Environmental Risk Assessment Topics and Areas

Overview of all nine topics

Each topic is one piece for the multi-disciplinal approach of an environmental risk assessment. Together the nine topics provide a solid basis and understanding.

  • a. Populations, meta-populations, communities
  • b. Species interactions (competition, predation, symbiosis, …)
  • c. Interaction of species with their abiotic environment (light, nutrients,…)
  • d. Habitat and niche
  • e. Micro- and macro-evolutionary processes
  • f. Ecosystem functioning and stability
  • g. Biodiversity
  • h. Redundancy, resilience
  • a. The risk assessment paradigm: hazard – exposure – effects – risk
  • b. Role of various scientific disciplines needed for science-based risk assessment: analytical chemistry, ecology, physiology, statistics, (eco)toxicology
  • c. Human vs. Ecological Risk Assessment
  • d. Prospective vs. Retrospective Risk Assessment
  • e. Risk Assessment vs. Life Cycle (Impact) Assessment
  • f. Laboratory vs. field studies
  • g. Epidemiological vs. experimental studies
  • h. Spatial, temporal and biological scales of effects
  • i. Broad comparative overview of chemical groups and classes and related existing European legislation and regulatory frameworks (and comparison with local/national, non-European or global legislation)
  • j. Critical comparison of different chemical groups and why they require different approaches / legislation
  • k. Overview of major legislative frameworks (e.g., REACH, WFD, GHS, Plant Protection Products, Pharmaceuticals)
  • a. Chemical transport (within and between compartments, short- and long-range)
  • b. Chemical distribution within compartments: (equilibrium) partitioning, fractionation and speciation (e.g., adsorption)
  • c. Chemical transformation (including biodegradation, hydrolysis,…) and relation to evaluation of persistence
  • d. Environmental conditions and chemical properties that influence these processes for various classes of chemicals
  • e. Comparative overview of processes of importance for a variety of chemical groups
  • f. Basics of measuring (standard tests), calculating and modelling these processes
  • a. Emission estimation (environmental sources of chemicals)
  • b. Analytical methods for analysis of various types of chemicals in different
  • compartments (including principles about clean sampling, blanks, detection limits)
  • c. Overview of available monitoring databases and how to evaluate their quality and usefulness
  • d. Understanding and use of exposure models (including internationally accepted software) to estimate concentrations of chemical in different compartments (in case no measurements are available)
  • e. Internal exposure: bioaccumulation, biomagnification, food chain transfer, secondary poisoning (including basic modelling and calculations)
  • f. Environmental conditions and chemical properties that influence external and internal exposure (including bioavailability concepts)
  • g. Comparative examples of various chemical classes and related legislations
  • a. Uptake, biotransformation, detoxification, bioactivation, elimination pathways of different classes of chemicals
  • b. Influence of chemical properties and environmental conditions on these processes
  • c. Interactions of chemicals with biomolecules (molecular effects)
  • d. Effects on DNA (genotoxicity, mutagenicity)
  • e. Cellular effects (e.g., oxidative stress)
  • f. Physiological effects (e.g. energy metabolism, ion homeostasis)
  • g. Toxicity pathways, adverse outcome pathways (from molecular initiating event to organism level endpoint)
  • h. Comparative, illustrative examples of selected compounds for selected important well-documented toxicity pathways (narcosis, endocrine disruption, acetylcholinesterase inhibition)
  • i. Development and application of commonly used biomarkers (e.g., metallothioneins, EROD) together with their possibilities and limitations
  • j. Introduction to next-generation high throughput methods (e.g., “omics” such as transcriptomics, in vitro assays, standard methods, possibilities and limitations)
  • a. Experimental design of ecotoxicity assays as described in international test guideline systems (e.g. OECD, ISO), standard tests and test organisms for various compartments, including
    • i. Acute vs. chronic testing
    • ii. Types of exposure systems (static vs flow-through, single-species vs multispecies, single-generation vs. multigeneration)
    • iii. Dose (or concentration) and time response concepts and basic statistical analysis
    • iv. Quantal vs. continuous endpoints
    • v. Importance of measuring exposure doses
  • b. Variation of sensitivity between individuals and between species (and building and interpretation of species sensitivity distributions)
  • c. Concepts of mixture toxicity
  • d. Combined and interactive effects of chemical and non-chemical (including natural) stressors
  • e. Alternatives to animal testing (in vitro, QSAR, read-across, extrapolation between species and compounds)
  • f. Overview of available ecotoxicity databases and how to use them (e.g. USEPA ecotox database, REACH)
  • Basic ecology principles and concepts relevant for “ecological” effects of chemicals: populations and communities, structure and function, resilience, redundancy, stability, recovery, evolutionary aspects
  • b. Supra-organism level tests and their analysis and usefulness in regulation (e.g. microcosm, mesocosm, field enclosures)
  • c. Important population-level processes (e.g. density-dependence) and community level processes (e.g. species interactions) for effects of chemicals
  • d. Evaluation of indirect effects on communities, ecosystems and metapopulations (landscapes)
  • e. Extrapolation from organism-level endpoints to populations (e.g. with population models)
  • f. Principles of trait-based risk assessment (including phylogenetic approaches)
  • g. Basics of ecological modelling in risk assessment
  • a. The role of monitoring in various legislative frameworks related to chemical safety and environmental quality
  • b. Overview of existing databases and how to critically make use of them
  • c. Principles of sampling design
  • d. Overview of most important analytical methods for various components
  • e. Biological or Ecological monitoring methods and ecological quality assessment scoring systems (e.g. TRIAD approach).
  • f. Development/use of biomarkers of exposure and effect (overview, possibilities, limitations)
  • g. Development/use of biosensors and in-situ exposure systems
  • h. Correlation vs. cause in field-based assessments (i.e. how to determine effect of chemicals in a multi-stress environment)
  • i. Design of appropriate monitoring campaigns / schemes for inferring cause-effect
  • a. ANOVA and regression analysis (i.e. for NOEC and ECx calculation)
  • b. Dose-response analysis
  • c. Time-to-event models
  • d. Data complexity reduction techniques: multivariate statistics, ordination, principle component analysis
  • e. Outliers and below detection limit issues
  • f. Species sensitivity distributions (SSD) and chemical exposure distributions
  • g. Basics of probabilistic methods (variation vs. uncertainty)
  • h. Basics of ecological modelling methods for effect assessment

