Rare Earth Element Ecotoxicology in a Changing Environment (REEchangE)

The objective of REEchangE is to estimate the risks on a regional scale that derive from the rare earth elements (REE) lanthanum and gadolinium, when these are emitted to the aquatic environment.
REE are used in a wide range of applications. They are part of electronic application and power engineering. They are applied as chemical catalysts and important for medical use, they are used in batteries, as alloys, in fluorescent powders and many more applications.
Beyond the potential use-related emissions, REE may be released to the environment as geogenic byproduct where e.g. coal, bauxites and phosphorus are processed or applied.
However, little is known so far about the aquatic toxicity of these metals, and, consequently, no regulatory thresholds for REE concentrations and emissions to the environment have been set (see here for a recent review on aquatic ecotoxicity of lanthanum). But currently, studies have shown that waste water from hospitals caused increased levels of gadolinium in river waters, and an increase of gadolinium in parts of Berlin’s tap water probably resulted from elevated concentrations in rivers.
By means of a probabilistic material flow analysis, this joint project of HAW and UWS intends to widen the knowledge on current sources, concentrations of REE, exemplarily for two different rivers, and their mobility. In combination with ecotoxicological data, predictions of their risk to the environment, to ecosystem services and, eventually, to humans via e.g. drinking water will be addressed. This project will also enable us to project the development of environmental concentrations of REE, specifically La and Gd, over the next decades. On that basis, companies which are connected to this project will be informed. Possibilities for measures and recycling options will be discussed.

Project Information
Funded by Hamburg University of Applied Sciences
Project duration: 2016-2019
Coordinated by: HAW-Hamburg, Prof. Dr. Susanne Heise
Co-worker: Henning Tien
In cooperation with: Prof. Andrew Hursthouse, UWS (GB)