Ecological and Human Health Risk Assessment: Focussing on complex chemical risk assessment and the identification of highest risk conditions


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The mission of the Joint Research Centre, which is a Directorate General of the European Commission, is to provide customer-driven scientific and technical support to the EU policy making process, ensuring support to the implementation and monitoring of existing policies and responding to new policy demands. The way that the Joint Research Centre accomplishes its customer-driven tasks is mainly through networking, by:
• focussing attention on issues which are of concern to the society, which have a research component and which have a dominant community dimension; and
• developing partnerships with research centres, universities, industry, public authorities and regulatory bodies in the Member States.

Therefore, this first open NoMiracle Workshop fits well into our mandate. In particular, the issues debated here were very much related to the support that the JRC is providing to the implementation of a range of Community Directives (on air, water, soils, wastes), to the development of new strategies for sustainable use of pesticides, on environment and health and on chemicals, which represent a new focus of attention at EU level.

The major question driving the present Workshop was that of mapping of risk: a geography of risk is invoked in order to identify and visualize risks and determine what actions should be taken toward those risks, and where. I would like to pick up some examples from ongoing activities at the JRC on the assessment of environmental risks, namely on risk from flooding, air pollution, forest fires and pollutants. In the last decade Europe has experienced a number of unusually long-lasting rainfall events that produced severe floods in most EU Member States. Community planners need access to the most accurate and timely environmental information that is available to help them respond to these extreme events. The Joint Research Centre aims to complement Member State activities through the development of a European Flood Alert System (EFAS) with a potential increased flood warning time providing national and regional water authorities, and the European Commission with additional medium-range flood information. Another example is that of air pollution. High concentrations of ground level ozone, particulate matter, and other atmospheric pollutants can worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma. The JRC through the PEOPLE project has been assessing outdoor, indoor and personal exposure levels of air pollutants in European cities, focusing on emissions from transport and smoking. Benzene was selected as a first pollutant to be measured, considering that this is the first carcinogenic compound to be regulated by EU air quality directives; benzene is also a good marker for other pollutants generated by traffic, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Smoking is also an important source of benzene strongly affecting personal exposure to this pollutant.

A third example of risk mapping is that of forest fires. Europe has suffered in the last years a large number of forest fires that has caused enormous losses in terms of human life and environmental damage. The Joint Research Centre has established the so-called European Forest Fires Information System (EFFIS), which stores the existing information on forest fires at the European level, and incorporates on-line derived information on fire risk and fire damage assessment.

More closely related to the specific work within NoMiracle is the JRC initiative FATE (FAte of pollutants
in Terrestrial and aquatic Ecosystems in Europe) intended to provide a holistic framework for the assessment of environmental pollutants and support the implementation and development of a number of Directives and Thematic Strategies. In the FATE approach, running modelling programmes at European scale permits to discover potential hot spots on which further investigation of underlying processes could be focused. Understanding the processes responsible for making a European region a potential hot-spot for environmental impact of pollutants, as identified through a Europe-wide modelling assessment, requires next a more focused approach integrating monitoring and modelling in the area of concern. Confidence in modelling simulation is based on validation by appropriate monitoring of pollutants across a range of scales.

Common to all these issues is the need of tools able to translate scientific knowledge into decision support, which was addressed by the NoMiracle Workshop for the specific field of chemical pollutants. I have enjoyed how the discussions evolved during the Workshop and I believe that these proceedings, the results of an interactive effort of various scientists, will certainly be useful to every reader interested in this field.

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