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Global Collaborative Initiative Expands Training Efforts

By David Richards

Participating members of the WHO Chemical Risk Assessment Network Training Working Group pose together at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm

Participating members of the WHO Chemical Risk Assessment Network Training Working Group meet at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm to discuss the Community of Trainers initiative. Nearly two dozen institutions, organizations, and universities attended the meeting.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Weis, NIEHS)

The World Health Organization (WHO) Chemical Risk Assessment Network (Network), a voluntary collaboration among government institutions, academic institutions, and professional societies coordinated by WHO, is preparing to launch a Community of Trainers (CoT), an initiative to expand training capacity and information sharing that will improve risk assessment of chemicals and hazardous materials, especially for developing countries. The NIEHS-WHO Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health Sciences has supported the development of the Risk Assessment Network since its inception, and will host the Network’s next full meeting in June 2020 at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

“There is a strong interest in developing countries to conduct and improve chemical risk assessment,” said Kersten Gutschmidt, Ph.D., Technical Officer in the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO. “The purpose of the CoT is to identify and review training courses, agendas, case studies, and lectures to ensure the quality of the training process.” Through better training, the CoT hopes to improve chemical risk assessment in developing countries where limited resources mean that countries struggle to meet international recommendations for sound management of chemicals.

According to the United Nation (UN) Global Chemicals Outlook report released in April 2019, the global chemical industry exceeded $5 trillion in 2017 and is projected to double by 2030. “Globally, we are seeing a huge increase in chemical production,” said Gutschmidt. “While countries develop, they introduce more chemicals into their society through industry, agriculture, and transportation. The Network’s goal is to assist countries with chemical risk assessment in a proper way that informs the decision-making process and ensures people a better and healthy life.”

Gutschmidt, who supports the Training Working Group that leads the CoT, recently met with colleagues at the Institute of Environmental Medicine of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, a participating member of the Network. There they discussed the implementation of CoT and broader Network strategies to enhance training efforts. As discussed in the meetings, the CoT hopes to build on the training materials and courses, developed by institutions and trainers, to strengthen the methodology and process of chemical risk assessment.

Online learning materials, webinars, and case studies are a complementary focus of the CoT. Gutschmidt and his colleagues have led recent webinars in chemical risk assessment and health risk assessment, sharing best practices at institutions such as the Karolinska Institute, and plan on hosting more in the next year. Case studies will be an important component to the CoT. “Case studies are real life examples of chemical risk assessment,” said Gutschmidt. “They deal with different tiers of risk assessment in a particular country that can be applied in similar contexts, such as in low-resource countries. The contexts can be in pesticides or extractive industries, such as oil, gas, and mining, which are different country by country.”

As the Network grows, Gutschmidt envisions the same for the CoT. Nearly two dozen member institutions have signed onto the CoT. The training resources will be made accessible to the entire Network, developing a CoT database similar to the Chemical Risk Assessment Network Training Database. The Karolinska Institute plans to operate and maintain the CoT online platform, further strengthening and developing capacity building and knowledge transfer between developed and developing countries.

“The CoT is getting bigger and bigger, and more people are interested to participate from developing countries,” said Gutschmidt. “The CoT is not an answer to a big problem, but rather it’s a contribution to a solution. We can strategically help countries and institutions develop their capacities.”

For more information on how to get involved with the Network and the CoT, visit the WHO Chemical Risk Assessment Activities webpage.