory ecotoxicology lab, Brixham Environmental Laboratory), which is a world-leading pharmaceutical company; - Northumbrian Water Ltd., a large water and sewerage service provider; - Unilever, a global domestic, personal, and food-product company; and - UK Water Industry Research Ltd., an organisation subscribed by UK water operators to facility research on one voice issues. The other primary beneficiaries of the research will be other chemical and water industries, their representatives (e.g. UKWIR, the European Chemical Industries Council), their governmental regulators (e.g. the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive, and Defra in the UK), and decision-makers in the UK and elsewhere. The immediate wider tangible benefits of the research will be: 1. greater dialogue between the chemical and water industry and their regulators 2. a knowledge base with which to; o improve the prioritisation, screening and hazard classification of chemicals, through a combination of improved internationally-recognised regulatory tests, strategies and predictive models o reduce micropollutant pollution with little or no extra energy/carbon costs by effectively operating existing wastewater treatment works or appropriate cost-effective decisions on investing in new technologies o provide sound evidence for better decision-making (policy) on appropriate micropollutant mitigation strategies o generate an information database of the effect that chemical structures have on the fate of micropollutants 3. the provision of highly qualified, skilled and interdisciplinary environmental engineers and scientists trained to lead organisations and take on future societal challenges In the medium to long term this will lead to: 1. new information, guidance, tools (e.g. software/computer models) and technologies (water and wastewater treatment) to better manage the risks posed by chemicals. 2. greener chemicals that have the beneficial functions required for the consumer, without any of the detrimental side-effects to the environment or human health. This could be a source of economic prosperity for chemical and water industries, and regulators in the UK and elsewhere. Some of our partners are international but UK based companies that are well placed to be at the forefront of such benefits. Overall it should improve the competitiveness of UK and international chemical companies operating in the European Union by streamlining the manufacture of chemicals in favour of less hazardous ones. In the long-term our science will help to implement the precautionary principle in a sustainable way with respect to chemical hazards thus: 1. improving the environment in which we live, thereby reducing costs to clean it up 2. improving the health, wealth and well-being of society as a consequence of preventative measures to reduce risks to health and the environment posed by hazardous chemicals.

Publications

10 25 50

 
Description The main objectives of this research were i) to build a research team that both improve research capacity, knowledge and expertise in the field of micropollutant risk mitigation.
ii) develop a strategy through case studies with which to understand the rules that govern micropollutant biotransformation through: discovering genes involved in micropollutant degradation; developing predictive models for biodegradation; examining the extent of micropollutants in low to middle income countries; investigating and developing sustainable engineering solutions to help reduce micropollutant concentrations; and provide expert dialogue with academia, industry and regulators.

The project was aimed at gathering scientific evidence in three areas of risk mitigation;
i) identifying hazardous (persistent) chemicals and restricting their manufacture, distribution and use more effectively - so called chemical regulation
ii) improving engineered technologies to remove hazardous chemical pollutants when they are released into the environment e.g. wastewater treatment works
iii) designing chemicals that have no hazardous properties - so called "green chemicals"

The Challenging Engineering award allowed the building of a research group and the development of allied research (objective 1). The award certainly helped to provide the impetus to win further research awards and the research group peaked at 15 members during the award. Four postgraduate students directly linked to the project successfully gained their PhDs and further allied student project also gained a PhD. Some prior members developed or are developing their own independent research paths in allied topics in the same of other research institutes. Others have followed a career into environmental policy and the pharmaceutical industry.

Many of the objectives under objective 2 have been met, though some of the formal outputs are yet to be published, since the postgraduate student research periods extended beyond the official project end or because further research evidence was needed. These will be forthcoming in the current year and beyond.

Progress was made on identifying genes important in estrogen degradation through a combination of bioinformatics approaches, with some good evidence of their role in the biodegradation pathway (publications currently in draft). The same strategy could be used to identify putative genes involved in other biodegradation pathways. The natural and synthetic estrogens are some of those micropollutants for which there is currently much evidence of their potent effect on biota and the environment. Two of the estrogens are the first natural hormone and pharmaceutical chemicals for which there is prospective legislation limiting their concentration in water bodies.

We have investigated how flow patterns in existing wastewater treatment plants could be modified relatively inexpensively to help reduce the concentrations of the estrogens and other pollutants in receiving watercourses to values below the prospective legislation (publication submitted). This may circumvent or reduce the need of expensive and energy-intensive additional treatments that are currently being piloted for implementation. We have also shown that microbial diversity plays an important role in the ability of different wastewater treatment plants to degrade some estrogens.

We have developed statistical models that can predict how different chemical structures influence biodegradation rates (publications under review) and how it relates to the catabolic potential of an environment determined through the abundance of catabolic genes (publication drafted). Such models may be useful in replacing expensive laboratory biodegradation tests required for the regulatory registration of chemicals.

We have studied the fate of different classes of micropollutant through three different types of wastewater treatment plant in Brazil (a low to middle income country). This is one of the first few studies to examine the fate of micropollutants in South America and to compare micropollutant fate in low energy and energy-intensive wastewater treatment technologies.

