The International Conference on Heavy Metals in the Environment was held at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, U.S.A., from 6-10 August, 2000. The Universities of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Dearborn, the United States Geological Survey, Environment Canada and Elsevier Science Publishers joined hands to organise the silver anniversary of this international conference.
The major aim of the conference was to retrospect the past efforts in preventing/remediating heavy metals pollution from the environment. Human activity has increased the quantity and distribution of heavy metals in the atmosphere, on the land, in rivers, lakes, sea and oceans.The extent of this widespread contamination has caused concern about its possible adverse effects on biota and human health. It also discussed some of the emerging challenges. Approximately 300 delegates from all over the world participated and over hundred papers were presented. Another important feature of the conference was the poster sessions, in which around 150 delegates displayed their research work through poster presentations.
The conference was conducted in six Plenary Sessions, twenty-five Technical Sessions and three Poster Sessions.
In the plenary sessions presentation were made by Prof. Chein Jen Chen, National Taiwan University, Prof. K. Muhaffey, US Environment Protection Agency, Prof. Bill Fitzgerald, University of Connecticut, Prof. Sam Luoma and Prof. Claude Boutron of Domaine Universitaire, France. They presented their views on important issues like chronic health effects by long-term exposure of heavy metals, public health policy, recycling of heavy metals, bio-availability of metals and the changing occurrence of heavy metals in the Polar, Alpine snow and ice cores. The focus of these papers was mainly upon the adverse health effects of heavy metals, particularly by As, Pb, and Hg.
The twenty- five technical sessions dealt in detail the heavy metal contamination, its remediation and their protective measures. Papers were presented in different sessions viz., Atmospheric Mercury Behaviour; Uptake and Effects of heavy metals; Arsenic in the Environment; Archives of Metal Pollution; Air-Water Exchange of Mercury; Ecosystem Remediation; Mercury in Aquatic Ecosystems; Archives of Metal Pollution; Metals in the Urban Environment; Ecosystem Remediation; Heavy Metals in Soil/Plant Forest Ecosystems; Lead and Lead Poisoning; Analytical; Environment Impacts of Mining and Smelting Heavy Metals in River/Lake and Estuaries; Lake Michigan Mass Balance for Mercury; Analytical; Environmental Impacts of Mining and Smelting; Heavy Metals in Rivers/Lakes and Estuaries; Health Effects of Heavy Metals; Sources and Transport; Alpine and Polar Ecosystems; Water and Wastewater and Bioadsorption and Biomonitoring.
Most of these papers elaborated on the changing pattern of the heavy metals contamination in air, water and on land. Some case studies depicting the environmental problems arising from the industries, automobiles, metal mining etc.The research papers related to the estuaries, ocean, Antartica snow, Alpine and Polar regions were discussed. Further attention of the participants was drawn upon the advantages of modern analytic techniques and methods for greater precision and accuracy like Field flow fractionation, Liquid chromatography/Mass spectroscopy, Ion exchange, Gel electrophorosis and Supported liquid membrane in trace metal extraction and speciation.
The importance of microbial plants in the uptake and removal of heavy metals from the contaminated sites was also discussed. The recent advances made in phytoimmobolisation, hyperaccumulation of heavy metals, bio-absorption, bioreactor and electrolytic recovery of metals was emphasised. These new emerging advances in research work were the main attraction of the conference and their utilisation in large-scale remediation of contaminated land was summarised.
Around 150 posters displayed in these three different sessions based on different topics. Each session had around 50 papers. Session I was on Mercury in the Atmosphere, Uptake and Effects Soil/plants/Forest Ecosystem, Metals in the Urban Environment. Session II was on Ecosystem Remediation, Mercury in the Environment, Archives in Bogs and Wetlands, Alpine and Polar ecosystems, Sediments and Water and Health Effects of Metals and Session III was on Analytical, mining and smelting, Rivers and Estuaries, sources and transport, water and wastewater.
The posters depicted the environmental problems related to heavy metals toxicity in soil, plants and forest ecosystem and potential future changes in the different regions of the earth. Generally, posters were well designed and the details of the research was presented quite crisply in an attractive manner.
Six papers and ten poster presentations formed the Indian contribution to the conference. Two important Indian presentation were made by Professor D. Chatterjee and Dr. Kaser Jamil. Professor D. Chatterjee, University of Kalyani, West Bengal spoke on “Evidence of Iron in Arsenic Mobilisation Groundwater of Bengal Delta Plain". He stressed on the problems of arsenic in ground water in the West Bengal and explained how iron helps in dissolution or bio-availability of arsenic and also discussed the types of diseases caused by arsenic consumption. Dr. Kaiser Jamil of the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hydrabad presented her paper on “Movement of heavy metals in the eco-environment through trophic levels of food chain”. She highlighted her work on the pollution caused by industrial wastewater and heavy metals in the different trophic levels in the ecosystem. She also discussed the hazards caused by these pollutants to our eco-environment.
Ten presentations were accepted for poster sessions from India (S. Bhand and K. Chaturvedi, P. Maity and D. Chatterjee, Sri Laksmi, A. Chatterjee, S.K. Tondon, S.V.S. Rana, P. Navaraj, M. Moturi, M. Rawat and V. Subramanian, M. Rawat, M. Moturi and V. Subramanian). The presentations related to case studies pertaining to heavy metals like Hg, Pb, Cd, Cu, As in river system, Sewage irrigated soil, exposure of heavy metals on adult population, drinking water, Sequential Extraction of heavy metals in solid wastes from the industrial areas, heavy metals from the wastewater from industrial areas. Most of the papers had emphasised heavy metals as important pollutant in the environment, the reason being their toxicity, their ability to accumulate in the food chain and their persistence for long time in the environment.
Thus the conference provided a forum to many scientists working in different countries to present their research papers, discuss and share their ideas with other participants. The proceeding of the Conference is complied in the CD-Rom entitled “International Conference on Heavy Metals in the Environment”. Details are also available on the web-site of the Conference: http://www.sph.umich.edu/eih/heavymetals/ and at Biogeochemistry and Environmental Law centre, ENVIS website: http://envisjnu.tripod.com.
Acknowledgements: The author deeply thanks the Commonwealth Science Council (CSC) for providing travel grant and the organisers for facilitating her participation in this International Conference.