The majority of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) identified until now are banned or restricted around the world owing to concerns about their harm to ecosystems and human health. However, this is not the end of the story; even long-banned POPs still linger in the environment; others are still in use and are being directly emitted; and new POPs may be identified for which we have limited information. This Future Brief from Science for Environment Policy presents recent research into POPs’ potential impacts, the levels and future outlook for POPs in the environment and humans, and how we can reduce our use of POPs.
The removal of arsenic from water using a brown seaweed (Sargassum muticum), coated with iron hydroxide, has been tested in a recent study. Under optimal pH conditions, the method removed 100% of the arsenic, indicating the viability of this method for treating contaminated water.
Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: nature conservation and climate policy are mutually beneficial (Germany)
A new study has assessed the value of ecosystem-based approaches to mitigating climate changes and conserving biodiversity in Germany. The researchers highlight the trade-offs and synergies between climate adaptation and nature conservation and suggest that effective ecosystem-based climate policy requires improved coordination between different sectors, such as agriculture, forestry and energy.
Researchers have pinpointed hotspots for birds in an agricultural region of Italy. These show that hotspots for wintering birds are different to those for breeding birds — yet it is often only breeding birds’ locations that are considered in the design of protected areas. The researchers say their research highlights the importance of crop-dominated land for birds in the Mediterranean region.
A new study shows that run-off from de-icing road salts can affect freshwater aquatic ecosystems by increasing certain types of plankton. The study is the first to compare effects of the most popular road salt, sodium chloride, with the effects of alternative salts and additives used to increase de-icing efficiency. Based on their findings, the researchers recommend that magnesium chloride and salt additives are used cautiously near water bodies.
One of the greatest challenges facing today’s environmental policymakers is how to deal with complex risks, such as those associated with climate change. These risks are difficult to deal with because they are not precisely calculable in advance. Where there is scientific uncertainty about the full extent of possible harms but ‘doing nothing’ is also risky, decision-makers may use the precautionary principle. This Future Brief explores the role of the precautionary principle in EU law and policy, and examines key points of discussion drawn from the evidence.
A new screening tool to assess the potential seismic risks (earthquake activity) from deep geothermal energy projects has been outlined in a recent study. The tool provides categories of seismicity risk for projects, which are dependent on factors including geological aspects, as well as social concern and location in relation to urban areas.
LED lighting changes grassland spider and beetle communities; dimmers and timers may reduce the impact
The influence of light-emitting diodes (LED) on grassland invertebrate communities has been assessed in a recent study. White LEDs increased the total abundance and changed the species of spiders and beetles recorded. Dimming lights and switching lights off during the middle of the night were the best ways of reducing the effects on beetle and spider numbers.
A new oil-spill risk-management system has been developed by researchers, which shows the likely effects of a coastal spill on the environment and economic activities for specific locations. It provides maps of oil-spill risk through a web portal and could help decision makers and emergency-response authorities protect the local environment and businesses through targeted and efficient planning and responses.
Water-supply planning that considers the preferences of multiple stakeholders under uncertain and variable future conditions are more robust than planning decisions based on historical conditions, a recent study has stated. Using the Thames river basin in the UK as an example, the researchers present a new computer-modelling approach to assess which combinations of water-management measures best secure future water supply under a wide range of possible future conditions.
The black locust tree can be economically valuable and offer certain environmental benefits, but its dominant and invasive nature in Europe can have an adverse impact on biodiversity. A recent study, which presents an overview of this species’ ecological and socio-economic impacts in Central Europe, recommends tolerating the tree in some areas and eradicating it in others, in order to balance its co-existence with people and nature.
Reusing waste water for non-drinking uses in decentralised plumbing networks may improve the efficiency of water supply in urban areas, a new study has found. Modelling this approach in San Francisco, researchers found that, depending on the local geography, a decentralised water supply could lead to energy savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from water treatment of around 30%. Improvements in emerging water-treatment technologies are likely to lead to further savings, which could help increase the efficiency of urban water supply.
A participatory approach to waste management has been tested in Naples, Italy, a city which has experienced ongoing problems with the collection of municipal waste. This study tested a toolkit, which uses stakeholder engagement to improve waste-management decision-making. Residents and other stakeholders supported the use of a technological innovation to develop biomass fuel from municipal waste.
The Canary Islands have the potential to become carbon neutral by 2050, a new study indicates. This could be achieved by shifting to a 100% renewable energy supply, improving energy efficiency and building new grid connections between islands. Energy solutions for small island regions, such as the Canaries, could act as role models for larger systems, as well as similar islands, the researchers suggest.
Climate change is having mixed — but mostly negative — impacts on ecosystem services, suggest data analysed by a new study. The research, which brings together the findings of over 100 other studies, found that 59% of reported impacts of climate change on ecosystem services are negative, while just 13% are positive. However, the method of research was shown to strongly influence whether impacts are reported as positive or negative, with expert opinion studies far more negative than other types of study.
Additional legislation and enforcement needed to protect threatened and rare reptiles from the pet trade in Europe?
The prominent role of EU countries in the international trade of reptiles for pets, including many rare and illegally traded species, is highlighted in a recent study. The researchers call for better enforcement and tighter legislation to control the trade, which is a major threat to global biodiversity. In particular the researchers appeal for legislation to be passed for species protected in their native range countries, which can currently be freely traded in the EU if they are not subject to international trade conventions such as CITES.
Ocean acidification threatens marine ecosystems worldwide, but economic assessments of its impact are lacking. A recent study has predicted the future cost of ocean acidification on mollusc production in Europe and showed that the highest economic impacts would be in France, Italy and Spain. For Europe overall, the annual damage could be in the region of €0.9 billion by 2100.
Silver nanoparticles are used in a range of household products. This study investigated the risk to plants of these nanoparticles in soil, showing that risk was overall low but increased when soils contained high levels of chlorine. The researchers, therefore, suggest that the risk of silver nanoparticles to plants may increase in salty soils or those irrigated with poor-quality water. These findings could be important for future risk assessments.
Long-chain perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) are persistent chemicals with proven toxic effects. This study estimated the emissions and concentrations of two such chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in 11 of Europe's most populated river catchments. Estimated emissions were lowest in the Thames and highest in the Rhine, while the EU environmental quality standard for PFOS was exceeded in all rivers. This study provides a picture of PFAAs contamination in rivers across Europe, and makes recommendations for achieving reductions.
Plant diversity improves soil stability, the results of a greenhouse experiment and a long-term field study show. This study, which covered a range of different soil types, is one of the first to investigate the effects of plant diversity on soil structure, which is important for provision of ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and the mitigation of excessive run-off. The findings could help tackle the problem of soil degradation, the researchers suggest.