Kaikki kirjoittajan jarkkoa artikkelit

Microplastics and ecotoxicology

Science is partly about trends and what is currently in fashion. Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that the hot topics are somehow unnecessary to study. It is just something for which you find funding at certain time. As an example from the field of ecotoxicology nanoparticles are a perfect example. If you went to international ecotoxicology congress ten years ago there was hardly any presentations about nanomaterials. The evolution was pretty quick and soon one could catch several sessions on nanoecotoxicology in those same congresses. Nowadays it is blended in, which means that nanoparticle presentations are part of “normal” sessions.

Studies about the microplastics in the environment are currently going through the same progress. The hype has not peaked yet, but getting there. And no doubt plastics are a huge problem in the environment. While ecologists seem to take main responsible about bigger plastic litter the smaller pieces called microplastics draws the attention of us ecotoxicologists. This is probably because we have learned to study the fate and effects of tiny particles (=nanoparticles) during the past decade. The differences is that in the case of nanomaterials we have done something that can be called predictive ecotoxicology i.e. for the most parts we have been trying to figure out the potential effects of nanomaterials if or when they reach the environment. There are still many open questions connected to this. For example the fundamental question if the tools and dose metrics developed for chemicals are doing the job in the case of nanomaterials. They are particles by the definition and they don’t behave like chemicals.

In the case of microplastics the things are maybe even trickier. In most cases we don’t know what to test. Primary microplastics are in micro-sized already in the applications they are used (e.g. cosmetics) whereas secondary microplastics are formed in breakdown of bigger plastic litter due to various environmental processes. Currently we don’t know the ultimate fate or the degradation rates of different plastic types in variable environments. But we do know that at least at certain sites the average particle size is shrinking. This means that we don’t necessarily add more plastic to these systems but the plastic that is already there is breaking down into smaller particles.

So, we don’t yet know what we have there and which kind of problem they are. This applies especially to freshwater environments. At the moment we are mostly testing different types of commercial round shaped particles of certain precise size. Looking at environmental samples the reality is different. We have a mixture of odd shaped particles and different types of fibers. This already suggests that banning the use of microbeads does not necessarily do the trick, although all reductions of plastic input into the environments is good. The previous is underlined with the fact that there are indications that in fish for example we do not find beads but for example fibers, whereas in the surrounding environment we have the beads. Plus we have the emerging secondary microplastics with various types and shapes. To overcome this shortage we need to develop sampling and analytical methods and do more research overall. After that we know which particles/plastic types we should be worried about.

microfiberPotential sources for microfibers (left) and polyester fibers found in water fleas after laboratory exposure (right). Photos by Dr. Napaporn Leadprathom.

Also, I don’t think that the degradation processes stop at micro it continues to nano. Then the properties, environmental fate and effects of plastics may change as we know from the nanomaterials research. We should look into that as well starting with development of methodology for sampling and analyses.

P.S. During this increasing interest in microplastics it is sad to see news like below:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/12/misconduct-allegations-fly-spat-over-paper-microplastics-and-fish-larvae

I don’t see a good result for this. Either the authors heavily violated the good scientific conduct or they have been falsely accused. In both cases it is bad news. Anyway, I hope that the truth finds its way.

NORDROCS 2016 – lessons learned


6th Joint Nordic Meeting on Remediation of Contaminated Sites was held at Aalto University in Otaniemi, Espoo. This nicely organized lively meeting gathered over 200 participants. Biggest crowds outside Finland came from Sweden (45), Denmark (38) and Norway (28). There was a few participants even from Japan and US. Difference to “ordinary” scientific meetings was the large number of participants and presenters from private sector and authorities. I think that that people representing academia were a minority. However, that was not a problem, but offered a good chance to catch up the current status of the environmental management and remediation. Therefore, below you can find a list of lessons learned during the conference.

