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Scientists Identify Most Pressing Research Issues Posed by Chemicals in the Environment


An international study, involving scientists from the University of Gothenburg, has identified the 22 most important research questions that need to be answered to fill the most pressing knowledge gaps over the next decade.

Thomas Backhaus“The study provides an overview of the major issues at hand. This includes the chemicals we should be most concerned about, where the hotspots of chemical pollution are around the globe, as well as how we can develop methods to protect biodiversity and ecosystems, and, finally, how we can select the best mitigation options,” says professor. Thomas Backhaus one of the study authors, from the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences and director of the University’s FRAM Centre on Future Risk Assessment Strategies.

Chemicals released into the environment might jeopardize achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They contribute to biodiversity loss; increased natural hazards; threats to food, water and energy security; negative impacts on human health and the degradation of environmental quality.

The research, which resulted from a recent 'big questions' exercise involving researchers from across Europe, aims to serve as a road map for policy makers, regulators, industry and funders. The study contributes to a more coordinated approach for chemical assessment and management in Europe.

Thomas Backhaus adds “The study highlights the research priorities of environmental scientists around Europe. They reflect the increasing complexity of the questions that we have to tackle in an increasing busy world. It is therefore not surprising to see the topic of chemical mixture effects, interactions between different stressors and in particular, the links between toxic chemicals and non-chemical stressors such as climate change ending up high on the agenda. Ignoring this complexity would lead to over-simplistic assessments that would fail to protect human health as well as the environment”.

The study is part of a larger global horizon scanning exercise co-ordinated by the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. These activities are ongoing in North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Australasia. Taken together they will help to focus global research on the impacts of chemicals in the environment.

Towards Sustainable Environmental Quality: Priority Research Questions for Europe is published Open Access in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. It is one of six papers in a global horizon scanning study.


Thomas Backhaus
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
University of Gothenburg
+46 31 786 2734