Emerging Risks of Chemicals in the Environment

Dye pollution

The Emerging Risks of Chemicals in the Environment programme aims to conduct research to predict how the environment and its functioning will respond to chemical exposure. The anticipated high level outcome is a transformation in the way chemical risk assessment is considered; to move towards an ecosystems approach with greater ecological relevance.

£6 million to explore impact of hazardous chemicals on UK ecosystems

9 Aug 2018

NERC has awarded £6 million to investigate the effects that potentially hazardous chemicals used by humans are having on UK habitats and wildlife.

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There are many tens of thousands of chemicals that we use in our homes, industries and food systems and the market is growing by about 2,000 new compounds per year. Chemical use is dynamic; looking to the future, the changing demographics of a globally rising population (and, in developed countries, an increasingly ageing and medicated population) will lead to more drugs discharged through the water systems; changing agricultural practices, energy and material needs are likely to lead to new effluents and pressures; new pest and disease pressures and increasing resistance to products will alter use of agrochemical and veterinary products; green chemistry has the potential to drive the development of novel chemistries in the future; and a focus on recycling and reuse will change how we use products and manage waste streams.

The persistence and fate of chemicals entering the environment are controlled by complex interactions with natural processes. Ecosystems are exposed to combinations of chemical mixtures and other environmental stressors and environmental changes. The potential impacts of exposure on individual organisms has been the focus of considerable research, yet understanding of dynamic, complex and long-term exposure and the outcomes and implications for critical ecosystems and the services they provide, remain uncertain and difficult to predict.

Furthermore, there is ongoing loss of biodiversity and other evidence for environmental degradation and it is not known what contribution chemicals make towards this. Human exposure to chemicals via the environment (such as through drinking water or the food chain) can result in unpredicted but important impacts, and appreciation of compounds to which humans are sensitive is important when trying to understand and manage chemicals in the environment.

This research programme will deliver fundamental process understanding underpinning chemical behaviour and impact in the environment and a predictive capability to support chemicals management, in three interlinked research questions:

  1. What are the impacts of chemicals on populations, ecosystems and ecosystem services?
  2. What are the risks from chemical mixtures?
  3. How important are chemical stressors in relation to other stressors?


2018 - 2022

Can I apply for a grant?

No, there are no current grant funding opportunities for this programme.


NERC will provide up to £6 million of funding (80% full economic cost) to eligible UK-based researchers.

Programme awards

Award details are shown in our online grants browser - Grants on the Web.

View details of funded applications

The following document is related to or gives more information about this programme.

Chemicals in the Environment - scoping workshop report (PDF, 1.6MB)