Integrating Science and Policy for Environmental Challenges: Key Takeaways from SETAC Europe 2024 

Last month our managing director Christina and three ecotoxicologists Charlie, Alice and Chloe swapped the grey and rainy skies of Northern England for full sun in Southern Spain to attend SETAC Europe 2024. Organised in the beautiful city of Seville, the conference was a success on all fronts, with thought-provoking sessions on a range of regulation changes and challenges, so many poster areas that you needed a full day just to tour all the areas (special shout out to the outside poster area!) and fantastic parallel events to dive into. We learnt a lot, discussed some of our all-time favourite topics like effects modelling and endocrine disruption, and made new connections to continue the fun discussions outside of the conference. The theme this year was ‘science-based solutions in times of crisis: integrating science and policy for environmental challenges’. Some technical highlights included: 

  • Higher tier bee risk assessment continued to be a divisive topic, with one speaker with a testing background now a convert to ecological models to solve risk assessment questions whilst the very next speaker disagreed and maintained that field studies were the solution. Whilst both have their benefits, we are staunch supporters of the former position, though it is still a challenge to see the swarm through the bees… 
  • Behavioural endpoints in chemical testing. In another talk, the results of a survey conducted across regulatory bodies, academia, and industry (a total of 168 respondents from 27 countries) showed there was good consensus that behavioural endpoints were repeatable, reliable, and relevant amongst those who study behaviour, whilst support was much lower in those that do not study behaviour. This suggests a lack of information / understanding in the wider community, or a credibility issue. But the most striking slide highlighted that there is far less support for the extrapolation from disrupted behaviour to apical endpoints and population response, with only ~35% of academia in agreement, ~20% from regulatory bodies and less than 10% from industry. This link is fundamental to addressing protection goals and these results seem in direct contrast to recent publications on the topic (e.g., Agerstrand et al. 2020)! More work required… 
  • The implementation of thyroid hormone system-related (THS) endpoints into fish ED (Endocrine Disruption) test guidelines. Over the four days there were a handful of speakers who discussed various aspects of this topic. One speaker presented their laboratory work on Zebrafish, incorporating the THS-sensitive endpoints into two established OECD tests (OECD TG 236 & 210). Their results discussed both whether these endpoints were suitability measured in zebrafish and at which developmental stages. Overall, their data suggested that THS disruption was possible to detect in Zebrafish at two time points. Another presenter took a more general approach to the topic, summarising what we already know and where the knowledge gaps are for the most common regulatory tested fish species. These talks highlighted the potential of fish assays taking the place of amphibian assays for thyroid modality investigation and possibly detecting all EATS modalities, which would be an interesting development for the regulatory testing of ED, as we see more ED data requirements and testing on the horizon… 

On top of all of this, we were first time exhibitors with a stand! This additional space was unbelievably valuable to meet more people than ever before and continue conversations after our platform and poster presentations more easily. Although there is never enough time to speak with everyone, and the follow up with or ‘I didn’t get a chance to speak to them’ lists are long, we came back to Newcastle buzzing 🐝

For us, SETAC facilitates a unique gathering of scientists from academia, industry, consultancy, and regulators that is mostly unlike other conferences. We were honoured to participate in another SETAC Europe, and already looking forward to Vienna next year!