Skip to main content
European Commission logo
Research and Innovation

Protecting Europe from future chemical risks

By 2050, the global population will soar to 9 billion, with three quarters of this number living in urban areas. Pressure on ecosystems due to population growth, urbanisation and climate change will reach its peak. The EU-funded project ECORISK2050 set out to tackle the daunting task of future environmental risk management of chemicals in the face of global climate change.

©TensorSpark #703371085 | source:

PDF Basket

No article selected

Funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Innovative Training Networks programme, ECORISK2050 brought together a team of 13 European PhD students to explore the relationship between climate change and the environmental risks of chemicals of emerging concern such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Additionally, this initiative was dedicated to cultivating a new wave of environmental scientists, poised to navigate the climate challenges of the future.

Project coordinator, Paul van den Brink, highlights the importance of the early-career researchers: “It was our European PhD students who created experiments and scenario-based forecasting models to predict the interactive effects of climate change and chemicals in the environment.”

Understanding environmental dynamics

The project’s main objective was to assess how the environmental risks of these toxins morph under environmental pressures (including those specific to EU regions), and how these interactions might evolve under various climate change scenarios. Comprehensive evaluation was crucial for understanding the potential escalation in chemical risks to human health and ecosystems.

Secondly, ECORISK2050 aimed to pinpoint effective strategies for adaptation and mitigation that could be applied in the near to mid-term future. And lastly, the initiative focused on creating a comprehensive toolkit for both industry leaders and policymakers so that future chemical risks can be assessed and managed.

To achieve these goals, the PhD students delved into literature reviews, conducted experiments and analysed data to safeguard water and soil against the dual threats of climate change and chemical contamination. And beyond academia, ECORISK2050 also engaged with consultants, industry players and policymakers to address the intricate web of environmental stressors originating from human activities.

The approach was structured around Work Packages that focused on different aspects of environmental risk management, including scenarios, exposure, effects, risks and mitigation, and dissemination and outreach.

Pioneering mitigation strategies

At the core of the methodology lay robust risk modelling strategies. By amalgamating previous data sources and constructing new scenario-based models, researchers could forecast environmental chemical exposure under diverse climate change scenarios.

The evaluation explored the expected shifts in these processes, with an emphasis on the escalating threat these chemicals posed to public health and the well-being of ecosystems.

“The fate and effects of the chemicals are altered by changes in use and temperature,” adds van den Brink. “But not always in the same way – it is context-specific.”

Focusing on northern and southern European landscapes, ECORISK2050 examined the presence of substances such as ibuprofen in wastewater, microplastic-pharmaceutical coexistence in soil, and the impact of pesticides and fungicides. While the project laid the groundwork for future studies on herbicides and household cleaners, it also highlighted the importance of enhancing data quality for effective risk management strategies. As urbanisation and climate change escalate, the need for data-driven solutions to reduce chemical impacts on environments and human health becomes imperative.

The outcomes were impressive, and included the development of several tools aimed at addressing chemical emissions, exposure, effects and mitigation in both agricultural and aquatic environments, as they adapt to changing climate conditions. Other strategies explored were eco-friendly chemical design and wastewater pollutant removal technologies.

By empowering stakeholders with the right resources, ECORISK2050 hopes to promote informed policy decision-making and proactive risk management.

“Transitioning towards a safe and sustainable future demands both societal and institutional changes,” concludes van den Brink, “balancing the benefits of chemical use and the need for sustainability and safety. Future risks can also be mitigated by changes in behaviour and substitution of chemicals for safer alternatives.”

A dual legacy

The ambitious initiative has defined how we understand, manage and will mitigate the risks associated with chemical pollutants, ensuring a safer and more sustainable future for all. And its findings have been presented at numerous conferences including those of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and the International Society of Limnology.

Perhaps one of ECORISK2050’s most significant contributions is the delivery of a new generation of environmental scientists, who are now equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate this evolving landscape.

PDF Basket

No article selected

Project details

Project acronym
Project number
Project coordinator: Netherlands
Project participants:
United Kingdom
Total cost
€ 3 596 088
EU Contribution
€ 3 596 088
Project duration

See also

More information about project ECORISK2050

All success stories