Project summary

NewSTHEPS aims to develop innovative approaches and novel practical techniques that address the current fundamental scientific and methodological issues related to the implementation of Good Environmental Status (GES) for Descriptor 8 of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive that aims to ensure that the levels of contaminants in the marine environment do not give rise to pollution effects. This integrated approach will lead to the development of novel procedures for comprehensive environmental monitoring and risk assessment of a broad set of both priority and emerging contaminants in the marine environment allowing an integrated, more efficient, cost-effective and scientifically relevant way to assess GES.

Within the NewSTHEPS project, novel and integrated passive sampler (PS)-based approaches (modelling and measurements) will be developed for both chemical exposure (monitoring) and biological effect assessment (passive dosing). Through the use and validation of a broader array of PS techniques, applicable in a wide polarity range, the project will focus on the quantitation of a much more extended set of both priority and emerging organic micropollutants and metals (targeted approach). Next to that, also untargeted analysis with high-resolution mass spectrometry will be performed to develop qualitative screening approaches able to (1) detect trace levels of a virtually unlimited number of known (suspect) and possibly unknown contaminants. Additionally, to trace the Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) towards its origin, carbon (12C / 13C) and nitrogen (14N / 15N) stable isotope ratios will be measured in the sample. Organic matter from marine and terrestrial origin has a quite different isotopic C, and sometimes also N, signature. In some cases, it might even be possible to identify the sources of the organic matter present in the marine environment. In addition, modelling techniques will be of a great extra support for that purpose. 
This novel and integrated approach allows (1) better measurement of contamination levels in the marine environment, and (2) to assess of the ecotoxicity of multicomponent mixtures including possible synergistic and cumulative effects and compound profiling / identification. The development and validation of an integrated model to quantify the environmental status of the Belgian coastal zone by predicting accumulation, trophic transfer and effects of chemicals in this specific (local) ecosystem are central ussues in this project.

The CALUX assays are very useful techniques for the screening of pollutant groups, such as dioxins (AhR receptor) and estrogens (ER receptor). The extracts from the passive samplers for organic pollutants can be analysed by CALUX assays.
Finally, hydrodynamic and sediment transport models will be adapted to simulate the transport of the selected pollutants. The measurements of stable isotopes (SPM) will form a basis for calibrating the model. This approach must allow taking appropriate measures to identify pollution sources in case of exceeding EQS. As the Belgian Part of the North Sea (BPNS) has been polluted for many years, one of the main challenges will be the proposal of appropriate measures for problematic compounds. Since those measures will be very costly, it is imperative they are cost-effective.