Copy of presentation from SETAC annual meeting in Barcelona

Below you find a copy of my presentation from this year’s SETAC meeting in Barcelona. The corresponding report – which is hopefully easier to understand than a couple of slides – will be published by the Swedish Chemicals Agency in the near future. I’ll post a link as soon as it is available.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions!

Chemical Risk Assessment – a tightrope walk between science, stakeholders and common sense

Hm…what do you get when you start as the first speaker? Yeah, non-functional audio (microphone). My apologies, you have to crank up the volume quite a bit, hope it’s understandable…

The talk was given at the annual workshop of the Food Packaging Forum, you’ll find the compilation of all presentations here.


Final Marine Paint Conference in Gothenburg

We presented the results of the Marine Paint programme at its final conference here in Gothenburg at the beginning of this week. And we also took the opportunity to discuss things with a couple of journalists. So, if you can follow Swedish, here’s the pressrelease from the University and the corresponding article in Göteborgs Posten, the local newspaper.

If you prefer German, here’s the interview that I did with Deutschlandfunk:


We’ll post an English summary of the conference on our homepage soon.


Last week’s ECETOC workshop on mixture toxicity

ecetoc ECETOC, the European Centre for Ecotoxicology and Toxicology of Chemicals, conducted a 2-day workshop on mixture toxicity and risk assessment last week in Berlin. Around 80 (my estimate) toxicologists and ecotoxicologists, coming from industry (obviously the majority), academia  and regulation. The first day was occupied with a collection of presentations on various topics, covering (amongst others) the recently published WHO/ICPS workshop report, the MCR (maximum cumulative ratio) concept, the draft opinion of the EU Scientific Committees on mixture toxicity assessment, and several case studies.

I had the honor of chairing one of the breakout groups on the second day (on mixture toxicity assessment), together with Prof. Alan Boobis from the Imperial College in London. The group was actually a bit big for being really productive and additionally, the participants certainly had different backgrounds and interests. So, we didn’t invent the wheel during those 3 hours, but it was certainly a highly interesting exchange of thoughts and perspectives. The workshop organizers are currently preparing a report on those two days, I’ll provide more details and perhaps some comments as soon as that text is publically available.

I came across a couple of concepts during the workshop that I really need to wrap my brain around. Food for thought – althought this beautiful summer weather certainly doesn’t help focussing… 😉 Where’s my camera?


SETAC Europe Meeting 2011 in Milan

ra summaryAlthough it’s already a couple of weeks in the past: I’m still going through all the follow-up tasks from the SETAC Europe meeting in Milan in May. Oh well… didn’t a wise man say that the journey is the reward?

Anyway, although exhausting it was great to meet lots of old friends and acquaintances, getting to know new people, making new plans, reviewing (or being reminded of) old ideas  – and generally not getting enough sleep. Fun!

SETAC actually put a lot of the meeting slides online, at

I had the honor of giving the final summary of the talks and topics related to the “risk assessment” theme. In 15 minutes. Summarizing 12 session “offically” dedicated to risk assessment, countless others that touched upon the subject one way or another, hundreds of related posters and some keynote lectures. Meaning, that this was simply an impossible task. I could not even highlight most issues on a general scale – and it certainly was a very biased, personal summary. My sincere apologies to everybody I didn’t mention, for every topic that I didn’t list.

Anyway, if you’re interested to see how I tried to wiggle my way through: here’s a copy of the slides. Enjoy!

See you next year in Berlin! And don’t forget to submit a session proposal until the 15th of August… 😉


Summary of the SETAC Special Science Symposium on Chemical Mixtures

SETAC_SESSS03Ok, it’s been a while. Time for some updates…

Let me start with a quick summary of the recent Special Science Symposium that I organized with my colleagues Nina Cedergreen and Tom Hutchinson. You find PDF-copies of all presentations here and some photos here.

What I really enjoyed (besides the science and meeting colleagues and friends): we decided to actually give people enought time to spin their story – and the presenters took up the challenge. We hence had really engaging talks, which were also accessible for an audience who did not share the office with the presenter for the last 10 years (I I often have the impression that this is the target audience for ordinary talks at SETAC conferences ). And the scope was really broad! From amored combat vehicles to white unicorns

Anyway, here’s the summary which will also appear in SETACs Globe in April.

3rd SETAC Europe Special Science Symposium “Prospective and Retrospective Environmental Risk Assessment of Mixtures: Moving from Research to Regulation”

Thomas Backhaus, Nina Cedergreen, Tom Hutchinson

Chemical-analytical surveys demonstrate that organisms in the environment are exposed to complex chemical mixtures. Recent eco-epidemiology studies indicate that the ‘toxic pressure’ due to chemical mixtures is correlated with reduced biodiversity in river catchments. Also chemical products, such as e.g. pesticides or surfactants are usually combination products, comprising active ingredients, preservatives, filling agents, etc. However, the environmental effects of chemicals are traditionally evaluated and regulated on the basis of single substances, chemical by chemical. This approach might not be sufficient, especially because the toxicity of a mixture of chemicals is usually higher than each of the individual substances.

