skip to Main Content

Environmental Chemistry Day: Museums, PCB and construction work

Foto: StockSnap, Pixabay

Last Friday, it was time for the workshop Environmental chemistry perspectives on future challenges in the environmental sector. The workshop was arranged by the Division of Environmental Chemistry (Sektionen för miljökemi) of the Swedish Chemical Society.

The workshop was primarily aimed att PhD:s and young researchers and the aim was to show them som examples of what an environmental chemist can work with outside of academia.

Alina Koch: “Old chemicals but still a future challenge: The elimination of PCB under the Stockholm Convention”

The first presentation was held by Alina Koch, PCB management coordinator at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, UNITAR. Her job is to help agencies and stakeholders to strengthen their management of polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs.

The goal, which is stated in the Stockholm convention from 2004, is that the use of products that contain or are contaminated with PCB should be phased out by 2025 and eliminated by 2028.

Alina Koch mentioned some of her ongoing projects in different parts of the world. One of these are in Ethiopia, where they are working to identify the sources for PCB, building up capacities for sampling and screening, as well as raising awareness about the substances.

She shared some advice on how to get the job you want.

– I got here by being curious and showing my interests, by taking part in many interesting courses and by using opportunities such as internships and scholarships during my time at Örebro university, where I had my dissertation last year.

Eva Weidemann: “Valorising Waste, a step towards circular economy”

The next speaker was Eva Weidemann, research engineer at Umeå university, who primarily spoke about her time at Umeå Energi, where she worked as an environmental engineer until October last year.

She is a Chemistry Engineer and she got into contact with Umeå Energi when she attended an industrial doctorate school with them, Umeå university and the organization Avfall Sverige. Her job focused on organic pollutants that form during waste incineration.

– I worked with the bottom ash. Today, it is just put in a pile but it could be a very good building material, she said, and went on to show a graphic from National Geographic of all the waste that is generated and how much is recycled.

– We use 100 billion tons of resources worldwide every year, but we only reuse 9,3 billion tons, or 9 percent, she said.

Kaj Thuresson: ”The confessions of a Cultural Heritage worker”

The next presentation was held by Kaj Thuresson, who spoke about his job at the Swedish National Heritage Board. His job is to analyze the contents of different cultural heritage artifacts, using a wide range of different techniques such as 3D scanning, uFTIR, spectral photo, X-ray, uXRF, and uRAMAN. The artifacts that are analyzed range from old books to poison arrows, shrunken heads and old buddha statues.

– We encounter lots of toxic chemicals, such as lead, mercury, arsenic, lindane and asbetsos, but also molds, dust etc.

Most work is done at the Swedish National Heritage Board’s lab at the island of Gotland but there are also assignments where him and his coworkers have to work elsewhere.

– This week I have been stationed at the Swedish National Museum of Arts, where I investigate which pigments were used in old medieval drawings.

The Swedish National Heritage Board has developed an elearning tool about unhealthy chemicals for curators and others that work with cultural heritage artifacts.

Madeleine Öst: “The challenge of implementing science through guidence and compliance”

The next speaker was Madeleine Öst from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.

She has both a bachelor and a masters degree in environmental science. She has always known that she wants to work at the EPA, so she applied for an internship there. After the internship, she was offered a one-off project during her master thesis. It went well and she was offered a permanent position at the agency, where she is now an administrative officer.

She talked about the agency’s work with helping municipalities and counties understand environmental law, how they should enforce it and how they should carry out environmental inspections.

– I work behind scene, making sure that they have the tools they need.

Daniel Ragnvaldsson: “Commercialising environmental chemistry research for the elimination of pharmaceuticals in waste water”

Daniel Ragnvaldsson studied at Umeå University, where he received a PhD in environmental chemistry in 2007. He is currently a project manager at Envix Nord, where he is leading the company’s work with research and innovation.

In his talk, he focused on a technology for advanced oxidation of water, called E-peroxone. The technology uses only electricity to break down organic pollutants, such as many medical drugs, in a non-selective manner.

– No extra chemicals are used and it is very effective, he said.

He also pointed out that the technique is better than ozonation, which generates molecules that can still be harmful for the environment, be carcinogenic etc.

Georgios Giovanoulis: “Analytical tools to estimate human exposure to anthropogenic organic chemicals present in the environment”

Next presentation was held by Georgios Giovanoulis from the Swedish Environmental Research Institute, IVL. He is working to achieve a non-toxic indoor environment, developing different screeing approaches, and by analysing environmental samples, biota and biological samples, etc.

Georgios Giovanoulis has a bachelor degree in chemistry from Greece. After his studies he worked as an analytical chemist at a general hopsital, where he analysed newborns for inherited metabolic disorders. The focus of his masters thesis in nutrition and environmental science was to analyse single nucleotide polymorphisms, SNPs, in olives, in order to create an optimal olive variety.

After he moved to Sweden, Georgios Giovanoulis did a PhD in environmental science at Stockholm university, where he investigated which factors that contribute to the human body burden of plastisizers.

– The pros of being an environmental chemist is that you can formulate novel ideas, you can influence decision makers and you can communicate science to the general public. The cons are that it’s a very competitive field and that the well paid jobs usually are not in research, but in private companies.

Anders Enebjörk: “Chemicals and materials within construction sector from an environmental perspective”

The last speaker of the day was Anders Enebjörk from NCC, one of the biggest construction companies in Sweden. He studied environmental science with a focus on ecotoxicology at the University of Gothenburg. After this he worked with environmental management in different construction projects, first at Locum and then at Tyréns, before joining NCC.

– Every year, the Swedish construction sector uses one million tons of chemicals that are toxic for human health and the environment, he said.

– To build a house you need about 1000 kg material/m2, which is quite a lot and quite a big risk. However, it is also a good opportunity if you use good materials.

He talked about  different tools that they use at NCC for chosing products that are good for health and environment.

– Our main tool is Byggvarubedömningen, a database that was created on the initiative of several major players in the construction and real estate markets.

Tips! På fredag äger det digitala symposiet Mass Spectrometry in Environmental Science rum. Det är kostnadsfritt att delta men man måste anmäla sig. Läs mer här: Annual Symposium 2021 – Virtual – Svenska Kemisamfundet

Text: Erika Lindbom Sierakowiak.