  1. Retuperän WBK is still going strong.
  2. PFAS-compounds are more problematic than previously thought. They tend to accumulate also to remote areas.
  3. Remediation of contaminated soils is serious business. This observation is based on the high number of consultancy companies and diverse presentations about different types of soil remediation methods.
  4. Remediation of contaminated sediments is not serious business. However, there is an exception to every rule. Except to the previous rule, which stated that remediation of contaminated soils is serious business, there’s no exceptions. But in the case of sediments, Norway is the exception. There they invest quite a bit of public money to remediate contaminated sediments, whereas soils are more land owner’s problem.
  5. The reason why remediation of contaminated sediments is not a big thing is simple. No-one forces us to do anything. We have tools for risk assessment and also small number of methods to remediate, but steering from above is still missing. EU level does not have such regulation (at least not yet) and at the current economic situation makes sure that we won’t do anything extra at national level.
  6. After a cruise to see Espoo and also part of Helsinki from another angle legendary “Kalastajatorppa” offered a great venue for conference dinner with live music and everything. The food was great. The welcome toast, ice-cold Koskenkorva with one lingonberry in the bottom, raised some questions among people. We are pretty much used to sparkling wine or something like that. Well, empty stomach and that was quite a combination. On the other hand someone said that it is not a drink but traditional Finnish berry salad. Luckily the organizers had organized the schedule so that I had my talk in the next morning, so I left early.
  7. Philomela choir is also great.

To sum up, the conference was really worth to participate.

JUFO = Journal, an unidentified flying object

Julkaisufoorumin etusivulla lukee näin: ”Julkaisufoorumi on suomalaisen tiedeyhteisön toteuttama, tutkimuksen laadunarviointia tukeva julkaisukanavien tasoluokitus”. Harvoin on tiedeyhteisön toteuttama asia onnistunut aiheuttamaan omassa tiedeyhteisössäni ja muissa kollegoissani yhtä paljon nurinaa, hammastenkiristelyä, vitsailua sekä naureskelua kuin tässä tapauksessa. Luettuani viimeisimmän Acatiimi-lehden huomasin, että hämmästely ei ole rajoittunut pelkästään meidän tieteenalallemme. Sinänsä ymmärrän kyllä tarkoitusperät, koska JUFO-luokitus toimii ohjaavana tekijänä, kun yliopistot ja niiden yksiköt saavat rahoitusta tieteellisistä julkaisuista. Enää rahoitus ei siis riipu pelkästään julkaisujen määrästä vaan myös laadusta.

Julkaisufoorumin on siis luokitellut suuren määrän tieteellisiä julkaisusarjoja. Luokassa 3 ovat jokaisen tieteenalan huippusarjat, luokassa 2 on johtavat, luokassa 1 perustasoiset (tähän kuuluu kansallisiakin sarjoja) ja sitten on vielä ym. sarjat. Ilmeisen monessa tapauksessa on kuitenkin menty pieleen, sen verran luokitus on keskustelua aiheuttanut. Olin myös luullut, että järjestelmä vähentäisi tieteenalojen välisiä eroja julkaisujen tasoa arvioitaessa….no, eihän sitä voi käyttää tieteenalojen väliseen vertailuun. Ymmärrän sen, kun tieteenalan sisälläkään julkaisusarjoja saada sellaiseen järjestykseen, että se vaikuttaisi kansainvälisen tiedeyhteisön mielestä järkevältä.

Esimerkkinä voin kertoa erään tapauksen omasta tutkimusryhmästä. Olimme tarjonneet erästä tutkimusryhmämme kansainvälisenä yhteistyönä kirjoitettua artikkelia oman alamme johtavaan lehteen (JUFO-2). Ei kelvannut sinne, joten mietimme seuraavaa siirtoa. Ehdotimme kansainvälisille yhteiskumppaneille erästä toista julkaisusarjaa. Se ei kuitenkaan aiheuttanut suuria intohimoja, totesivat vain, että ihan hyvä, mutta entäpä tämä ja tämä. No, minä sitten selitin, että sarjat tämä ja tämä ovat JUFO-1 luokassa ja se meidän ehdottamani on JUFO-3. vastauksena viesti, jossa kirjoitettiin ”ha ha ha, onko UEF:n rehtori kyseisen sarjan editori?”. Kerroin luokituksen olevan valtakunnallisen ja toki luokituksen taustat sekä myös miten se liittyy meidän saamaan rahoitukseen. Tällöin tyytyivät valintaamme. Teimme itse asiassa jo kerran samoin viime vuonna. Yritimme JUFO-2 sarjaan, ei kelvannut sinne, mutta lopputulemana julkaisu JUFO-3 sarjassa. Tätä kirjoittaessa ei ole vielä tiedossa, kelpaako tämän kertainen käsikirjoitus siihen JUFO-3 luokituksen saaneeseen sarjaan. Toisena esimerkkinä voi toimia tällä hetkellä ulkomailla työskentelevä suomalainen kollega, joka totesi yhteisjulkaisuumme sopivaa sarja mietittäessä, että hänen on mietittävä ihan jotain muuta kuin JUFO-luokituta. Ymmärrän hyvin, koska meidän JUFO-luokituksemme ei liene kansainvälisesti kovin tunnettu.

