Environmental Scientists Identify Most Pressing Issues Posed by Chemicals in the Environment in Europe

Environmental Scientists Identify Most Pressing Issues Posed by Chemicals in the Environment in Europe

October 22, 20183 min read

Environmental scientists have identified 22 key research questions surrounding the risks associated with chemicals in the environment in Europe.

Chemicals released into the environment by human activity are resulting in biodiversity loss; increased natural hazards; threats to food, water and energy security; negative impacts on human health and degradation of environmental quality.

Now an international study, coordinated by scientists from the University of York, Wageningen University and Baylor University, has identified the most important research questions that need to be answered to fill the most pressing knowledge gaps over the next decade.

They include questions about which chemicals we should be most concerned about and where the hotspots of key contaminants are around the globe, as well as how we can develop methods to protect biodiversity and ecosystems.

The research, which resulted from a recent "big questions" exercise involving researchers from across Europe, aims to serve as a roadmap for policymakers, regulators, industry and funders and result in a more coordinated approach from the European environmental science community to chemicals in the environment.

“Our research has highlighted international scientists' research priorities and our key knowledge gaps when it comes to the risks and impacts of chemicals,” said one of the lead authors of the study Alistair Boxall, Ph.D., with the University of York’s environment department. “The study aims to help focus scientific effort on the questions that really matter and inform decisions about the type of research needed to update policies and regulations.”

Bryan W. Brooks, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Environmental Science and Biomedical Studies at Baylor University, who also coordinates a much larger global horizon scanning exercise, said the project is “intentionally transparent, inclusive of multiple sectors and multidisciplinary.”

“Though this paper focuses on critical research needs for Europe, we partnered with the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry to perform similar studies in North America, Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America,” Brooks said. “In fact, output from the Latin American study was recently published. This unprecedented exercise, which also includes a key partnership with the American Chemical Society in North America, is for the first time identifying global research priorities from academic, government and industry scientists and engineers to understand, avoid and manage adverse outcomes of chemicals in the environment.”

A key suggestion in the report is that the basic and translational research is needed to advance robust assessments of chemical risks to the environment and human health.

“These big research questions aim to reduce uncertainty during scientific evaluations of environmental contaminants and to advance innovation and sustainability through development of less hazardous chemicals to public health and the environment. Such research recommendations from our European colleagues are thus timely, necessary and internationally important if we are to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals,” Brooks said.

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


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments and seven academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines.

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  • Bryan W. Brooks, Ph.D.
    Bryan W. Brooks, Ph.D. Distinguished Professor, Environmental Science and Biomedical Studies; Director of Environmental Health Science

    Interdisciplinary expert researcher and author on water quality, environmental health and sustainability issues in rapidly urbanizing areas.

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