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Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment Towards Sustainable Chemical Use (ECORISC)

University of YorkLancaster UniversityCardiff UniversityUniversity of Exeter UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

A six-year Natural Environment Research Council-funded Centre for Doctoral Training.

The ECORISC Centre for Doctoral Training will produce a generation of innovator scientists that can identify, understand and effectively manage the risks of chemicals through the use of state-of-the art science and out-of-the box thinking.

By combining mechanistic understanding, theoretical advances and modelling approaches we'll contribute to the development of predictive risk assessment frameworks that will allow society to benefit from chemical use while ensuring protection of the natural environment, now and in the future.

ECORISC graduates will be interdisciplinary researchers skilled in experimental, modelling and statistical techniques who will be able to apply their knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems alongside having an awareness of the wider policy and regulatory context within which chemicals are managed.

Graduates will be highly employable in global job markets across a range of sectors including:

  • environmental monitoring, protection and regulation
  • chemical development and production
  • water, waste and wastewater management
  • environmental consultancy
  • analytical instrument development and services
  • research

All 38 places on the programme are now filled.

 

Research

Our track record

ECORISC draws together a critical mass of internationally recognised scientists from the universities of York, Cardiff, Exeter, Lancaster, Sheffield, and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrolody (UKCEH) who are ranked among the best in the UK in Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Environmental Science. In recent years our institutions have a research focus on environmental sustainability, demonstrated by significant capital investments made in the environmental sciences area.

Students are supervised by some of the leading UK scientists with international reputations in our research themes and have access to world-beating research facilities.

Our expertise

  • Different levels of biological organisation from genes to ecosystems
  • The full breadth of chemical classes (small organic compounds, polymers, nanomaterials, metals and natural toxins)
  • Environmental compartments (fresh and marine waters, soil, air)
  • Species (microbes, plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, birds and mammals)
  • Techniques (in silico through to in vitro to in vivo)
  • Scales (micro to catchment to global scales)

Our facilities

  • ECORISC students have access to exceptional shared facilities offered by our core and associated partner institutions including: 
  • state-of-the-art analytical facilities (LC-MS-MS, ORBITRAPrbitrap and Fourier-transform ion cyclotron resonance MS, HR-GC-MS, XR-FT-MS, MALDI-MS-TOF, ICP-MS, nanoparticle tracking analysis, µFTIR, RAMAN, radiochemical methods) 
  • genomics research facilities (shot-read Illumina (MiSeq, NextSeq and Novaseq) and long read (Nanopore and Pacbio) platforms)
  • imaging capability (conventional widefield microscopy, confocal-platforms, Zeiss Lightsheet Z.1 system with environmental control, Lattice Selective Plane Illumination Microscopy and RAMAN scattering)
  • unique laboratory testing facilities (including an Aquatic Resources Centre with 14 aquaria rooms housing a wide range of freshwater and marine species)
  • semi field and field-testing facilities including the Llyn Brianne Observatory mesocosm facility, the CEH aquatic mesocosm Facility, the Fera e-Flows facility and the River Eden Valley test system)
  • research vessels and contaminant monitoring cruises operated by our partner Cefas.

Our research themes

Individual PhD projects address one or more of six primary ECORISC research themes, identified as priorities for research in recent horizon scanning exercises and through our interactions with our associated partners in industry, government and third sector organisations.

Detection, fate, transport and uptake of chemicals in the natural environment 

Projects are developing novel sampling and analytical techniques to quantify emerging and novel chemicals in water, soil, sediment and biota and new models for assessing the bioavailability and uptake of chemicals into biota. Compound-specific analytical methods along with untargeted screening approaches will be used to provide an assessment of the full range of chemical stressors present in environmental media. 

