Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics

Retiring Prof. Pim de Voogt: ‘Shift from non-polar to polar environmental chemicals was truly exciting’

12 November 2018

For over 25 years Prof. Pim de Voogt has worked at the UvA. He has served as professor by special appointment of Chemistry of (Emerging) Water Contaminants at the UvA's Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) since 2008 and in 2014 he was appointed professor of Chemico-Biological Interactions in Aquatic Ecosystems. Prof. Pim de Voogt is retiring this year and therefore he gave a valedictory lecture reflecting on 'Emerging contaminants in a changing world'.

Since 1992 Prof. de Voogt has been working at the University of Amsterdam, with a part-time secondment at the KWR Watercycle Research Institute’s Chemical Water Quality and Health Department. His research focused on the distribution, behaviour and effects of new substances in aquatic ecosystems. He conducted cutting-edge scientific research into micro-contaminations in the environment, such as fluorine compounds, PCBs and hormones.

Emerging Environmental Chemistry Issues

On Friday 2 November a symposium was organized in honor of Pim de Voogt, with the theme 'Emerging Environmental Chemistry Issues'. In his valedictory lecture Pim de Voogt reflected on emerging contaminants in a changing world and on the most important changes in the research field of Environmental Chemistry during his scientific career: ‘The most important change was the shift from non-polar organic chemicals to polar ones. Studying the fate and behaviour of the latter required new paradigms, which for a scientist is truly exciting. The continuous development in analytical instrumentation also has a tremendous impact on environmental chemistry, and nowadays’ computational power enables us to really look for what hitherto was unknown or what we simply did not consider to be present in our environment, while it actually was,’ reflects Pim de Voogt.

Career highlights

The very first scientific highlight of Pim de Voogt’s career is a very personal one: a publication about the competing role of cadmium and zinc in the human prostate that he co-authored together with his dad. Another publication that stands out is a review paper on Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that has been published together with Kevin Jones in 1999 at the celebration of the 100th Volume of Environmental Pollution. It has become their mutually most cited paper with more than 1300 citations to date.

Prof Pim de Voogt: ‘In consider the initiation of the European collaborative work on perfluorinated substances my true scientific all career high. In 2000 it became known that these substances were encountered everywhere on the planet. In 2002 I invited scientists from Europe that were interested in these substances to set up a collaboration. Some twenty odd people turned up at the meeting, and this was the start of a successful series of projects (PERFORCE 1 & 2 and PERFOOD) that I coordinated. These projects mapped the state of the environment in Europe regarding the perfluoros and the routes of human exposure.’

The scientific knowledge obtained in these projects resulted in important regulations such as the tolerable daily intakes and helped ban or voluntarily reduce substances use. The work has also led to important statements from the scientific community in the literature to reduce the use and application of these highly persistent chemicals and to refrain from fluorine-containing substitutes.

Scientific advice, media and education

Based on his expertise, Pim de Voogt gave scientific advice about chemical contamination norms for drink water and surface water, both in The Netherlands and the European Union. In addition, he played an important role in environmental chemistry education, and as such contributed to the research based education at the Faculty of Science. Over the years his research gained a lot of media attention. Among other things, he investigated concentrations of illegal performance enhancers and drugs such as XTC in the Amsterdam sewer system, which frequently featured in several news outlets.

After his retirement de Voogt will remain active in the field of wastewater-based epidemiology. He will stay a member of SCHEER, the European Union's Scientific Committee for Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks, until the end of his term in 2021. Furthermore he will continue his work as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

Published by  IBED