Brunel University, UK

John Sumpter is a professor in the Institute of Environment, Health and Societies at Brunel University London ...

... He has worked there for the last 40 years. His research interests focus primarily on the effects of chemicals on freshwater fish. He is probably best known for his research on the presence of oestrogenic chemicals, especially the pharmaceutical ethinyl estradiol, in the aquatic environment and their association with intersexuality in wild fish. That research led him to study the possible effects of other pharmaceuticals, including cardiovascular drugs and drugs that act on the central nervous system. He has become concerned about the quality of much published ecotoxicology research, and has recently published a series of papers supporting those concerns and suggesting how ecotoxicology research can be improved. He is one of the most highly cited, and hence influential, environmental scientists in the world. According to the Web of Science Core Collection there are presently over 28,000 citations to the 250 papers he has published. He has an h-index of 80 (i.e. 80 of his research papers have been cited more than 80 times). As his career nears its end he is increasing spending more time with young scientists, advising them if appropriate and trying to inspire them, in the hope that they can do a better job at protecting aquatic biodiversity than his generation has done.”

 

Abstract


Persistence or toxicity: which is the most important?

John P. Sumpter1, *

1 Institute of Environment, Health and Societies, Brunel University London, UK

Over 100,000 chemicals are presently in widespread use, a number that is increasing by about 2,000 each year. Studying the human health and environmental impacts of all these chemicals is not possible, because society does not have the resources or trained scientists to do so. How, then, can human health and the environment be adequately protected from chemicals? The best way would be to target our research on those chemicals which pose the greatest threat. Yet this is not what we do. Instead, scientists usually choose a chemical, or group of chemicals, to study, and they either measure their concentrations in the environment and in biota (including humans), or they investigate their toxicity, usually by doing laboratory experiments. Hence some scientists might study metals throughout their careers, others study pharmaceuticals or pesticides, and others study persistent organic pollutants (POPs). But which of these chemicals is of most concern? Are polychlorinated biphenyls or perfluorinated chemicals (both POPs) of more or less concern than metals or steroid pharmaceuticals such as ethinyl estradiol (EE2)? POPs have very long half-lives and accumulate in biota, but are not of major concern as a consequence of their toxicity, whereas EE2 is present in the environment at extremely low concentrations, does not accumulate in biota to a significant extent, but is an extremely potent reproductive toxicant. Put another way, a concentration of 1ng/L of EE2 in the aquatic environment is definitely of concern, whereas the same concentration of a POP may not be. How do we decide which of these chemicals poses the greatest threat to the environment and human health? How do we balance persistence and toxicity?