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Field campaign in Chile to sample biota, metals and organic micropollutants to assess the water quality along the Aconcagua River

The Aconcagua River is about 142 kilometers long and runs through five Chilean provinces, supporting a number of cities along its way. Agriculture, mining, and chemical production are the most important economic activities in the area. About 30% of Chilean grapes and peaches, as well as a good part of Chilean avocado are produced in the Aconcagua river basin. These activities inevitably result in pollution by heavy metals and pesticides, but also micropollutants from households and wastewater treatment plants are emitted into the river.

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Photo of the area

FRAM is therefore implementing a case study with the aim to address knowledge gaps regarding both the chemical contamination and the ecological status of Aconcagua freshwater ecosystems. Although toxic effects on aquatic organisms are regularly observed, it remains a challenge to link the presence of chemicals with the ecological status of the aquatic ecosystem, to identify major chemical stressors, and to find strategies for the reduction of chemical-related risks.

In particular, FRAM will describe the chemical status of the Aconcagua freshwater ecosystems in detail, including metals as well as organic micropollutants and the center will assess the biological status of the Aconcagua freshwater ecosystem with a focus on the microbial and the invertebrate community. Additionally eDNA will be analysed in order to get a broader view on the biodiversity at the sampling sites. Finally FRAM will explore whether the chemical mixtures found have an ecological impact. If so, the next steps will be to identify the ecotoxicologically relevant chemicals (or groups of chemicals) and to identify vulnerable ecosystem components.

The overall aim of the case study goes beyond the evaluation of the chemical and biological status of the Aconcagua River. Together with Chiliean economists and regulatory experts, FRAM will also explore the regulatory consequences: are the existing contamination levels exceeding Chilean regulatory levels? How do those values related to acceptable contamination levels e.g. in the EU? How can chemical regulation and management be improved in order to ensure good ecological status and sustainable development in the Aconcauga area in Chile?

In October and November 2018, FRAM is implementing its first field campaign in the area, led by Dr. Pedro Inostroza who is accompanied by two master students, Monica Del Aguila and Alba López Mangas. Their time in Chile will be spent on sampling water and biota from several sites along the river and from adjacent water bodies. A multi-disciplinary approach using cutting-edge techniques will combine the identification of complex chemical mixtures with the assessment of their potential effects using DNA-based tools.



Photo of the team

Dr. Pedro Inostroza from University of Gothenburg, the field study leader, emphasizes that a better understanding of the pollution in the area provides the necessary basis for adequate chemical regulation. FRAM will make all its findings publically available, so that not only the participating organizations but also the Chilean society at large will benefit from FRAM’s work.

The case study is implemented in close collaboration with the research groups of
- Prof. Dr. Renato Quiñones, University of Concepcion (Chile)
- Dr. Sebastian Elgueta, National Agricultural Research Institute (Chile)
- Prof. Dr. Werner Brack, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ (Germany)
- Prof. Dr. Karel de Schamphelaere, Environmental Toxicology Unit, Ghent University (Belgium)
- Prof. Dr. Xiaowei Zhang, State Key Laboratory of Pollution Control & Resource Reuse
Nanjing University (China)

Co-ordinators for the Chilian case study are Prof. Thomas Backhaus and Assoc. Prof. Jessica Coria. Dr. Pedro Inostroza leads the current field study.