Research on emerging pollutants is on the European agenda

JPI Water's first call for joint projects [1] on emerging pollutants in European water bodies is a new advancement in the ambitious European programme. Jeanne Garric, ecotoxicologist at Irstea, explains the main issues at stake in this call for projects.

Irstea : What are the main issues today regarding a call for projects on emerging pollutants ?

Jeanne Garric : The first issue is developing the knowledge and methodologies necessary for safeguarding water quality and uses. There are also regulatory issues. The European Union needs data to implement new directives to prevent and manage pollution of aquatic environments. The research resulting from this call for projects will certainly help revise the list of top-priority substances for monitoring in aquatic environments.

This call for projects also responds, to a certain extent, to societal concerns. New research should lead to the acquisition of knowledge on how dangerous these substances in these environments are, how they behave, how to monitor them and methods for reducing this pollution. We currently have very little information on numerous substances, which explains why they are referred to as "emerging". An interesting aspect of this call for projects is that it concerns the entire life cycle of these substances : the source, measuring and evaluating the risks for the environments and for humans, and solutions.

How does this European call for projects further research on emerging pollutants ?

J.G. : The first thing to keep in mind is that this is the first European call for projects that deals specifically with emerging pollutants and protecting human health and environments. Previous calls for projects took much wider approaches, such as evaluating the quality of ecosystems in relation to implementing the Water Framework Directive, or environmental risks posed by specific substances (pharmaceutical products, nanoparticles); these topics were similar, but the approach and the issues were different. The focus here is detecting new substances, their sources and their behaviours, studying their impact, and developing prevention and management methods to protect human health and ecosystems. This project will direct financial and human resources to this very important branch of research.

More importantly, it will help strengthen a European vision of issues relating to emerging pollutants and their treatment. Indeed, in accordance with JPI Water's aims of fighting against the fragmentation of research and duplicate research projects, the call for projects stipulates that each project must involve two European research institutions of different nationalities. The call for projects also focuses on relocating researchers during these projects, thus favouring the development of European consortiums on this topic and reinforcing scientific partnerships between countries. On the European policy level, this should lead to better solutions for monitoring chemical and biological pollution.

Have Irstea researchers responded to the call for projects ?

J.G. : Yes, of course. Irstea has specialists in water treatment, detecting pollutants and evaluating their effects, all under one roof, which makes it a legitimate candidate for this project. Applications have been submitted for 4 projects involving our Institute, with Irstea as the main applicant for 3 of those applications. Acceptance of these projects would result in optimal visibility of our Institute's research and consolidate European scientific partnerships. On another level, this would also reinforce the importance of our Institute's voice in the arena of European research into the knowledge and management of emerging contaminants. 

An increasing number of concerned citizens are worried about the state of bodies of water. Is this call for projects a positive sign ?

J.G. : Yes. First, it shows that the problem is being addressed on a large scale, and that it is not the result of a single research team. Second, the European institutions are a good guarantee for the development of independent research.

The projects to receive funding will be announced between May and October 2014. Research will then begin in the autumn and last anywhere from 24 to 36 months. Stay tuned for more news on this project.

For more information

 [1] European research programme initiated in December 2011 in order to better coordinate research initiatives in the member states of the European Union. For further information, consult the JPI Water website.