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  • Final Report Summary - ELUTE (Elucidating Sources & Pathways of Environmental Contamination with Brominated Persistent Organic Chemicals Using Advanced Instrumental Tools (ELUTE))

Final Report Summary - ELUTE (Elucidating Sources & Pathways of Environmental Contamination with Brominated Persistent Organic Chemicals Using Advanced Instrumental Tools (ELUTE))

Project Overview and Research & Training Objectives
ELUTE’s overriding hypothesis was that current understanding of the environmental fate and behaviour of brominated persistent organic chemicals can be improved substantially by imaginative exploitation of recent advances in technology led by the private sector. Its main research goal was to further understanding of the environmental fate and behaviour of brominated persistent organic chemicals and how we may deploy recent advances in analytical instrumentation to do so. ELUTE’s vision was that enhanced understanding of the underpinning science will benefit public health, regulators and scientists by improving the evidence upon which policies may be based to ensure sustainable use of chemicals. Moreover, via partnership with a major scientific instrument manufacturer, ELUTE aimed to bring economic benefits by demonstrating the capacity of their products to generate novel insights into how chemicals interact with the environment.

The principal research objectives of ELUTE were to provide robust scientific information to improve understanding of:
(1) to what extent we can reliably use user-friendly field based instruments and/or simpler, cheaper laboratory-based techniques to identify products and waste materials containing high levels of brominated flame retardants (BFRs);
(2) whether and to what extent the use of BFRs has led to an increase in environmental contamination by brominated dioxins and furans;
(3) the environmental fate of BFRs, including the degradation/metabolic products of both restricted BFRs and their replacements.

ELUTE’s Training Programme aimed to provide a knowledge base and experience to a group of trainees and to develop their transferable skills for future careers in the private sector, academia, the public sector, or the regulatory community. The widespread use of flame retardant chemicals in consumer goods and materials and the need to ensure that such use is sustainable, is outstripping the supply of scientists suitably qualified to monitor and understand the impacts on the environment of this use of chemicals, and to ensure public health is protected. ELUTE thus addressed an urgent need to have scientists skilled in the assessment of environmental fate and behaviour of chemicals, who are capable of leading multidisciplinary/sector research activities, so that Europe remains strong in this field. By training four ESRs, ELUTE has made a direct impact on Europe’s capacity to use chemicals in a sustainable manner. Moreover, while the environmental fate and behaviour of chemicals used in consumer products is the subject of intense global interest and activity; exchange of knowledge between policy-makers and researchers in academia, government institutes, and the private sector is restricted by their differing perspectives and motivations. ELUTE thus developed a group of young scientists with the necessary depth and breadth of experience, combined with the research and transferable/complementary skills required to communicate and work effectively across disciplinary and sectoral boundaries. This was achieved via an equal partnership between academia and industry intent on producing a group of young researchers with the experience and expertise in the scientific and complementary skills required to advance knowledge in these fields regardless of the sector within which they work.

Summary of Work Conducted:
The 4 trainee projects undertaken were:
1. Evaluating the Utility of Instrumental Tools for Screening for the Presence of Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs);
2. Has the Use of Brominated Flame Retardants Led to Environmental Contamination of Brominated Dioxins & Furans?
3. Exploring the Potential of High Mass Resolution and Mass Accuracy Mass Spectrometric Techniques to Track the Environmental Metabolism and Fate of Brominated Flame Retardants: Application to Human Exposure;
and 4. Exploring the Potential of High Mass Resolution and Mass Accuracy Mass Spectrometric Techniques to Track the Environmental Metabolism and Fate of Brominated Flame Retardants: Application to the Ambient Environment.

As well as training-through-research delivered by the trainee projects, a substantial quantity of more formal training activities took place. These include cohort-wide Advanced Training Courses in generic aspects such as Communicating Science with non-scientific stakeholders, and techniques for sampling and analysis. These are in addition to a large number of project-specific training courses, e.g. in the operation of specific state-of-the-art instrumentation and software.

Main Results Achieved:
ELUTE has delivered substantially enhanced scientific understanding of the environmental fate and behaviour of brominated flame retardants and how best it may be monitored. This knowledge will be invaluable to scientists involved in environmental fate and risk assessment of chemicals, in research, policy-making and commercial measurement technology contexts. For example, ELUTE’s evaluation of the utility of hand-held XRF as an accurate metric of restricted BFR concentrations in waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) has potential to transform approaches to monitoring compliance with the RoHS and WEEE Directives. Further, ELUTE’s new approaches to identifying degradation/metabolic products of BFRs will assist assessments of the long-term environmental fate and risk of their use is of tremendous potential benefit. ELUTE also provided evidence suggesting that the widespread past use of some brominated flame retardants has led to environmental contamination with brominated dioxins and furans, as well as data to show that environmental contamination with "new" brominated flame retardants is already substantial. In addition to these benefits, ELUTE has enhanced innovation potential, by generating patentable technological advances in the field of analytical chemistry instrumentation, as well as providing robust and scientifically-credible applications of such advances and related technologies.

To date, ELUTE’s research results have been disseminated to the scientific community via 4 publications in peer-reviewed journals. This number is anticipated to at least double over the coming 12-18 months. In addition – and reflecting ELUTE's cross-sectoral nature – 2 patent applications have been filed as a direct consequence of its research activities. Dissemination has also occurred via numerous presentations by ELUTE trainees and their supervisors at national international conferences. The high quality of these presentations is illustrated by the fact that two ELUTE trainees won Best Student Presentation awards at major international conferences attended by ~800 delegates.

In summary, ELUTE has delivered a cohort of 4 well-trained early career scientists equipped for careers in both academic and commercial research and development sectors. Moreover, its scientific results have furthered our understanding of the environmental fate and behaviour of persistent brominated chemical contaminants and their metabolic/degradation products and how we can most effectively monitor this.

For more detail about the ELUTE project visit www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/elute/index.aspx or contact Professor Stuart Harrad at S.J.Harrad@bham.ac.uk

Reported by

THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM
United Kingdom

Subjects

Life Sciences
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