Julkaisufoorumillehan voi esittää tason muutoksia, jos siltä tuntuu. Ei välttämättä tunnu, jos kerran sinne JUFO-3 lehteen jutut menevät helpommin läpi. Sitä paitsi eiköhän tämäkin korjaannu ja kaikki meidän tieteenalan lehdet valu sinne 1-luokkaan kun tasoja tarkistetaan tulevaisuudessa. Saavatpahan kansainväliset yhteistyökumppanit lisää naureskeltavaa, kun seuraavan kerran taas valitaan sarjoja, joissa yhteistyönä tehtyjä käsikirjoituksia yritetään saada julkaistuksi. No, voi olla turhaa nurinaa ja kateellisten panettelua. Pitää kai vain nostaa oman tutkimuksen tasoa luokituksen muuttuessa, mutta kuten tiedämme, (J)UFOt osaavat olla arvaamattomia. Eivätkä kaikki ole edes sitä mieltä, että niitä on olemassa.

Introduction of our research group leader

 

Akkain_vol2

Name: Jarkko Akkanen

Education: MSc in Biology, PhD in Ecotoxicology

How did you end up studying biology?

I actually started studying chemistry, but took biology as minor. Then I found environmental chemistry and aquatic toxicology from the Department of Biology and realized that this is it. Eventually I graduated from the Department of Biology.

When and why did you decide to become a researcher?

I didn’t. As a teenager I decided not to go to university, well few years later I found myself in the university. Then I decided that I will leave as soon as I get my Master’s, but during my Master thesis work I noticed that this is not too bad actually. I’m still on that path not knowing what I will become when I grow up.

Who is the person that has influenced your career the most?

Well, initially that must be Professor Jussi Kukkonen who (probably in a moment of weakness) thought that I would be suitable for PhD-studies and decided take me to one of his projects.

Why University of Eastern Finland?

Our research area in Aquatic Research in Changing World provides excellent possibilities for cooperation on the research focus that we have right now.

Why ecotoxicology?

Hard to say, that was something that was totally unknown to me before entering the university, but as said already right away I thought that this is interesting and after that I targeted all studies to ecotoxicology.

What are your working with at the moment?

Well, administration…, facility rearrangements, teaching, and a little bit of research

What do you think is the best part of your work?

If I mention only one thing, it is when you can teach something that is based on our own research. Then you can really deliver something, which goes beyond the written knowledge, to the students and really help them to learn how to solve problems.

What part of your work could you live without?

…quite common answer among scientist: administration….

What do you think is the most important thing you have learned in your work?

How very little I know and understand…

What kind of personalities you need to become a successful researcher?

A real ambition for research.

Can you give us an example of your work day:

07:00 – 09:00 First check e-mails (not enough energy to answer any). After a furious battle I manage to wake up our youngest one, dress and feed him and eventually get him to school.

09:00 – 10:00 At the office, a cup of tea. Evaluation of student papers. A couple of calls about facility rearrangements and department matters in between.

10:00 – 12:30 Meeting of the teaching development group.

12:30 – 13:00 Call back to those that tried to reach you during the meeting and lunch at the same time

13:00 – 14:00 Trying to figure out some questions connected to a research project

14:00 – 15:00 A meeting with a pedagogics study group over coffee

15:00 – 15:45 A call on departmental matters

15:45 – 17:00 Writing a travel grant to participate a scientific meeting

17:00 – 18:30 Have to go home to feed the kids

18:30 – 20:00 Some emails and still trying to write the travel grant (with several interruptions)

P.S. I really managed to submit the travel grant application.