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Horizon Scanning Project Results
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SETAC Global Horizon Scanning Project (GHSP) Results (2015)

Questions by Geographic Unit

Priority research questions submitted by SETAC membership to the SETAC Global Horizon Scanning Project starting December 2013 through the summer of 2015 are summarized by geographic unit below.


  • How can we overcome the lack of and access to equipment, consumables and facilities in order to enhance our environmental research output, integrity and intercontinental cooperation?
  • How can we enhance mentoring programs in increasing or building environmental science research and training capacity, and how do we develop innovative cross border collaboration with specialists in various environmental fields to fast track solutions to pressing environmental problems?
  • How do we develop capacity in environmental and health science education, communication and dissemination in order to raise awareness? 
  • How does climate change (extreme weather conditions, shifting of dry- wet seasons, etc) alter environmental risks of contaminant mixtures (e.g., pesticides, metals) to ecosystem integrity and services?
  • How can we assess and manage the cumulative effects of converging agricultural, mining and urbanization on aquatic (freshwater, marine) and terrestrial ecosystems, and human health?
  • How are African wildlife adversely affected by and how can they be protected from multiple stressors (e.g., habitat degradation, chemicals)?
  • How can environmental and health hazards caused by mining, hydraulic fracturing, and petroleum exploration waste be assessed and minimized in Africa?
  • What is the comparative impact of pesticides and GMO crops on non-target organisms and human health?
  • What are the human and ecological risks from various sources of waste (e.g., dumping of e-waste, hazardous and household waste, open burning, plastics, wastewater) in different African countries?
  •  How relevant is the application of international environmental quality standards and guidelines to African conditions?
  • How do we enhance regulations and guidelines in Africa with the use of existing and/or development of new risk assessment tools?
  • Where are susceptible ecosystems in Africa that deserve specific designation for protection now and in the future?
  • How can we identify hot spots of environmental impacts for remedial activities in Africa?
  • How can we employ existing or develop innovative methods and models for characterizing bioavailability of chemicals (organic, metabolites, inorganic, organometallics) in Africa?
  • How can we develop innovative methods and strategies for quantification of chemicals (organic, metabolites, inorganic, organometallics) in environmental media, human specimens and food in Africa?
  • What are the identities, characteristics and health and ecological risks of phyto- and mycotoxins in African food and water?
  • How can we integrate disease and poverty into human health risk assessments following exposure to environmental contaminants?
  • How will human health be affected by changes in the chemical use and production patterns due to global changes?
  • How can we select, use and manage chemicals for public health protection programs that minimise risk to human health and the environment but achieve desired health outcomes?
  • How do we leverage relevant  information into user friendly, freely available database and software interfaces to support environmental education, research, and risk assessment and management?
  • What are the risks of irrigating with wastewater and other water reuse practices on soil, food, surface water and ground water quality?
  • How can we enhance and develop innovative approaches to manage effluent waste in Africa, including method development, monitoring, risk assessment, remediation and waste stream diversion/reuse, and policy development?
  • How can we incorporate indigenous knowledge systems to develop sustainable environmental protection programs in Africa?
  • How is environmental and human health in Africa affected by trade, trans-boundary movement and quality of products, food and feedstuffs?