Development of mechanistic understanding of the integrative effects of chemicals on individuals

Projects are combining transgenic and epigenomic technologies, in vitro, in vivo testing and the adverse outcome pathway (AOP) approach to develop an understanding of the effects of chemicals at molecular, cellular and tissue levels and how these effects translate to impacts on individual organisms. This includes seeking translation (read-across) from in vitro to in vivo for reducing and avoiding the use of animal models in chemicals testing. 

Extrapolation of effects measured on individuals to impacts on populations and communities and the ecosystem services they provide

Projects are developing and applying ecological understanding and modelling approaches to extrapolate from empirically derived (eg toxicity test) or predicted (eg AOP) individual-level endpoints to potential risk to ecosystem functions and the services they deliver.

This includes developing the mechanistic understanding and modelling approaches required to:

  • extrapolate across levels of biological organisation, extrapolate from tested to untested species and extrapolate from structural to functional endpoints
  • integrate chemical effects on individual species to enable the prediction of their combined effects on community structure, ecological processes and ecosystem services.

Effects of chemical mixtures, including in combination with other environmental stressors

Projects are developing an understanding of the mechanistic basis and long-term effects of mixtures on ecosystems and new modelling frameworks for assessing the risks arising from the combined effects of chemicals and other stressors.

Landscape-scale risk assessment across different spatial and temporal scales

Projects are developing approaches for assessing temporal and spatial variation in the vulnerability of communities within real landscapes to chemicals. Projects will integrate an understanding of the factors and processes that influence the types, concentrations and bioavailability of chemicals in the environment with an understanding of the ecological and ecotoxicological processes that influence the sensitivity and recovery of species and communities exposed to chemicals and other stressors.

A landscape-scale understanding is essential to developing a systems-based approach to chemical assessment and management.

Translation of environmental risk science into practice

Projects are exploring how cutting-edge pollution science can be most effectively incorporated into the design, assessment and management of chemical products and will develop new frameworks for chemical prioritisation and risk assessment.

Training

The ECORISC experience

ECORISC students embark on a just under four-year journey designed to take them from a novice researcher to an effective and influential environmental specialist with the skills and expertise required to undertake high quality interdisciplinary research necessary to solve real world challenges associated with managing chemical risks.

Students work on challenging research projects and receive high quality training in environmental pollution science, transferrable and specialist skills. Through the close involvement of our associated partners in the design and delivery of the training programme, year group challenge events, student mentoring and their hosting of secondments and internships students gain experience of working in a real world environment.

Core training programme

Over the first two years of their ECORISC PhD programme students receive subject-specific training, delivered in collaboration with our partner organisations, in:

  • ecotoxicology
  • environmental chemistry
  • ecology
  • risk assessment

Yearly challenge events

One week challenge events held each year bring each year group together in a residential setting to address real world scenarios linked to chemical risk management and to enhance cohort cohesion. Delivered in collaboration with our associate partner institutions, these challenges provide an opportunity for our students to use knowledge and skills gained during the core training programme and their individual research projects. These events are designed to promote the interdisciplinary thinking and clarity of communication required when applying chemical risk assessment in the real world.

1st Year – Data challenge event

Hosted by The Rivers Trust, students have access to substantive ‘data’ sets and data analysis and interpretation platforms. They are challenged to analyse and interpret the data to address a real world question and are introduced to regulatory monitoring data sets, giving them hands-on experience in the review and quality assessment of data and of the use of software tools for complex dataset analysis.

2nd Year - Product-based risk assessment

Under the guidance of our business partners such as AstraZeneca, Bayer, Reckitt Benkiser, Syngenta and Shell students work in teams to perform an environmental risk assessment of a new to market chemical product. They develop and present a short ERA report, which will be scrutinised by our regulatory and third sector partners.

3rd Year - Science to policy event

Our final event is delivered in collaboration with our policy partners, Defra and JNCC. Students take a ‘hot’ environmental topic and through role playing exercises explore how best to translate the underlying science in the area to a policy outcome and communicate that outcome to a non-specialist audience. The challenge will end with a mock House of Commons Environmental Select Committee hearing.

