The scientific world visits Wuppertal
Prof. Jörg Rinklebe organizes the largest international environmental conference to date in Wuppertal
For more than 15 years, Wuppertal environmental scientist Professor Jörg Rinklebe has been working to bring one of the largest international environmental conferences to Wuppertal. From 6 to 10 September, the time has come. The scientific world will meet in the Bergisches Land.
"Clean Environment, Human Health, Our future" is the title of a four-day conference that is coming to Wuppertal with an unprecedented international line-up of scientists. "It is one of the most important, leading environmental conferences in the world," explains Rinklebe at the start. "The special thing about it is that it is actually two conferences that are being combined for the first time. Both have a long history, a decades-long tradition. In the past, they have always been held at different locations around the world and are now taking place in Germany, in Wuppertal, for the first time." The overarching theme is environmental pollution with all its harmful substances, with a direct focus on all heavy metals. "These include lead, mercury, chromium, nickel, copper, zinc and cobalt". Trace elements are also examined from all sides. This includes substances such as arsenic or thalium. Rare earths or elements of the chemical substance group PFAS, which are currently the subject of many reports in the press, will also be discussed.
1000 registered congress participants from all over the world
There is no doubt that environmental pollution is a burning issue for us all, as we see its effects every day. We are, so to speak, sawing away at the basis of our existence when we destroy ecosystems, curtail biodiversity and, with increasing environmental pollution, also encourage disease, hunger and epidemics. The issue is therefore a mammoth task for the entire global community. The participation of over 1000 scientists from all over the world is therefore just as global as the topic. Rinklebe explains: "The scientists come from all continents, from more than 80 countries. We have 2000 people registered, and we are expecting around 1000 here. They are the leading scientists in these fields from all over the world, together with their working groups and collaborators. We are also expecting representatives from authorities, industry and analysis companies because we want to cover the entire spectrum." Among other things, the aim is to discuss measurement methods for pollutants, evaluate them and involve the state authorities and hold them accountable, as they are ultimately responsible for hazard prevention and risk assessment.
15 years of preparation for the largest environmental conference in the Bergisches Land region
Rinklebe has been active for many years in the International Society for Trace Element Biogeochemistry (ISTEB), of which he is now President, and explains: "I have been preparing this conference for 15 years in the hope of bringing it to Germany one day. You need the lead time, because there are of course many applicants worldwide who are interested in hosting such a conference. Now we have actually managed to bring this international conference to Wuppertal. Once the board had made the decision, it was no longer so difficult to recruit people because there were lists of participants from previous congresses. The registration numbers then poured in via advertisements. However, we were overwhelmed by the huge response."
The Wuppertal Congress will also be a unique environmental policy think tank with the widest possible range of topics covering all environmental pollution problems. "Basically, we cover all ecosystem compartments," explains the scientist, "which means air and water quality, as well as soil, sediments and animals." This ranges from whales and dolphins to polar bears and even the smallest microorganisms. Of course, human health and the effect of harmful substances on the organism are also discussed. "There are substances that are needed in small quantities by the human organism, prominent examples are zinc or selenium, which are also contained in food supplements. But if a certain dose is exceeded, these substances become toxic, i.e. poisonous. This is exactly what we then investigate. The situation is similar with arsenic. The experts look at that."
Bringing soil pollution into the public eye
In line with his profession, Rinklebe's main personal concern is the permanent soil pollution that is still not in the spotlight worldwide. "Then you ask yourself, why is that?" he says, because you also have to think about the long-term consequences. "When the air is polluted, everyone notices it immediately. When there is smog, people have breathing difficulties, they cough. If the water is poisoned, everyone notices immediately because they get sick. If the soil is poisoned, you don't notice it immediately, but there is a delayed effect, often weeks, months, years or even decades or centuries later." We now know that former industries around the world, including in NRW and of course here in Wuppertal, simply disposed of their industrial waste in the water. "These waste materials were deposited in the sediments and soils and the effect was not quickly measurable," explains Rinklebe. "But today, many years later, we suddenly notice the delayed effect because the soil is polluted. That's why I would like to bring soils and sediments into the public eye, because that's the starting point for our food chain." Toxic substances migrate from the soil into the water and are absorbed by plants and animals, which are then ultimately consumed by humans. "These substances move through the food chain and we need to be aware of this. Everything is interconnected. We are talking about ecosystemic connections."
Strong Wuppertal participation in the organizing committee
Rinklebe was also able to count on the interdisciplinary help of his colleagues from other disciplines, who were actively involved in the organizing committee, for the preparation and implementation of the conference and says: "We have experts from food chemistry who know how harmful substances get into food, colleagues from analytical and physical chemistry, botany is represented and molecular cell and microbiology is involved."
With a distance of over 18,000 kilometers, the guests from New Zealand have the longest journey to the valley. In keeping with the occasion, the opening will take place in the presence of political and scientific celebrities, which is important because the results of these intensive scientific days in Wuppertal must also be communicated to society via politics. At the end of the conference, conclusions will be summarized and various publications in scientific journals will follow. "I believe that many scientific findings need to be communicated much more strongly to society and politicians," demands Rinklebe. "The main message is that we need to pay more attention to environmental pollution and harmful substances. So far, only CO2 and climate change have been anchored in the public consciousness. That's all well and good, of course, but harmful substances are almost completely forgotten and still play a subordinate role. That has to change. And politicians also need to think beyond one legislative term, even if they are no longer in office."
The conference "Clean Environment, Human Health, Our future" will take place from September 6 - 10, 2023 at the University of Wuppertal in Building K, Gaußstraße 20, 42119 Wuppertal.
Further information can be found at https://icobte-ichmet-2023.com
Uwe Blass Prof. Prof. mult. Dr.-Ing. agr. Jörg Rinklebe has been Professor of Soil and Groundwater Management at the University of Wuppertal since 2006. He is considered one of the most influential scientists in his field worldwide. His work is cited very frequently, which is why he was named a "Highly Cited Researcher". He is ranked 4th in the world rankings for environmental sciences, although only a few German scientists have ever been listed in the top 100. From 1997 to 2006, he worked as a scientist, research assistant and project manager in the Soil Research Section of the UFZ Environmental Research Center Leipzig-Halle GmbH in Halle. He studied ecology for a year at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland (UK). At the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg, he studied agriculture and specialized in soil science and plant nutrition.