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Development and evaluation of a model-based strategy to identify POP-like chemicals with a potential to accumulate on Svalbard

Alternative title: Utvikling og evaluering av en modellbasert strategi for å identifisere miljøgiftlignende stoffer som kan akkumulere på Svalbard

Awarded: NOK 10.0 mill.

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Project Period:

2023 - 2029

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In 2001, a global agreement was concluded, the Stockholm Convention, which aims to protect people and the environment against acknowledged environmental toxins. A key question is whether this agreement captures all environmentally toxic substances among the large number of chemicals in commerce. Research has shown that the levels of many environmental toxins have been alarmingly high in the polar regions. Another key question is how many and which chemical substances may have gone under the radar with respect to their possible occurrence in the Arctic environment? New environmental pollutants have mostly been discovered using advanced chemical analysis methods. A limitation of this method is that the new environmental toxins we find are often those that are similar to known environmental toxins. In addition, a chemical analysis says little about where a possible problem substance originates. In this project, we will not look for possible contaminants because of similarities to the known environmental toxins. Instead, we will start with the thousands of chemical substances that we already know are produced on a significant scale. We will then develop mathematical models to understand and predict whether these substances have properties that suggest they can be transported via air and sea currents on a global scale and end up in the Arctic. Based on an initial ranking, we will then repeat the analysis, but then also consider how likely it is that we will find these priority substances on Svalbard, at what levels and where. This list will help us plan and carry out fieldwork on Svalbard. Finally, we will develop and apply new chemical analysis methods to see if any of the relevant substances are present in the samples. The results will be communicated to relevant decision-makers involved in chemical strategies for substances that may end up in the Arctic. The project is interdisciplinary and integrates environmental chemistry with other scientific disciplines.

The Stockholm Convention (SC) recognizes that Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are transported, through air, water, and migratory species, across international boundaries and deposited far from their place of release, where they accumulate in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. We have recently documented that simple criteria, metrics and models motivated by regulatory needs used to assess chemicals for long-range environmental transport potential (LRTP) suffer from major limitations. A key example is the existing approach which is recommended by the OECD and extensively used in evaluation POP candidates under the SC. Recognizing such shortcomings, we have developed an alternative approach to LRTP assessment which strongly suggests that the existing approach leads to a high risk for false negatives, e.g. because it does not integrate transport via seawater and air, enabling comprehensive LRTP assessment. This calls for further research to identify chemicals in commerce which are yet to be recognized as having LRTP and, ultimately, whether some of these chemicals can be detected in remote Arctic regions, such as Svalbard. We propose to develop and evaluate a mechanistic model-based strategy to identify POP-like high production volume chemicals (HPVs) that may accumulate on Svalbard and across the pan-Arctic region due to LRT in air and seawater combined. The point of departure is a list > 12,000 HPVs which will go through a tiered screening system. The progression of tiers will be designed to direct the attention towards POP-like chemicals that may accumulate on Svalbard at detectable levels. Based on the assessment of environmental levels of POP-like chemicals, we will develop new analytical methods and carry out targeted field work on Svalbard to evaluate the efficacy of the tiered screening system. The proposal blends environmental chemistry with interdisciplinary perspectives by targeting atmospheric, marine, and terrestrial environments, including wildlife.

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