Research unit, Sustainable Resource, Department of Environmental Science, Faculty of Science and Technology Aarhus University, Denmark
Received Date: January 24, 2012; Accepted Date: January 27, 2012; Published Date: January 30, 2012
Citation: Boriani E (2012) How to Evaluate Ecosystem Health According to Sustainability Threshold for Industry Impact, Need of New Risk Indices. J Ecosys Ecograph 2:e105. doi:10.4172/2157-7625.1000e105
Copyright: © 2012 Boriani E. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and and source are credited.
Visit for more related articles at Journal of Ecosystem & Ecography
Addressing the risk of chemicals in the environment is becoming increasingly complex, a fact acknowledged by the society. There are many legislations and guidelines related to xenobiotics into the environment that coexist at present. Those rules impose or propose limits and cutoff values for chemicals, how they should be treated once released in the environment or which is the maximum value admitted before causing any harms for environment or population. The European regulators have been very active in the last years producing advanced regulations organizing the discipline relative to industrial chemicals within REACH , to water pollutants within the Water Framework Directive , and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive , the plant protection products , and there has been a wide debate on the preparation of the Soil Framework Directive (SFD). Furthermore, new regulations have appeared for cosmetics , and a world-wide effort has been promoted to achieve higher harmonization of regulations relative to chemicals, such as within the Globally Harmonised System . Moreover, also the exposure assessment of human populations and the environmental effects once chemicals are released into market and/or in the environment is demanded by regulations as REACH supporting green, or sustainable, chemistry; i.e. design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances and applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, and use (USEPA, 2006).
So a new strategic plan for chemical risk assessment has to address not only the single compounds, but also their interactions , as required recently from the European Council of Ministers, who have called for the necessary tools and options . Thus, an integration and harmonization of already available as well as new risk assessment approaches and tools is indispensable. Sustainability for industry products and for use of chemicals released into the environment need in this epoch more than ever a link between research theories on possible danger effects of chemicals and the practical help to industry to produce and promote their green and sustainable product or use of chemicals into the environment (e.g. ecolabelling  experience) and cradle to cradle, C2C , criteria.
A possible answer to these need are risk index based on scenario of chemicals released and/or already present in the environment. These indexes are able to measure the “health status” of the environment and check if the compound released into the environment will pose a risk to an already damaged environment of the addition will be safe. ERICA , is an example of risk index built to improve and help sustainable decisions. ERICA is a tool for assessing the performance of chemicals life cycle as well as impacts upon release into the environment. Right now researchers are improving this index enlarging its potentiality adding new indicators as degradation, quality and fertility of soil, hydrolysis and photolysis.
Of course all the mechanisms and synergies between chemicals are not detailed in a risk index, due to the complexity of the intrinsic mechanisms. But the challenge of a simple instrument as a risk index is to give a general picture of the overall situation, prioritizing the harmful situations. The risk index should be based on human and environmental health principles, and contribute to harmonize legislations which are quite diverse. This point of view helps to focus into new strategies to get to a sustainable economy where the addition of a new compound into the environment should be carefully analyzed and result in a manageable scenario.
ERICA for example has integrated all existing information on chemicals in the classical risk assessment scheme taking into account also alternative methods (in vitro, in silico, omics) as required by the new EU Directives e.g. REACH 2006, Cosmetic Directive [12- 14]. ERICA provides a clear information and communication tool to regulators, stakeholders and population about the possible chemical hazards in a site and the relative effects on ecosystems and human health.
All the data related to environmental toxicity, human toxicity, human carcinogenicity, physico-chemical data, fate and transport (comprehensive of in vitro analysis, epidemiological study, speciation, metabolites, etc.), are collected while building a scenario to use the risk index.
The chemical scenario is set using all information available: industries emissions, site specific history of previous contaminations, epidemiological evidences and ecological evidences, possible source of contaminations, exposed receptors (human and ecological), environmental historical level of pollutants. Reports and documents are very important in this phase but also the study of the geographical map of the site, for the study of the spatial distribution of the contaminants with air, water circulation. All available experimental data related to environmental, human endpoint are also needed in this phase. Several toxicity databases are available. They address different endpoints, chemicals, and have different format. This is the list of the databases used: ISSCAN , AMBIT , ECOTOX , HSDB , U.S. NIH ChemIdPlus , QSARWORLD , CPDB , FatePointer , CHEMSPIDER . To find reliable data and filling data gaps also predictive methods and database containing predicted data are used as VEGA platform , EPIsuite , Danish EPA . The new platform VEGA offers a collection of predictive models with particular attention to the issue of the applicability domain, it includes also tools for read across, to be used combined with QSAR predictions, to optimise the reliability of the results. Due to the enormous lacking of experimental toxicological data for many chemicals it is really important to understand the meaning of QSAR model results and to critically and correctly interpret them in the context of chemical safety for risk assessment purposes. New indicators recently released are essential now to get a more authentic scenario to improve sustainability and measurements of compartment status . Furthermore this will lead to an awareness by industries that will be aware of how much their product are impacting on the environment in a most realistic way as possible.
The requirements of new risk indices needed to understand the environmental charge of a new compound into a scenario that can be used also in production of new eco-sustainable products can be summarized with the following points. They should have concise, reproducible and reliable parameters/descriptors using all the available techniques to avoid data gaps, they should be able to get a comprehensive picture of the general situation of a critical area (specific or global situation, functional for an in depth risk analysis of potentially dangerous compounds also along both time and space dimension), they should integrate scenarios of multiple sources and routes of exposure, calculating trends in emissions and the resulting changes in impacts on specific sites, they should perform a social function with an effective communication of results.