TecEUS – TECHNOLOGY-CRITICAL ELEMENTS IN URBAN SPHERES
Motivation and scope of the project
The project TecEUS aims to assess the release, exposure and accumulation of selected technology critical elements (TCE) (Ga, Ge, In, Tl, Y, Nb, Ta, Te; platinum group elements (PGE) and rare earth elements (REE) along with technology-metals (Li, Be) in an urban environment. This is accomplished by applying advanced analytical techniques based on inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) in combination with models for material flow analysis. These elements used in novel technologies are increasingly released into the environment and substantial knowledge is missing with regards to quantities, environmental cycles and potential health hazards. One major motivation in the context of Green Public Health is to explore systematically the role of urban greening related to these elements dissipated into an urban sphere on the example of major cities such as Vienna (Austria).
The scope of TecEUS aims at closing crucial knowledge gaps in regards to:
i. the accurate assessment of elemental and isotopic data from TCE in environmental samples;
ii. the extent of the accumulation of TCEs and related elements in urban spheres (water, plants, soil) and understanding their sources, pathways and sinks on the example of a major urban sphere;
iii. the effectiveness of urban green façades as filters for TCEs and their potential as human health preventive measure;
iv. a system-wide assessment linking dynamics of in-use technologies, to flows of specific TCEs and their leaching and dissipation from use-phases across Vienna.
v. emerging human health threats due to increasing TCEs levels in air and urban agricultural products; The key objectives are addressed from multiple scientific perspectives.
The project aims at the systematic quantification of drivers, sources, pathways and sinks as well as environmental and human health threats of technology-critical elements (TCEs; e.g. indium, gold, antimony, neodymium) in the urban spheres of Vienna. For the first time, TCE fluxes will be studied at urban scales. TCEs are key components in novel technologies (e.g. electronic devices, cars, thin-layer photovoltaics, nanoparticles and contrast agents in medical imaging). Due to their abundant use, TCEs are increasingly released into the environment during manufacturing, use and disposal. Substantial knowledge is missing with regards to current levels found in the environment, environmental cycles and potential health hazards of TCEs. The potential toxicity to human health and the environment requires the development of analytical techniques, monitoring and scenario modelling to inform precautionary policy and requirements for innovation.
Within this project, TCEs levels will be measured systematically in water, soil, plants, aerosol, supported by citizen science approaches involving residents and gardeners. Novel analytical techniques based on mass spectrometry will allow to detect the low levels of TCEs expected in natural samples. Green façades and plants will be evaluated for the efficiency to bind airborne TCEs both in field studies and in controlled greenhouse experiments. A simplified socio-ecological model will be developed depicting the biophysical stocks and flows of TCEs and their human health implications along with the development of prospective scenarios and monitoring requirements. Maps of exposure and emissions will be made publicly available.
The transdisciplinary project combines analytical environmental chemistry (Montanuniversität Leoben, Dept. of Chemistry), landscape engineering (University of Natural Resources Vienna, Institute of Soil Bioengineering and Landscape Construction), socio-ecological modelling (University of Natural Resources Vienna, Institute of Social Economy) and human health (Medical University Vienna, Center of Public Health).