  • How can prescreening techniques (e.g., in chimico, in silico, in vitro, in situ) be developed, advanced and validated to identify and predict whole organsim effects?
  • How do we exploit, collate and integrate existing environmental toxicology, chemistry and geospatial data to help develop robust risk assessment?
  • How do we advance ecotoxicology testing to be more relevant to ecological systems?
  • How can ecotoxicology information be integrated more closely during interpretation of ecological data?
  • What are the combined impacts of various agrochemicals (e.g., veterinary medicines, pesticides) and eutrophication from intensive terrestrial farming operations on the health of aquatic and terrestrial organisms downstream?
  • What are the effects of changing demographics, economic development, consumption patterns and climate (e.g., ocean acidity, water temperature) on chemical emissions, environmental fate and ecotoxicology of contaminants and multiple stressors?
  • What are the combined effects of very low levels of multiple contaminants (e.g., pesticides, natural resource extraction contaminants, salinity, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, endocrine disrupting chemicals) with different modes of action on aquatic and terrestrial organisms and ecosystems?
  • How can we identify and prioritize contaminants (traditional and emerging stressors) for sustainable management of ecosystems within different biogeographic regions?
  • What are the most appropriate toxicological approaches to develop regulatory guidelines specifically for contaminants of emerging concern that address multimodes of action and sublethal effects?
  • How can we measure ecosystem resilience to and recovery following exposure to stressors?
  • How can we identify and examine the environmental fate and toxicity of ingredients other than the stated "active" components in commercial formulations individually and in chemical mixtures?
  • What water quality guidelines are needed to protect ephemeral waters and associated ecosystems from the influences of development?
  • What are the effects of short magnitude, frequency and duration (e.g., intermittent, episodic) exposures to contaminants and other stressors, and how can these scenarios be effectively incorporated into water quality guidelines?
  • Are there differences in toxicological thresholds among native and nonnative organisms, and how can species sensitivity information from non-resident species be used to predict adverse outcomes and protect our unique Australasian biota and ecosystems ?
  • How do we incorporate and protect cultural and social values (relating to humans, biota and ecosystems) to empower citizen/societal/indigenous engagement in the research, management and legislation of priority environmental contaminants?
  • How can we develop robust chemical assays and models to replace, refine and reduce biological testing?
  • How do we better understand the linkages between the structural and physico-chemical properties of substances to predictively model fate and bioavailability in different environments?
  • How do we develop better broad-screening analytical and information processing techniques that do not require pre-selection of target contaminants?
  • How do we use chemistry to better design sustainable waste management?
  • How can we ensure sustainable supplies of clean water, energy development and food security whilst simultaneously minimizing ecological impacts and protecting environmental quality?


The results of the GHSP specific to Europe were expanded on in a dedicated session at the SETAC Europe 2017 Annual Meeting in Brussels. The presentations are provided below:

SETAC Europe 2017 Brussels GHSP_Boxall
SETAC Europe 2017 Brussels GHSP_Brooks
SETAC Europe 2017 Brussels GHSP_Maltby
SETAC Europe 2017 Brussels GHSP_Van den Vrink

  • How can a framework be developed and implemented that integrates evolutionary and ecological knowledge in order to quantify and predict vulnerability of populations and communities of stressors?
  • How can we define, distinguish, and quantify the effects of multiple stressors on ecosystems?
  • Biodiversity and ecosystem services: what are we trying to protect where, when, why, and how?
  • How do sublethal effects alter individual fitness and propagate to the population and community level?
  • How do we detect and characterize engineered nanomaterials and other difficult-to-measure substances in environmental matrices at relevant concentrations?
  • How can we develop more ecologically relevant in silico methodology for fate, biotransformation and effect parameter estimation including chemical properties, species traits and environmental variability?
  • How can we develop mechanistic modeling of toxicokinetic and toxicodynamic data to comparatively extrapolate adverse effects across species, life stages, and different levels of biological organization, from genetic processes to the ecosystem scale?
  • How can data on the occurrence of contaminants of emerging concern in the environment and quality of ecosystems exposed to these contaminants be used to determine whether current regulatory risk assessment schemes are effective?
  • Where are the hotspots of key contaminants around the globe?
  • How can interactions among different stress factors (chemical, physical, biological) operating at different levels of biological organization be accounted for in environmental risk assessment?
  • What are the key challenges for assessing the ecological consequences of multiple stressors arising from global urbanization, climate change, demographic shift, and spatial disconnect between resource use and production?
  • What approaches should be used to prioritize compounds for risk assessment and management for environmental and human health?
  • How can we develop, assess and select the most effective mitigation measures to protect and restore the environment and human health?
  • How can we assess the environmental risk of current and future generations of emerging stressors such as nanomaterials?
  • How do we improve risk assessment of environmental stressors to be more predictive across increasing environmental complexity and spatiotemporal scales?
  • How can we improve the communication of risk to different stakeholders?
  • How can we better manage, use and share data generated from existing testing strategies in order to develop more sustainable and safer products?
  • How can we implement comparative risk assessment, LCA, and risk benefit analysis in order to identify and design more sustainable alternatives?
  • How do we create high-throughput strategies for predicting human and ecologically relevant effects and processes (e.g., behavior, multigenerational, delayed and indirect effects, etc.)?
  • When and under what circumstances do interactions (e.g., ecological, chemical, physiological) occur that are not captured by currently accepted mixture toxicity models?
  • Which chemicals, natural or synthetic, parent compounds or metabolites, are the main drivers of mixture toxicity in humans and the environment?
  • How can we combine existing and develop innovative techniques to better characterize the use, emissions, fate and exposure (of humans and ecosystems) of/to chemicals at different spatial and temporal scales?

