The “Statement on emerging health and environmental issues” identified and reviewed the potential environment-health priorities of the near future, considering the novelty of the stressor or process, the scale, and severity of possible impacts and the anticipated increasing importance over time.
Some emerging issues -like do-it-yourself synthetic biology, gene editing to control pests or virtual reality- are of high interest for the future of our living environment, however, they are out-of-scope for this series of articles which aims at discussing chemical toxicological risks and their governance.
Emerging issues directly relevant to toxicological risk assessment:
- E-cigarettes: Introduced in the early 2000s e-cigarette may expand and become ”fashionable”, especially among adolescents. In the meanwhile, this habit may bring about significant exposure to nicotine, as well as to other chemicals including poorly investigated flavorings as well as metals.
- Drinking water disinfection by-products: New and modified drinking water treatments, such as advanced oxidation processes, are being used to remove contaminants; this development is fostered by climate changes which may lower the availability of clean water sources. It is recognized that disinfection methods interact with substances in water, leading to by-products.
- Nanoparticles from Building Materials: Nanomaterials are found in a number of construction products, e.g., surface coatings, concrete, insulation. Environmental release may occur during crumbling, renovation or demolition processes and/or recycling, land-filling, and incineration technologies. The toxicology and ecotoxicology of nanoparticles still present many uncertainties and exposure scenarios from building materials should be built-up: a characterization of risk should then support new, ad hoc regulations.
- Pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs: Their loads in wastewater increase as a result of increased use of legal, illicit and counterfeit drugs and of population aging. Wastewater treatments may not completely remove drugs and their metabolites and by-products.
- Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS): Widespread in the environment, very persistent, yet, still receiving limited attention by regulators. The recent assessment of PFOS and PFOA by EFSA pointed out concerns for adverse effects on metabolic, immune and reproductive functions as well as for dietary exposure; however, many more emerging PFAS await evaluation.
- Chemicals in recycled materials: An issue that might complicate the EU-wide strategies toward a circular economy. Interest in the circular economy and therefore in recycling has increased considerably. One problem is that the recycled products and materials may contain hazardous substances that pose risks to the environment, consumers, and/or workers.
- Microbiome: Has a modulating role between environmental factors and the health status; changes in the human microbiome are being linked to a broad array of health disorders, including neurological, oncologic and autoimmune conditions. Important scientific efforts are most welcome to better characterize the inter-relationships among exposure to environmental stressors, microbiome changes and onset of adverse health effects.