We have made significant progress in the improvement of the reliability of biodegradation screening tests for identifying persistent chemicals, which could help to reduce unnecessary further fish testing and other costly tests. This would help to identify those chemicals of most concern to human health and the environment quicker.
Exploitation Route Through further research council funding and specific research collaborations with industry and regulators. Applications to introduce new tests into international regulation.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Environment

 
Description The Challenging Engineering award has been used alongside other funding from the Eurpean Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) to further develop more accurate and reliable tests that screen chemicals for their potential to be persistent in the environment - a recognised hazard for which chemicals can be regulated under the Registration Evaluation Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH) directive. Current tests result in many false negative results from chemicals that then require further expensive testing and the use of fish testing. We estimate that our test, if used, could save more than 600 fish and approximately $75,000 for each false negative chemical that avoids further unnecessary testing. The science has been published and further cited in regulatory guidance documents and technical documents from regulatory agencies and non-governmental organisations. Part of this research has resulted in a new screening test for chemical persistence in seawater that is receiving strong support by the UK authorities for submission as a new test guideline in two separate recommending bodies that authorise international standard tests for regulatory use, i.e. the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD; supported by Defra) and the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) Commission (supported by Cefas). Submission of evidence and an application to the OECD and OSPAR is awaiting further academic publication and further support from other member states. These are likely to take place in late 2019 and early 2020, respectively.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Chemicals,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Citation in German Environment Agency technical review/report
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/23047722/ir_csa_r7b_pbt_caracal_draft_en.pdf/1526c738-afa2-8b...
 
Description Citation in regulatory guidance document for chemical risk and hazard assessment
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/13632/information_requirements_r7b_en.pdf
 
Description Bright IDEAS
Amount £248,333 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/M017737/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2015 
End 12/2017
 
Description British Council Newton Fund
Amount £80,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 331945729 
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2018 
End 03/2020
 
Description CEFIC LRi extension award
Amount £146,709 (GBP)
Funding ID ECO11.2 
Organisation International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) 
Department European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC)
Sector Private
Country Belgium
Start 11/2016 
End 07/2017
 
Description Cefic LRi
Amount € 50,000 (EUR)
Funding ID ECO11.2 
Organisation International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) 
Department European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC)
Sector Private
Country Belgium
Start 01/2016 
End 04/2016
 
Description DST UKIERI Thematic Partnership
Amount £26,000 (GBP)
Funding ID IND/CONT.G/17-18/48 
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2018 
End 03/2020
 
Description EPSRC Impact Acceleration Award
Amount £70,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2019 
End 11/2019
 
Description EPSRC STREAM EngD/Industrial
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation Northumbrian Water 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 09/2020
 
Description EPSRC STREAM EngD/Industrial
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation Northumbrian Water 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2011 
End 09/2016
 
Description EU Marie Sklodowska-Curie Global Fellowship
Amount £172,353 (GBP)
Funding ID 660815 (ReArrhenius) 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 04/2016 
End 03/2019
 
Description Follow-on industrial funding extension
Amount £88,000 (GBP)
Organisation AstraZeneca 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2017 
End 10/2017
 
Description Global Innovation Initiative
Amount £150,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2014 
End 03/2017
 
Description IMAGINE: INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES FOR RAPIDLY SURVEYING, MAPPING AND COMMUNICATING WATERBORNE HAZARDS
Amount £477,153 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P028527/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2017 
End 04/2020
 
Description Industrial funding
Amount £181,942 (GBP)
Organisation AstraZeneca 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2014 
End 04/2016
 
Description Institute of Agri-Food Research Innovation studentship
Amount £57,880 (GBP)
Organisation Fera Science Limited 
Sector Multiple
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 09/2019
 
Description Institute of Agri-Food Research Innovation studentship
Amount £58,000 (GBP)
Organisation Fera Science Limited 
Sector Multiple
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 09/2021
 
Description Internal Studentship - Joint bioinformatics for micropollutant degradation pathways
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Organisation Newcastle University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 09/2018
 
Description Promoting the use of next generation sequence technologies for soil quality assessment and environmental monitoring
Amount £25,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2011 
End 06/2012
 
Description Royal Society International Exchange
Amount £120,000 (GBP)
Funding ID IEC\R3\183073 
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 03/2021
 
Description Strategic Equipment Process
Amount £1,196,635 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P001564/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2016 
End 06/2019
 
Description Collaboration with AstraZeneca 
Organisation AstraZeneca
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Investigating the development of a high throughput biodegradation screening assay
Collaborator Contribution Provided funding chemical expertise and regulatory knowledge
Impact Publication (see publications)
Start Year 2014
 