Latin America

  • How can we characterize individual and combined (e.g., mixtures) risks of diffuse chemical contaminants (e.g., pesticides, other EDCs, drugs) related to promoting more sustainable agricultural and industrial activities?
  • How can environmental risk assessment tools, including alternative methods, be developed and advanced to more sustainably produce, select alternatives and use chemicals to protect future generations of humans and ecosystems?
  • What are the ecological and health risks and effects characterization methodologies that must necessarily be evaluated to more sustainably manage pulp and paper activities?
  • What are the levels of pollution by plastic waste and microplastics, and are toxic compounds adsorbed on the surface of the plastic?
  • Considering the bioaccumulative potential of some active pharmaceutical compounds, metabolites and their mixtures in aquatic organisms, how can we assess the implications in a long-term perspective for human health and the environment? How to insert the limits in environmental legislation?
  • How can we better quantify contaminants (e.g., pesticides), metabolites and degradates in the field, and develop more robust methods for analytical determination in plant and animal tissues?
  • How will climate change influence environmental stress factors (e.g., temperature, pH, salinity), which in turn affect the environmental fate and effects of contaminants?
  • How can we extrapolate the results of regulatory single species toxicity test to a Latin American taxa in different ecosystems, climates or physicochemical conditions?
  • By which means can we evaluate the complexity (i.e. pulse, degradation, mixtures, formulations) of pesticide toxicology in Latin American ecosystems?
  • What new laboratory or field ecotoxicology methods and approaches can be developed that take into account ecological and environmental complexity?
  • What are the impacts of nanomaterials on ecosystems, and on human health?
  • Which are the environmental variables (abiotic factors) that trigger the production of algal toxins in the environment? Does exposure through trophic levels threaten human health?
  • What is the sensitivity of regional species to contaminants that will allow us to better predict impacts on local ecosystems?
  • Which laboratory studies can we develop to contribute to the risk assessment of natural resource extraction (oil, gas, mining) on ecosystems in Latin America?
  • How can we develop, validate and apply ecotoxicological tools useful for characterizing and classifying industrial and residential effluents in Latin America?  
  • What would be the progressive goals of continuous improvement of the maximum limits of toxicity and other environmental stress allowed from agriculture (e.g., pesticide runoff, biofuels production), and domestic and industrial effluents, while maintaining ecosystem services?
  • Are current environmental regulations (e.g., for effluents, pesticide use) sufficient, and how can they be implemented and enforced in Latin America?
  • How can Latin American countries develop, standardize and harmonize environmental assessment approaches and ecotoxicology methods to advance more sustainable environmental management?
  • How effective are protected areas including terrestrial (e.g., parks, wildlife corridors), freshwater and marine habitats to safeguard biodiversity from the impact of environmental pollutants?
  • How can we improve risk management approaches for solid wastes (e.g., landfill leachate, incineration) in Latin America?

