The aim of this programme is to carry out research to predict how the environment will respond to chemical exposure. Research will focus on the impacts of chemicals on populations and ecosystems, and on chemicals (and chemical mixtures) whose environmental impacts have not been explored.
The Emerging Risks of Chemicals in the Environment (ERCITE) programme aims to conduct research to predict how the environment and its functioning will respond to chemical exposure. The anticipated outcome is a transformation in the way chemical risk assessment is considered, to move towards an ecosystems approach with greater ecological relevance.
There are many tens of thousands of chemicals that we use in our homes, industries and food systems. The market is growing by about 2,000 new compounds per year. Chemical use is dynamic. Looking to the future, the changing demographics of a population that is rising across the world (and, in developed countries, an increasingly ageing and medicated population) will lead to:
- more drugs discharged through the water systems
- new effluents and pressures due to changing agricultural practices, energy and material needs new pest and disease pressures and increasing resistance to products altering agrochemical and veterinary product use
- the development of novel chemistries potentially driven by green chemistry
- a change in how we use products and manage waste streams due to a focus on recycling and reuse.
Complex interactions with natural processes control the persistence and fate of chemicals entering the environment. Ecosystems are exposed to combinations of chemical mixtures and other environmental stressors and environmental changes. There has been considerable research on the potential impacts of exposure on individual organisms. However, understanding dynamic, complex and long-term exposure, and the implications for ecosystems and the services they provide, remains uncertain and difficult to predict.
There is also ongoing biodiversity loss and other evidence of environmental degradation, and the contribution chemicals make towards this is unknown. Human exposure to chemicals through the environment (such as through drinking water or the food chain) can result in unpredicted but important impacts. An appreciation of the compounds humans are sensitive to is important to understand and manage chemicals in the environment.
This programme will help researchers understand the fundamental process underpinning chemical behaviour and its impact on the environment. It will also offer a predictive capability to support chemicals management, in three interlinked research questions:
- what are the impacts of chemicals on populations, ecosystems and ecosystem services?
- what are the risks from chemical mixtures?
- how important are chemical stressors in relation to other stressors?