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Introducing the SOLUTIONS project: an interview with Rolf Altenburger

October 29, 2014

When the MARS project was launched in the sunny climes of Mallorca in February 2014, Dr Christian Feld interviewed a number of freshwater scientists and policy makers attending the kick-off meeting.  In the above video, Christian interviews Rolf Altenburger from the Helmholtz Centre for Enviromental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig, Germany.  Dr Altenburger is deputy co-ordinator of the SOLUTIONS project which studies the effect of chemical pollutants on freshwater quality and ecological health, and aims to provide solutions to help manage and protect Europe’s freshwaters.

In this video, Dr Altenburger describes how the project’s focus on the impact of stressors on the freshwater environment links SOLUTIONS with the MARS and GLOBAQUA projects (see our earlier blog and interview here).  As Dr Altenburger explains, there are more than 100,000 chemicals in daily use across the world, which come from sources such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals, food additives, plastics and cosmetics.

Animals and plants living in freshwater ecosystems are increasingly exposed to a complex mixture of diluted chemicals (referred to as ‘cocktails’ by Dr Altenburger), which makes identifying and managing their effects – both individually and together – a difficult task.  This is further complicated by the sheer number of chemicals which are potentially harmful to freshwater ecosystems.  At present, the monitoring systems in place are not detailed or comprehensive enough to assess and manage the huge diversity and complexity of chemical ‘cocktails’ that are increasingly present in freshwater environments, many of which are new or unknown.

Chemical pollutants may interact with other stresses on freshwater environments.  For example, water scarcity (as seen on the Iberian peninsula) increases chemical concentrations in the remaining available water, which would otherwise be diluted by normal flows, with potentially harmful effects on water quality and freshwater life.  Understanding the impact and interaction of multiple stressors is a key EU research topic at present, in an effort to strengthen the Water Framework Directive, which is why the MARS, GLOBAQUA and SOLUTIONS projects are collaborating closely.

SOLUTIONS seeks to better understand, predict and manage the effects of chemical pollutants on freshwater environments.  Achieving this requires the development of a consistent framework to monitor and assess chemical pollution, particularly in increasing efficiency and speed of chemical identification from complex ‘cocktails’ and at low concentrations.

SOLUTIONS will produce computer models to help environmental managers and policy makers predict the effects of chemical pollution on freshwater biodiversity and water quality in the future, allowing forecasts to be made under changing economic conditions, new technologies, shifting human development and climate change.  This production of user-friendly resources and a common chemical knowledge base will also help will help bring chemical pollution up the European policy agenda ahead of the potential revision of the Water Framework Directive in 2019.  It will also help create early warning systems for future chemical pollution across the continent.

The models and tools developed by SOLUTIONS are being trialled and tested in three river basins across Europe.  New approaches to identifying river basin specific pollutants are being applied along the Danube basin in Central and Eastern Europe, following the extensive Joint Danube Survey 3 along the river in 2013.  In the Rhine basin in Central Europe, new wastewater and drinking water treatment technologies are being assessed, to understand their effects on chemical pollutants in the basin.  Finally, the risk posed by chemical pollution under water scarcity conditions are being studied in the Ebro and Llobregat basins in northern Spain.

More information on SOLUTIONS:

Project website
Project factsheet

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