Risk from unintentional environmental mixtures in EU surface waters is dominated by a limited number of substances

2022-09-28

Unintentional environmental mixtures happen when multiple chemicals co-occur in the environment. A generic mixture assessment factor (MAF), has been proposed to account for this. The MAF is a number by which safe exposure levels for single chemicals are divided to ensure protection against combined exposures to multiple chemicals. Two key elements to judge the appropriateness of a generic MAF are (1) defining the scope of mixtures that need to be addressed by a MAF (i.e.: simple mixtures vs complex mixtures), and (2) the existence of common risk drivers across large spatial scales. Simple mixtures with one to three risk drivers can easily be addressed by chemical-by-chemical regulatory action. Our work provides evidence on the prevalence and complexity of cumulative risk in EU freshwaters based on chemical monitoring data from one of the largest databases in the EU. With 334 chemicals being monitored, low complexity mixtures (one to 3 three risk drivers) dominated. Only 15 out of 307 chemicals (5 %) were most frequent chemical risk drivers. When these 15 chemicals were excluded from the analysis, 95 % of all monitoring site – year combinations did not pose a concern for cumulative risk. Most of these 15 chemicals are already banned or listed in various priority lists, showing that current regulatory frameworks were effective in identifying drivers of single chemical and cumulative risk. Although the monitoring data do not represent the entirety of environmental mixtures in the EU, the observed patterns of (1) limited prevalence of truly complex mixtures, and (2) limited number of overall risk drivers, argue against the need for implementing a generic MAF as a regulatory tool to address risk from unintentional mixtures in EU freshwaters.

Authors: Ismael Rodea-Palomares, Zhenglei Gao, Arnd Weyers, Markus Ebeling
; Full Source: The Science of the total environment 2022 Sep 28;159090. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.159090.