Does the scientific knowledge reflect the chemical diversity of environmental pollution? – A twenty-year perspective
Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift, 2021

Environmental policymaking relies heavily on the knowledge of the toxicological properties of chemical pollutants. The ecotoxicological research community is an important contributor to this knowledge, which together with data from standardized tests supports policy-makers in taking the decisions required to reach an appropriate level of protection of the environment. The chemosphere is, however, massive and contains thousands of chemicals that can constitute a risk if present in the environment at sufficiently high concentrations. The scientific ecotoxicological knowledge is growing but it is not clear to what extent the research community manages to cover the large chemical diversity of environmental pollution. In this study, we aimed to provide an overview of the scientific knowledge generated within the field of ecotoxicology during the last twenty years. By using text mining of over 130,000 scientific papers we established time-trends describing the yearly publication frequency of over 3500 chemicals. Our results show that ecotoxicological research is highly focused and that as few as 65 chemicals corresponded to half of all occurrences in the scientific literature. We, furthermore, demonstrate that the last decades have seen substantial changes in research direction, where the interest in pharmaceuticals has grown while the interest in biocides has declined. Several individual chemicals showed an especially rapid increase (e.g. ciprofloxacin, diclofenac) or decrease (e.g. lindane and atrazine) in occurrence in the literature. We also show that university- and corporate-based research exhibit distinct publication patterns and that for some chemicals the scientific knowledge is dominated by publications associated with the industry. This study paints a unique picture and provides quantitative estimates of the scientific knowledge of environmental chemical pollution generated during the last two decades. We conclude that there is a large number of chemicals with little, or no, scientific knowledge and that a continued expansion of the field of ecotoxicology will be necessary to catch up with the constantly increasing diversity of chemicals used within the society.

Text mining


Environmental chemical pollution


Research trends

Environmental legislation


Erik Kristiansson

Chalmers, Matematiska vetenskaper, Tillämpad matematik och statistik

Göteborgs universitet

Jessica Coria

Göteborgs universitet

Lina-Maria Gunnarsson

University of Exeter

Mikael Gustavsson

Göteborgs universitet

Chalmers, Matematiska vetenskaper, Tillämpad matematik och statistik

Environmental Science and Policy

1462-9011 (ISSN) 18736416 (eISSN)

Vol. 126 90-98


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