Home - Themes - Preserve water quality - Improving monitoring of micropollutants in aquatic environments


    -Valéria Dulio \ Ineris
    "Thanks to its national plan for micropollutants, France plays a central role in Europe in prioritising the issues linked to polluting substances in water..."

    -Thierry Burgeot \ Ifremer

    "As part of its monitoring work on marine environments, Ifremer and Onema have developed biological indicators to determine the effects of chemical contamination on sentinel species such as the European flounder and mussels..."

Improving monitoring of micropollutants in aquatic environments

The Ecology ministry launched a national action plan 2010-2013 to protect aquatic environments against contamination by micropollutants. Onema plays a central role in the plan, notably in improving monitoring of water bodies and acquiring new scientific and technical knowledge. The agency invests 3 million euros each year in R&D projects on micropollutants. One of the initial results, achieved with Ineris, is a method to prioritise chemical substances requiring monitoring and development of a biomarker index for exposure to multiple pollutants.

A wide range of contaminants, including pesticides, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals, are likely to produce a toxic effect at very low concentrations, on the order of 1 microgram per litre, hence the name "micropollutants".

A new method to prioritise substances

The first, urgent step is to determine the priority substances requiring study and monitoring. To date, diverse prioritisation methods have been set up on local, regional or national levels, but without any standardisation. Onema and Ineris set up and managed a group of experts to address prioritisation of substances in view of protecting aquatic environments. In addition to their own experts, the group comprised experts from universities, other public research institutes and from the Ecology ministry. The committee developed a standardised, prioritisation method for substances that can be adapted to different territorial scales. Starting with an initial list of several thousand existing substances in the reference database, the method proposes categories, e.g. substances requiring regular monitoring, substances for which checks must be run to detect their presence, substances requiring additional ecotoxicological studies, substances that no longer require monitoring, etc., and, within each category, a set of priorities.

A biomarker index for exposure to multiple pollutants

For risk monitoring and assessment, biomarkers are an innovative biological tool used for early detection of pollutants in aquatic environments and, more generally, to confirm assessments of environmental risks. Serving to complement standard chemical analyses, they reveal modifications on different biological levels (molecular, cellular, biochemical) in living beings (fish, invertebrates, etc.), modifications that signal interactions between contaminants. Via its partnerships with Cemagref, Ineris, Ifremer and the University of Le Havre, Onema funds work to develop biomarkers in invertebrates and fish that indicate disturbances to certain biological functions, e.g. toxic effects on reproduction, effects on neurotransmission, mutagenic and immunotoxic effects. Once validated in the field, these biomarkers can be used in the monitoring programmes on aquatic environments required by the WFD, e.g. for investigative monitoring, as a means to assist in diagnosing contamination.


Onema in the North-West region : Ineris and Onema work together on biomarkers

Certain life forms in aquatic environments react to chemical substances with changes on the molecular, physiological or histological levels and can thus be used as biomarkers. For example, vitellogenin and spiggin are two biomarkers that signal the presence of endocrine disruptors whose effects have been monitored in three fish species, bullhead, roach and sticklebacks. Male roach subjected to such substances produced vitellogenin, a protein normally present in females, and in severe cases of pollution, oocytes have been found in the reproductive organs of males. This threatens the very survival of the fish populations. Some 28 batches of bullhead, roach and sticklebacks drawn from 31 spots spread over 18 stations were required to produce these results acquired thanks to the collaboration between Ineris and Onema, in which Onema provides funding, in-depth knowledge of the terrain and the know-how of its teams at the Compiègne regional office and in its local offices. This partnership is part of the European INTERREG-DIESE project.

Contact : - Onema North-West regional office