Environmental chemistry concerns the understanding of how chemicals behave in the environment, and has close ties to research areas such as environmental toxicology and ecotoxicology. We talk about environmental pollutants, i.e., chemicals found where they have no natural reason to be, and environmental toxins, environmental pollutants with known toxic effects on human or environmental health. Dr Kylin's research ranges from pure analytical chemistry – the art of measuring the concentration of different chemicals in environmental samples – over physical and chemical investigations of the properties of environmental pollutants, to investigation of how toxic a chemical is to humans and the environment. It is important to remember that a chemical that might be regarded harmless to humans may still have negative ecosystem effects. To Dr Kylin it is, therefore, important to understand not only the chemistry, but also the biological background to environmental problems.
Dr Kylin's PhD project concerned how to use pine needles to track how environmental pollutants disperse in the atmosphere. It was, therefore, a short step to expand these studies to the Polar Regions – I have spent more than two years on icebreakers in Arctica and Antarctica. The reason why the Polar Regions are contaminated with pollutants that never have been used there is, in principle, a global version of what happens when you take a cold ice cream tub out of the freezer a warm summers day. Because the cold air close to the surface of the ice cream tub can hold less water vapour than the warm air further away, a layer of frost soon forms on the surface of the tub. Even though it might be difficult to understand intuitively that a white powder that you can hold in you hand, e.g., DDT, can be transported via air, most environmental pollutants are present in the gas phase and may be transported to the Polar Regions where they will be deposited similarly to the water vapour on the surface of the ice cream tub.
Dr Kylin's first job after completing his PhD was at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences where he was charged with developing the laboratory for current-use pesticides, the pesticides we use today, scientifically. Current-use pesticides are important environmental contaminants as they are the only chemicals we actively spread in the environment to kill unwanted organisms. In spite of this, they have been cursory treated in Swedish environmental research. In addition to developing relevant analytical methods an study the behaviour of current-use pesticides in Sweden, we managed to get current-use pesticides included into the Swedish national environmental monitoring programme. Previously, the environmental monitoring programme in Sweden had only been concerned with chemicals that we had already banned.
Lately, research in developing countries has taken more and more of my time. Dr Kylin's interest is driven by the fact that the environmental problems in many developing countries are much larger than in industrialized countries, not least because of poorly developed environmental authorities. Much time has been spent developing laboratories and local environmental competence. Such competence is necessary not only for local national development, but also because international trade treaties require countries exporting agricultural or fisheries produce to be able to test for residues of environmental contaminants to meet the maximum residue requirements of the importing countries.
Dr Kylin have also worked much with the environmental and human health effects of malaria vector control. In this research, we meet several difficult ethical problems as malaria in itself is a major problem; there is a difficult balance between malaria – a definite killer – and the environmental and health problems that are caused by malaria vector control. We have to fight malarea, but at the same time, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the methods we use to fight malaria might cause problems for both humans and the environment.
Overall, Dr Kylin see it as an obligation for him as a chemist to contribute with what he can to the development of poor countries, and that that development can be done with as much consideration for environmental problems as possible.
Dr Kylin's basic thought is that you cannot understand environmental problems without understanding both chemistry and biology. Even if his profession is chemistry, he have a deep interest in biology that has often been useful when he have been in the field for sampling. Apart from his publication in chemistry, he have published purely biological papers concerning different organism groups such as birds, plants, slime moulds, and tardigrades.
Teaches on the bachelors’ programme in environmental science masters’ programme Science for Sustainable Development. Various lectures in environmental chemistry on courses and programmes at other departments and other universities.
Dr Kylin has given courses, usually over two weeks on environmental chemistry/toxicology/ecotoxicology on all academic levels (undergraduate to postgraduate) in Africa (four times), SE Asia (twice), and C America (once).