North America

  • How does alteration of food web structure affect contaminant accumulation and long term consequences?
  • What characteristics of environmental stressors (chemical and non-chemical) are most important for prioritizing effects on ecosystem structure, function and services?
  • How do organisms in dynamic (e.g., tidal, ephemeral streams, high mountain habitats, Polar regions) environments deal with anthropogenic stresses (climate change, xenobiotics, etc)?
  • How can we measure fitness changes (e.g., behavior, immune function), translating to the population/community levels to incorporate these changes into regulatory processes?
  • How can we determine the variability of reference populations and sites?
  • What are the impacts of contaminants over multiple generations: incorporating evolutionary concepts of adaptation, plasticity, epigenetics, fitness-costs?
  • How well do laboratory toxicity and bioaccumulation tests predict what happens at real world sites?
  • What are the factors that affect the bioaccumulation of contaminants in organisms/wildlife and how can we predict when and where specific factors are most important?
  • How can diverse information representing multiple levels of biological organization from in vitro and in vivo data, read across, in silico, etc. be coalesced into coherent hazard framework?
  • How can we extrapolate dose from in vitro to in vivo data?
  • How can we extrapolate effects data across species using evolutionary conservation of biological pathways?
  • How can we develop and employ -omics methods as diagnostic tools in field settings?
  • What are the high throughput tests that are most predictive of in vivo hazards and how can these be standardized among labs?
  • What is the influence of climate change on bioavailability and effects of contaminants?
  • What is the influence of abiotic and biotic stressors (independent of climate change) on bioavailability and effects of contaminants?
  • How can we improve the characterization of the exposure-response relationship of multiple chemical stressors?
  • How does fate and toxicity differ in marine and estuarine environments versus freshwater?
  • What role does the microbiome play in the response of organisms to contaminants?
  • What are the best methods to measure bioavailable/freely-dissolved/chemical activity of organic chemicals and metals in environmental media?
  • How can we develop advanced forensics (e.g., chemical fingerprinting) for tracing and modeling the sources of contaminants?
  • How can we better describe and predict the fate of chemical species in waste treatment, recycling, and disposal (e.g., water, solid waste, biosolids, e-waste), especially emerging chemicals, to support decision making?
  • How can we develop quantitative analytical methods for next generation emerging contaminants (e.g., nanomaterials, microplastics, fracking fluids, organometallics, ionizables, engineered biomolecules - synthetic biology/biologically inspired design)?
  • How is urbanization impacting ecological and human exposure to and release of contaminants?
  • What environmental factors, natural or anthropogenic, lead to microbial resistance?
  • How well do exposure models work, what are their sources of uncertainty, and what data should be collected to reduce uncertainty?
  • How can we develop and improve screening levels (e.g., sediment, soils) and prioritization approaches?
  • How can computational chemistry approaches (in silico) be improved to advance understanding of physicochemical properties to understand fate/toxicity and prioritize for testing and analytical method development?
  • How can we design and predict the biological and physicochemical properties of chemicals during development to minimize enviornmental hazards?
  • How can we revise the environmental risk assessment process to integrate and make full use of both human health and ecotoxicity data?
  • What environmental and human health risks should be managed and monitored in water reuse?
  • How accurate are the predictions of and the results from site-specific risk assessments based on ecological monitoring data?
  • How can the efficacy of prospective risk assessment and management approaches be assessed for environmental chemicals of concern?
  • How can we ensure the drinking water that is derived from marginal sources (e.g., brackwish water, groundwater is certain aquifers, eutrophic lakes/rivers) is acceptable for human consumption?
  • What networks or mechanisms are required to enable sustainable communication across a wide range of disciplines that support environmental science and regulatory decision-making?
  • What are the most effective methods to communicate science-based risk, and science in general, to impact public perception and regulatory policy development?
  • What tools do we need to develop chemical products to quantify environmental sustainability for science-based decision-making?
  • How can research in environmental toxicology and chemistry inform agricultural (water and energy use) practices and the use of chemical pesticides/nutrients for the sustainable production of food?
  • How can we coordinate, curate and ensure access to quality data for environmental chemical management?
  • What changes in human behavior would have the greatest benefits on sustainability of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems?
  • What are the potential environmental and economic impacts of using energy-bearing secondary materials (by-products) as alternative fuel sources in sustainable manufacturing processes?