- Open Access
Celebrating 20 years of SETAC German Language Branch (GLB)
© The Author(s) 2019
- Received: 16 January 2019
- Accepted: 22 January 2019
- Published: 7 February 2019
This editorial presents the objectives and achievements of the German Language Branch of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Europe (SETAC GLB), a regional branch of SETAC Europe, of the last 20 years. SETAC GLB serves Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, by providing an open forum for research related to ecotoxicology and environmental chemistry, to the sustainable management and regulation of natural resources, to education in environmental sciences, as well as to issues related to research and development, and manufacturing of chemicals and products. The editorial serves as an introduction for an article collection published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe, providing an overview of the current state of ecotoxicology and environmental chemistry in German-speaking countries and of the main developments and key topics within SETAC GLB. The article collection was developed on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the regional branch of SETAC Europe.
- Environmental chemistry
In 1996, the German Language Branch of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Europe (SETAC GLB) was inaugurated in Aachen, Germany. SETAC GLB serves Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, by providing an open forum for research related to ecotoxicology and environmental chemistry, to the sustainable management and regulation of natural resources, to education in environmental sciences, as well as to issues related to research and development, and manufacturing of chemicals and products. Alongside the annual meetings, a forum to discuss and exchange information, SETAC GLB’s main activities are related to promoting young researchers and to increasing visibility of our field within science and society. Over two decades, SETAC GLB has become the leading scientific society in this field in the German-speaking countries.
Our annual meetings are a well-known and well-attended platform, not only for experienced members, but also particularly for young scientists to present the results of their Master and Ph.D. theses as well as to enter into discussion and establish contacts with more seasoned members of the Society (see also the editorial of the SETAC Europe Students Advisory Council (SAC), this issue, Box 1, ). We are also able to present an award, once per year, for the best Master and Ph.D. thesis in ecotoxicology completed in a German-speaking country. In this context, another major focus of our effort to promote the next generation of scientists is the postgraduate degree program in ecotoxicology, which is jointly organized by SETAC GLB and GDCh (Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker e.V.) group ‘Environmental chemistry and ecotoxicology’ (cf. Ebke et al., this issue, Box 1, ). To date, the program looks back on a more than 10-year success story: from the start, courses had an average enrollment rate of 90%, and the vast majority of employment-seeking graduates from the first courses succeeded in quickly finding a job related to their training. With over 450 students enrolled and graduates now working in academia, business, and government, the degree program can be considered a cornerstone of education for ecotoxicologists and environmental chemists in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. However, despite these successes in promoting young researchers, all is not yet rosy in our research landscape. Recently, Martin Scheringer (this issue; Box 1, ) analyzed the current situation concerning the standing of ecotoxicology and environmental chemistry in the academic system with a special focus on Germany and Switzerland.
Environmental sciences have played a major role in environmental policy discussions in Switzerland over the past decades. Due to the increased demand of federal and cantonal authorities for services in ecotoxicology, the Swiss Centre for Applied Ecotoxicology was founded in 2008 and is being hosted jointly by Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and the EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) . Almost simultaneously with the founding of SETAC GLB in 1998, the Swiss Water Protection Ordinance (GSchV) was adopted. Its purpose is to protect water bodies from adverse impacts and to facilitate sustainable water use. The GSchV is not a static document but is regularly adapted to findings from environmental research. Milestones in 1998 were the definition of numerical requirements for selected heavy metals (Pb, Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Hg, and Zn) based on the ecotoxicological effect of these metals . Another milestone, probably the largest to date, is the setting of purification targets for organic trace substances in wastewater treatment plants. Since 2016, selected wastewater treatment plants have had to reduce the concentration of organic trace substances (e.g., drugs such as diclofenac or industrial chemicals such as benzotriazole) contained in raw wastewater by 80%. The associated expansion of selected wastewater treatment plants by a fourth treatment stage has made Switzerland a European pioneer in wastewater treatment. These measures are financed by a levy of 9 Swiss francs per year from each Swiss inhabitant connected to a wastewater treatment plant. The ground works were laid by more than 10 years of interdisciplinary environmental scientific research in the fields of ecotoxicology, environmental chemistry, urban water management, and process engineering (https://www.micropoll.ch/de/dokumente/berichte/) . Ecotoxicological in-vitro tools and biotests, analytical chemistry and field biotests were developed to show that, depending on the local conditions, ozonation, or active charcoal as additional treatment steps were effective to reach the goals. Through the various projects performed to improve water quality, as well as the political and public debate about the upgrading of wastewater treatment plants, the Swiss public became even more aware of environmental issues and has accepted the additional costs.