In December 2009 the EU environment ministers therefore asked the European Commission to strengthen its work on managing the risks posed by chemical mixtures. In parallel, a range of reviews, guidelines and recommendations on how to assess risks of chemical mixtures have been compiled by academic working groups as well as national, European and international bodies (e.g. WHO or EFSA).

In order to provide an overview of the state of the art and to facilitate knowledge exchange between scientists from different disciplines, regulators and chemical industry, SETAC organized a 2-days Special Science Symposium on the issue, which was held in Brussels, 2-3 February 2011. Presentations were given by a range of well-known experts from environmental regulation, ecotoxicological risk assessment, human health oriented toxicology, analytical environmental chemistry. Approaches to mixture risk assessment were discussed from a retrospective as well as a prospective perspective. Retrospective studies were discussed with the aim to identify key components in a given mixture or exposure scenario, e.g. a river catchment or waste disposal site. Prospective studies on the other hand were presented with a view on predicting mixture toxicities, based on the toxicological or ecotoxicological properties of the mixture components (often termed the mode of action or MOA approach), with the aim to e.g. set environmental quality standards. All presenters kindly agreed to make copies of their presentations available from SETAC’s website at
Obviously, the different risk assessment areas have different protection goals. However, common ground was identified in several aspects:

  1. Concentration Addition seems to be suitable for providing a scientific frame of reference and as a slightly conservative, first tier approach for mixture hazard and risk assessment in human toxicology as well as ecotoxicology. Results from such a tier might be especially useful for informing the need for additional, more in-depth study of a particular mixture.
  2. Surprisingly little is known on the actual exposure to mixtures. Hence it is currently unclear by how much the current compound-per-compound assessment, incorporating assessment factors derived for these individual substances, might (or might not) underestimate actual environmental risks.
  3. Chemical mixtures in the environmental are a special challenge for environmental risk assessment and regulation, particularly because of its organization in highly specialized silos. A clear need for overarching approaches was identified.

Last but certainly not least, we would like to take the opportunity to thank all the presenters for their time and their engaging talks! It was certainly rewarding to be around…

The oil spill.. and update on the recent developments (sort of)

I guess, most has really been said, discussed and denied concerning the oil spill. But, as a European, I still find it highly interesting to follow the actions and reactions in the US. And who could put an overview of the current developments together better than Patrik Stewart? So, here are two recent clips from The Daily Show. Laugh’ or Cry? Your choice…


The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Day 59 – Judgment Day – The Strife Aquatic
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Day 62 – The Strife Aquatic
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

The ”cocktail effect” is one of the main challenges in chemical regulation, EU Commissioner Stavros Dimas says

The Helsinki Chemicals Forum has organised a conference in May 2009. In his opening speech EU Commissioner for the Environment, Stavros Dimas said that

While REACH considers the effects of single substances, the fact is that we are most commonly exposed to a cocktail of many different substances. This is an area in which important gaps remain in terms of knowledge and assessment. These gaps need to be closed in the coming years.

I couldn’ agree more.

Other challenges that were specifically mentioned included endocrine disrupters and nanotechnology. No surprises there.

The whole transcript of the talk is downloadable as a PDF here. There is also a video of the speech online.

On a slightly different subject: from where I’m sitting, the website is a good example of how not to put together a site for the dissemination of (scientific) information. Simply because it does not provide any background information whatsoever on who is behind this “Helsinki Chemicals Forum”. How is one supposed to assess the quality, reliability and possible bias in the informations presented on the site? Of course, the names of the individual presenters speak for themselves, but it would still be nice to get an idea of who organised the event, why and what the long-term goals are.

When you are lucky, you manage to find the small “Organizer” button, where it then simply states:

HCF (the Helsinki Chemicals Forum) is organised by the Chemicals Forum Association, with partners such as City of Helsinki, European Chemical Agency, Chemical Industry Federation of Finland and University of Helsinki

How much does that tell? I would like to have seen a website of this “Chemical Forum Association”, a contact email, some names… So that I can make up my mind of the agenda of the Forum. Google’ing helps a bit – but why the heck do I have to hunt down those informations, instead of having them presented to me?

Here is some more information. And what do you find?

The organising power behind Helsinki Chemicals Forum is a non-profit organisation Chemicals Forum Association. The city of Helsinki, European Chemicals Agency, the Finnish Chemical Industry Association and Helsinki University are important partners of the Forum.

Great – still no solid information. Not even a full list of the partners behind the Forum, only the “important” ones (makes one wonder what makes an “unimportant” partner). And when you click on the provided link on the bottom of the page ( you are simply transferred back to the conference site itself (which seems to be run by the conference center).

Some room for improvement…