Dublin Descriptors

Competences and attainment levels for the entire programme define requirements to be met by SETAC Europe Certified Environmental Risk Assessors (CRA). The descriptions follow the system of “Dublin descriptors” used for evaluating higher education in Europe. The Dublin Descriptor competence levels are to be gained from more than just following courses, notably also from the obligatory on-the-job experiences as defined in the programme. The Dublin descriptor competence levels will form an important basis of the evaluation during the final oral CRA examination.

The CRA has a basic but broad theoretical and practical knowledge and understanding of Environmental Sciences, notably within the field of environmental risk assessment, and of the underlying and supporting fields.


  • has a basic understanding of ecology, more specific of principles and processes governing interactions between organisms and their biotic (intra- and inter-species interactions) and abiotic environment, and of the hierarchical organisation, dynamics, structure, functioning and (bio)diversity of populations, communities and ecosystems;
  • has basic understanding of the concepts and principles in regulatory ecotoxicology and environmental risk assessment
  • has basic understanding of the existing legislative frameworks in Europe and the main actors in the field of environmental risk assessment
  • has basic understanding of the main factors and processes governing the fate and distribution of chemicals in the environment;
  • has basic understanding of the factors, processes and concepts used to translate knowledge on the fate of chemicals into an exposure assessment;
  • has basic understanding of the modes of action of major groups of chemicals and of (eco)toxicological concepts and theory;
  • has basic understanding of methods for assessing (eco)toxicological effects at different levels of biological organisation, including their standardisation;
  • has basic understanding of the linkage between ecology and ecotoxicology and its use to describe/predict and determine effects at higher levels of biological organisation;
  • has basic understanding of the concepts and tools used for predictive and diagnostic ecotoxicological effects assessment;
  • has basic understanding of the statistical and mathematical tools used for analysing (eco)toxicological data;
  • has advanced understanding of at least 2 out of the above mentioned topics;
  • is able to think in multidisciplinary terms, and possesses an understanding of other disciplines (and sub-disciplines) that are of importance to environmental risk assessment.

The CRA is able to apply scientific knowledge to problems arising in the context of environmental risk assessment.

The CRA:

  • is able to apply his/her scientific knowledge to environmental risk assessment problems;
  • is able to apply his/her scientific knowledge to identify weaknesses and define uncertainties in the different steps of an environmental risk assessment;
  • is able to contribute to knowledge transfer to policy and risk management;

The CRA should be able to independently and critically judge information.

The CRA:

  • is able to independently acquire, analyse and critically evaluate information on the potential risk of chemicals in the environment;
  • is able to select and order information, to distinguish essentials from trivialities, and to make associations;
  • is able to independently and critically analyse environmental research, both in relation to its design and performance, and to the results obtained;
  • has the ability to evaluate his/her own performance, both introspectively and in discussion with others.

The CRA should be able to transfer knowledge and skills related to his/her subject area to other persons and to adequately reply to questions and problems posed in environmental risk assessment and related topics.

The CRA:

  • can communicate orally and written about such basic principles of environmental risk assessment and its supporting fields using scientifically accurate terminology;
  • can report orally on issues of environmental risk assessment, in English, with support of modern presentation techniques;
  • can report in written form on issues of environmental risk assessment on the level of peer-reviewed academic journals (in English);
  • can make valuable contributions to scientific discussions about issues of environmental risk assessment, including plans for (experimental) research;
  • can collaborate with scientists from different disciplines when needed.

The CRA has learning skills that enable him/her further (self)education and development within environmental risk assessment.

The CRA:

  • is able to understand and summarise scientific literature on environmental risk assessment and related/supportive fields of science;
  • is familiar with general scientific journals relevant to the field of environmental risk assessment and its supportive fields of science (including ecotoxicology, environmental chemistry, ecology, environmental monitoring, risk assessment, etc.);
  • is familiar with computer software that is relevant to the field.