The first studies revealed a great suitability of advanced wastewater treatment methods to reduce the micropollutant load substantially. However, some ongoing studies in the EU project SOLUTIONS confirmed that upgrading WWTPs will not completely reduce the micropollutant burden . Further or combined treatments, or measures at the source will be required to avoid that micropollutants enter the aquatic environment via wastewater.
Such successes motivate us environmental scientists to continue our work, and we cannot rest on our laurels from the past. For the future, we need a holistic view of chemical substance flows and their impacts in all environmental compartments, including sediments, soils and air, and even including human health. This in interdisciplinary efforts in close collaboration with various stakeholders.
With this look into the future, I would like to express my sincere thanks to SETAC GLB for your big contribution to environmental toxicology and chemistry and for your support to the development of young professionals. I am convinced that Swiss scientists and Eawag will be happy to contribute to the success in the next 20 years.
Box 3: Greeting by Dr. G. Peter Dohmen, a founder member of SETAC GLB and principal expert in the Global Ecotoxicology department at BASF Agricultural Solutions
GLB is dedicated to the study, analysis, and solution of environmental problems, and since its foundation has worked very successfully to implement the overall SETAC goals and vision for the protection, promotion, and management of sustainable environmental quality and ecosystem integrity. For this purpose, SETAC fosters the advancement and application of scientific research using multidisciplinary approaches with scientists from backgrounds that reflect its tripartite structure (academia, government, and industry). SETAC conferences and workshops frequently bring forward previously unknown environmental issues, but equally develop proposals on how to address and evaluate such issues and provide options for risk mitigation. This is a significant contribution to the development of well-founded and sustainable solutions for environmental issues. Unfortunately, there are tendencies to undermine this successful concept by labelling science and scientists as either “good” (trustworthy) or “bad” based on the background and not on the science, instead of providing solution orientated proposals based on transparency and cooperation. As a consequence, we face very controversial statements and diminishing societal trust towards scientific statements in general. I very much hope that SETAC GLB will also in future manage to confine controversies to the necessary scientific debates and contribute to consensus-orientated problem solutions. Transparency, easy access to information and solid scientific work should be the basis for this. In this context, I would like to praise the efforts of SETAC GLB in the education and training of certified ecotoxicologists, through the estimable commitment of many highly qualified environmental scientists from different institutions. Part of the success of SETAC GLB is also due to its philosophy of ‘diversity and inclusion’. Not only do we have a rather fair gender distribution (which unfortunately was not yet the case at the time of the founding board) with male and female scientists from different scientific fields, we also have a good mix of established scientists and promising young researchers. Therefore, I have no doubt about the continued future success of SETAC GLB and for this I wish all the best.
Box 4: Greeting by Maria Krautzberger, President of the German Environment Agency (UBA), Dessau-Rosslau
The 20th anniversary of SETAC GLB e.V. marks not just 20 years of scientific dialogue on equal terms between authorities, industry and the scientific community, but also 20 years of promoting young scientists in the fields of ecotoxicology and environmental chemistry.
The tripartite structure of the SETAC GLB, as well as the extraordinary engagement of its members helped the society gaining national and international respect and notoriety.
The promotion of research, teaching and education in the fields of ecotoxicology and environmental chemistry were and still are consistently pursued. These activities at national level are integrated in the European and global network of the parent society SETAC.
With this structure, SETAC GLB opens opportunities for an intense exchange on regional questions without neglecting the European and worldwide perspectives—an aspect which is increasingly more important. The annual conferences offer, especially young scientists, the opportunity to present their results for the first time to a broader expert audience and to establish contacts for their future academic career. The annually advertised, highly remunerated young scientist award is an important element of the society’s promotion program, for young researchers as well.
Only well-educated experts are typically in a position to implement and further develop complex legal requirements. This is only possible in dialogue with regulatory authorities, industry and the scientific community. One successful example of a fruitful collaboration is the post-gradual training course system ‘Certified Ecotoxicologist’ developed by SETAC GLB together with the German Chemical Society (Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker, GDCh) which has considerably improved the education of young scientists in German-speaking countries.
In SETAC GLB, experts from different stakeholder groups are equally represented. Since the foundation of the society, UBA has been involved in SETAC’s GLB board, the annual meetings and post-gradual training courses.
I would like to extend my best wishes to SETAC GLB for their future work. I look forward to the continuation of many fruitful dialogues for the protection of the (our) environment.
JZ and HH conceptualized the manuscript. RAD, KPE, DE, TF, BH, MJ, DK, AK, SK, and NR contributed specific aspects to the manuscript and improved the manuscript content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
We like to thank Carol Sizmur for improving the English language of this manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests. HH is Editor-in-Chief of this Journal.
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