Overview of Course Nº3: Health Risk Assessment of Chemicals

Have you ever thought about the risk of using a new cosmetic product for the first time? Or how much industrial workers are exposed to toxic substances? What about children who are still developing? Do they have special risks when it comes to chemicals? All these question, and many more, were addressed during the course “Health Risk Assessment of Chemicals”.

The third course of the Toxicology Master had a completely different focus. Leaving experimental processes a little bit behind, this course gave the basics of risk assessment. Risk assessment was one of the things that made me consider studying Toxicology in the first place. This area of Science is usually not studied during biomedical degrees and it broadens your career opportunities.

During this course you get to know how to measure exposure to different chemicals and how to predict the risk for human health. Establishing points of departures, selecting NOAELs and learning the implications of margins of exposure are just some of the things you will learn throughout the course.

From December until the end of January, with the great Christmas break in the middle, we had several lectures about risk assessment: the basics; regulation status in different countries, especially at EU level; how cosmetics, pesticides, food products and industrial chemicals are analyzed in different ways, etc. In addition to the traditional lectures, extra activities were prepared such as practicing how real institutions classify carcinogens or how chemicals are classified and labelled.

As an additional task, we were divided in groups of 5-6 people and got a specific chemical that we had to study about and elaborate a “real” risk assessment report. We could consider previous information that was available but had to obtain our own conclusions about the “actual” risk that chemical could mean for a specific population. Once prepared, we had to present it to the other groups and also give feedback to one of them to generate debate and analyze different scenarios and types of chemicals.

In conclusion, this course can seem a bit overwhelming at first because you are introduced to completely new terms and concepts that have a simple definition at first glance but that in depth can be hard to really understand. However, after feeling a bit lost at the beginning, in the end when you finish your report you really notice how much you have increased your understanding of risk assessment issues. Despite feeling more comfortable with the terms, as new students in this topic, we are still far from everything we should know. But what a better way to start, than with your first “real” report?

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