Socio-Legal Responses to the Challenges of Contaminants of Emerging Concern

Centre for Expertise for Waters

Dundee, Scotland, , GB

Project Description

Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) are an increasing focus for regulators and policymakers, and a ‘wicked’ problem, affecting public health, drinking water and wastewater management, as well as ecology and biodiversity. CECs include pharmaceuticals (human and veterinary), personal care products, pesticides, and many common household and industrial chemicals. They almost always end up in the water environment, often via wastewater systems, and their effects on aquatic ecosystems have been documented for decades; they are very expensive to treat at the ‘end of the pipe’.
The EU has been at the forefront of chemicals management, yet it is no closer to finding a solution to the widespread use of commonplace articles and substances, which may have effects at very low levels and in combination. Meantime CECs are widely found in wastewater in developing countries, where even basic collection and treatment is not available.
Significant work is underway, in Scotland as in other places, to develop affordable technical solutions, especially around the management of pharmaceuticals and priority substances, and around wastewater management. The technical ‘fix’ however is only one part of the puzzle. In order to find solutions to present and emerging world problems we need to draw on knowledge and insight from multiple sources. One approach is to start from the premise of ‘passive consumption’ and explore how individuals could be encouraged to change behaviour to use different products, or to use less product. An ‘alternate wellbeing’ approach acknowledges the rise of conscientious consumption and would explore ways of putting pressure on producers and governments for slower, simpler, more sustainable lifestyles. The project will also assess the regulatory frameworks – including chemicals management, environmental protection, water management and the sale and use of products – and make recommendations as to any changes. A potential hypothesis to be tested is that developing strategies to change consumer attitudes and behaviour, along with better regulation of producer behaviour, could improve the treatment efficiency of (waste) water and reduce the wider environmental impacts of (certain) CECs.
It is anticipated that the project would involve a preliminary, desk-based analysis of the legal and policy frameworks for the management of CEC’s of different types. The project would then take an empirical approach. Survey work – for example a large perception questionnaire, and the use of focus groups – could identify product uses and user perceptions. Interviews with key stakeholders would identify the perceived relevance of these products to the management of wastewater and protection of the aquatic environment, and their relative importance in policy terms.
Further work would then be undertaken with consumers to establish what sort of ‘messages’ are most effective in changing consumer/producer behavior. Outputs would include analysis of appropriate mechanisms, and also recommendations for policy and legislative change to support those social (and economic) tools.
This project will be based in the School of Social Sciences in the University of Dundee. It would be especially suitable for someone with:
• a social science background who had also studied some law;
• a mixed legal and social science background;
• a background in environmental science but with some knowledge of social science methods and an interest in regulation.
Applications are invited from candidates from the UK, the EU or internationally, but who wants to work in an interdisciplinary environment developing novel approaches to real-world problems. However, although the results will be transferable to other places, the legal and policy analysis will be focused on Scotland and the EU.
The supervisory team offers an excellent mix of academic expertise and practical experience. The lead supervisor will be Dr. Sarah Hendry, Senior Lecturer, Law / Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science; a lawyer who works on environmental regulation and the regulation of water services. The second supervisor will be Dr. Beverley Searle, Head of Geography and Environmental Science; a social geographer whose interests focus on the links between behaviour and wellbeing. The third supervisor will be Dr. Rupert Hough, Science Group Leader for Informatics & Computational Sciences, James Hutton Institute, who has a background in chemical risk analysis and public health and has worked with patients and service user groups.

Funding Notes

The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes.
Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council). The funding available will be in line with the Research Councils UK doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees.

Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent). Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in March 2017. A more detailed plan of the studentship is available to candidates upon application.