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Interest Group for Persistence Science

16 Apr 2024


The Persistence Science Interest Group (PSIG) has been established as a SETAC Interest Group this year to focus on the degradation of chemicals in the environment. The tendency for chemicals and their transformation products to remain intact in the environment and resist degradation processes is termed as persistence.

Currently a “hot topic” for SETAC and regulators around the globe, there is significant interest as there are both rapid research and policy developments in the area. There has been a sustained organic growth in related sessions, abstracts and audience sizes at SETAC conferences. However, until now, there has been no general forum for discussion or point at which experts can connect, share or find out about the latest research on persistence. The PSIG will serve to cultivate and sustain this interest by supporting and promoting activities, reporting on developments, and providing a clear point of contact for SETAC members with an interest in the topic.

The interest in persistence at SETAC has steadily been increasing in recent years, in line with growing public, policy and research interest in the topic. Catalyzed by notable issues of widespread alarm, such as concerns surrounding the environmental and health risks of highly persistent (micro)plastic particles and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), there have been dedicated sessions related to (bio)degradation and/or persistence in many of the recent SETAC Europe annual meetings. 

Purpose and Scope of the PSIG

The purpose of the Group is to enable stakeholders to discuss and develop a richer understanding of the  persistence and degradation processes that a chemical may undergo while in the environment. All aspects of degradation are considered relevant, including rates, pathways, controlling processes and factors, and transformation products. Man-made processes designed to degrade chemicals are also included, such as those found in waste, sewerage, or wastewater treatment and industrial composting, as persistence science is commonly centred around environmental fate in end-of-life stages of a chemical. However, scenarios are envisaged where other lifecycle stages may be relevant, and are likely to become more prevalent as society moves toward a circular economy. The PSIG will consider the degradation of all organic chemicals within its remit, irrespective of the nature, source, application or sector.

A further objective is to support the development of tools and approaches for assessing degradation and persistence. Degradation is commonly assessed prospectively using a range of standardized laboratory tests, however, there are shortcomings creating the need for continuous refinement, development and adoption of novel approaches. The desire to improve these methods and make better use of information from the field to assess degradation, and the importance of the computational methods for predicting degradation are areas requiring development which can be fostered within this Group. 

In addition to data from degradation experiments, other information from sources such as environmental monitoring and modelling may be key to a robust understanding of persistence. As persistence assessment requires a weight-of-evidence approach to combine relevant information and reach scientifically acceptable conclusions, the Group will support the ongoing development and improvement of these approaches.

Specific Topics of Interest of PSIG

  • Biological and abiotic degradation processes affecting chemicals, occurring under different environmental conditions. Factors and processes controlling the occurrence and rates of these processes, including bioavailability.
  • Degradation pathways and transformation products
  • Methods for assessing (bio)degradation of chemicals, including new and improved experimental testing methods and in silico methods, as well as high-throughput methods
  • Regulatory (bio)degradation and persistence assessment practices, including weight-of-evidence
  • Understanding and assessing microbial community and enzyme composition and dynamics and its implications for biodegradation of chemicals
  • Novel approaches addressing the issue of lab-to-field extrapolation and improving understanding of degradation processes in the real environment. These may incorporate monitoring and/or modelling, or other techniques.
  • Sustainable by design chemistry and understanding chemical properties relevant for non-persistence

Hugely complex, this topic requires diverse and multidisciplinary expertise and collaborative techniques to explore it. As such, the inaugural steering committee welcomes all interested SETAC members to join the Group and contribute to furthering the understanding of all aspects of chemical degradation and environmental persistence. 

The Inaugural Steering Committee

Christopher Hughes, Aina C. Wennberg, Kostas Andreou, Glauco Battagliarin, Pippa Curtis-Jackson, Dieter Hennecke, Delina Lyon, Jose-Julio Ortega-Calvo, Amelie Ott, Zhiyi Rong, Gabriel Sigmund 


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Chris Hughes

Chris Hughes