Description Collaboration with Northumbrian Water Ltd 
Organisation Northumbrian Water
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We will carry out sampling and hydraulic tracer studies on Northumbrian Water Ltd (NWL) sites.
Collaborator Contribution They have provided H&S training and access to any of the sites we wish to visit and data on flows, tank sizes and design data.
Impact None as yet.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Collaboration with Synthetic Biologists 
Organisation Newcastle University
Department School of Computing Science
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are sharing information on estrogen degradation and performing biodegradation, bioinformatics and chemicals analyses in collaboration.
Collaborator Contribution They provide genetic engineering, bioinformatics and microbiology skills
Impact None
Start Year 2014
 
Description Collaboration with Unilever 
Organisation Unilever
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Liaison with Unilever and IITDelhi to co-ordinate a workshop around environmental risk assessment in India.
Collaborator Contribution Unilever are sponsoring the workshop and have been responsible for jointly leading the organisation of the workshop
Impact Workshop to take place in April 2016
Start Year 2015
 
Description Development of improved OECD 306 ring test 
Organisation Centre For Environment, Fisheries And Aquaculture Science
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We presented data on enhancing microbial inocula concentrations and how it can improve the reliability of biodegradation tests.
Collaborator Contribution A workshop was held at Cefas with help from an organising committee that included AstraZeneca, Shell, Cefas and ECETOC. Through their contacts we were able to engage about 40 participants from several international Contract Research Organisations and environmental regulators.
Impact Further funding from Cefic LRi has been won to further develop the ring-test. Further funding is being sought with 14 CROs interested in making an in-kind contribution to the ring-test.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Development of improved OECD 306 ring test 
Organisation European Centre for Ecotoxicology and Toxicology of Chemicals (ECETOC)
Country Belgium 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We presented data on enhancing microbial inocula concentrations and how it can improve the reliability of biodegradation tests.
Collaborator Contribution A workshop was held at Cefas with help from an organising committee that included AstraZeneca, Shell, Cefas and ECETOC. Through their contacts we were able to engage about 40 participants from several international Contract Research Organisations and environmental regulators.
Impact Further funding from Cefic LRi has been won to further develop the ring-test. Further funding is being sought with 14 CROs interested in making an in-kind contribution to the ring-test.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Development of improved OECD 306 ring test 
Organisation Shell International Petroleum
Department Shell UK Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We presented data on enhancing microbial inocula concentrations and how it can improve the reliability of biodegradation tests.
Collaborator Contribution A workshop was held at Cefas with help from an organising committee that included AstraZeneca, Shell, Cefas and ECETOC. Through their contacts we were able to engage about 40 participants from several international Contract Research Organisations and environmental regulators.
Impact Further funding from Cefic LRi has been won to further develop the ring-test. Further funding is being sought with 14 CROs interested in making an in-kind contribution to the ring-test.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Mitigation of risks from emerging hazards: Integration of field training, energy-conserving waste treatment and next-generation sequencing technologies. 
Organisation British Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Workshops, training events, sampling and small feasibility study. EPSRC Impact funding through Newcastle University to: ? To strengthen the collaboration that exists between NU and IITD, ? Broaden the exchange of knowledge and skills training between the two organisations ? Disseminate such knowledge to industry and regulators in both the UK and India. ? The preparation of at least one very high impact academic publication and promotional material to highlight successful UK-India initiatives.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Research collaboration with EAWAG 
Organisation Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology
Department Department Environmental Chemistry
Country Switzerland 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution My postdoc wrote an EU Marie Skladowska Curie Global Fellowship proposal to investigate how microbial community environmental adaptation effects the application of standard Arrhenius temperature corrections factors to biodegradation rates. I approach Dr. Kathrin Fenner an ERC Fellow investigating biodegradation rates. The postdoc will take skills in molecular microbiology and next-generation sequencing to conduct experiments in EAWAG, Switzerland for two years before returning for one year to Newcastle.
Collaborator Contribution Dr. Kathrin Fenner and Dr. David Johnson agreed to host the postdoc and bring expertise in environmental chemistry, Bayesian estimation modelling and microbial ecology.
Impact No outputs as yet - formal collaboration will start in April - see Further Funding for the award and amount.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Cefic-ECHA workshop on Persistence 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Co-organiser and invited presenter at a Cefic-sponsored event co-hosted with the Environment Chemicals Agency that regulates chemicals in the EU. The workshop provided opportunity to present new scientific advances on the science of understanding chemical persistence in the environment to a mainly regulatory audience, with time for discussion and feedback.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://cefic-lri.org/events/cefic-lri-concawe-workshop-on-recent-developments-in-science-supportive-...
 
Description Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A workshop was held to disseminate findings from an allied Cefic LRi project ring-test towards a new international biodegradation test for persistence in the regulation of chemicals. Other presenters were invited from industry and other academic institutes. Audience members included regulators, industry, contract research organisations and academia. There were structured breakout discussions.

The event came from some work partially completed on the Challenging Engineering award for the mitigation of micropllutants at manufacturing source.

A workshop report will be drafted and there was an overwhelming consensus that the new method should be submitted as an international standard test guideline to the OECD.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://cefic-lri.org/events/ring-test-oecd-306-workshop/