The implementation of the new EU legislation concerning the registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals (REACH) requires demonstration of the safe manufacture of chemicals and their safe use throughout the supply chain. Both new and existing chemicals will be evaluated within REACH, which thus aims at closing huge gaps of knowledge on physico-chemical properties and adverse effects of large numbers of chemicals. More than 100,000 existing substances are to be assessed through the REACH process within a proposed time-window of eleven years. The REACH proposals advocate the use of non-animal testing methods, but guidance and, more important, experienced personnel is needed on how these methods should be used. The European Commission made suggestions on how reduction, refinement and replacement strategies could be applied to animal use in the REACH system, which include encouragement of the use of validated in silico techniques such as (Q)SAR models; encouragement of the development of new in vitro test methods and minimization of the actual numbers of animals used in the required tests, and replacement of animal tests wherever possible by alternative methods.
The implementation of all these items requires well-trained personnel with a broad expertise and knowledge. The requirements for such scientists, however, are not limited to the REACH implementation itself. Large companies and SMEs will be interested to employ such specialists to perform risk assessment and prioritization of molecules in the development stage. Chemicals predicted to pose a high hazard to man and the environment (e.g. persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic, etc.) can be excluded in an early stage from the production line long time before coming into the production phase. Meanwhile, the same methodology can be used to optimize molecules and decrease environmental hazards of compounds that are toxic. Therefore, the primary objective of this ITN is to contribute to the education of new scientists, environmental chemoinformaticians, who will receive advanced training in both environmental sciences and computational methods.
The approaches, methodology and principles of the evaluation of the environmental risk of substances (and thus the required computational models) will be different for different classes of chemicals and strongly depend on their specific modes of action, specific modes of entry in the environment, their bioavailability and persistence. Thus, different techniques and methodologies will be required to provide compound-specific risk assessment. There is a large number of outgoing and completed EU and national projects devoted to these matters. Frequently during such projects new interesting ideas and problems appear which initially were not included and thus could not be tackled within the original projects. The ECO students will be attached to these projects, with topics of their research extending the scopes of original proposals but are all within the scope of this ITN. Thus, from one side these fellows will be directly involved in the on-going projects and will get training within them. From another side, these students will get additional training during schools, workshops and visits to laboratories of project partners within the ECO. This will enable cross-talk and collaboration not only between students and their mentors but also between the other participants of the attached grants, and that is the second main objective of this ITN.