Secondments and internships

Students are required to undertake two workplace experiences based with our partner organisations. Internships are short in duration (two to four weeks) and give a student a taste of what it is like to work in a partner organisation.

During secondments, which will be longer, students work on a project defined in consultation with the partner hosting the secondment and their supervisory team

Partnerships

Core institutions

All ECORISC students will be based at one of the core ECORISC institutions:

  • University of York
  • University of Cardiff
  • University of Exeter
  • Lancaster University
  • The University of Sheffield
  • UKCEH

Management Team

Partners

Our 28 partners are from research, industry, policy or third sector organisations will provide expertise in developing studentships, supervision, training, impact advisers, and internship opportunities:

Research institutes

  • Cefas
  • Fera

Regulatory and governmental organisations

  • Environment Agency
  • Defra
  • HSE
  • JNCC
  • SEPA

Chemical, pharmaceutical and pesticide companies

  • Agilent
  • Astrazeneca
  • Bayer
  • Corteva
  • GSK
  • Haleon
  • Reckitt Benckiser
  • Syngenta

Water companies

  • South West Water
  • Welsh Water

Consultancies

  • CEA
  • Vitis Regulatory (Peter Fisk Associates)
  • Ramboll
  • WCA 
  • WSP
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Natural England
  • UKWIR

Contract research organisations

  • Smithers

Third sector organisations

  • Greenpeace
  • Ricardo
  • Rivers Trust
  • RSPB
  • SETAC

Students

Cohort 1 - 2021 start

Student Institution Project
Charlotte Robison-Smith Cardiff Hidden costs of environmental pollutants: functional impacts on host-pathogen interactions.
Eve Tarring Cardiff Assessing the risks to freshwater ecosystems from water-soluble polymers (WSPs.)
Thilakshani Atugoda Exeter Microplastics and the water industry: studying source, transfer and fate within the microplastic cycle.
Imogen Poyntz-Wright Exeter Assessing responses to chemical exposure in invertebrate and fish populations and biodiversity across diverse UK aquatic environments.
Imogen Bailes Lancaster Understanding exposure of wildlife to persistent chemicals in the UK and the Antarctic.
Loweena Jones Sheffield Environmental Risk Assessment Post Brexit: Science, policy and regulation.
Ciara Sanchez Paredes York Impacts on predatory bird fitness and population growth in relation to exposure to Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides.
Isla Thorpe York Risks of Medicines Used in Companion Animals to Urban Biodiversity.

Cohort 2 - 2022 start

Student Institution Project
Tyler Cuddy Cardiff Small carnivore ecology and the impact of heavy metals in the environment.
Holly Hulme Cardiff Synthetic chemicals in terrestrial and freshwater biota: drivers and consequences of landscape scale variation.
Nicholas Porter Cardiff Sustainable Oil Palm farming in Borneo: Uptake and effects of heavy metals and pesticides in the wildlife of the Oil palm plantation affected landscape of the Lower Kinabatangan flood plain.
Owen Trimming Cardiff Advancing in vitro fish models for assessing environmental pharmaceutical risk: Integrating spatial-temporal kinetics of pharmaceutical uptake, biotransformation, metabolism, and effect.
Ivy Wanjiku Ng'iru Cardiff Moths in the margins: developing and testing tools to determine the protection provided by agricultural field margins.
Rohan Joglekar Exeter Chemical Exposomes of UK Estuarine Wading Birds and Potential Impacts on their Migration Fitness.
Francesca Molinari Exeter Using ecophysiology to better predict the uptake of chemicals into fish.
Judith Mugambi Exeter Understanding the impact of chemical pollutants on freshwater ecosystem services.
Georgina Savage Exeter Rapid assessment of pollution in the Galapagos archipelago.
Olasunkanmi Dosunmu Lancaster Analysis of how the regulatory landscape can support the transition to safer and sustainable chemical alternatives.
Rafael Georgiou Lancaster The release and fate of organofluoro ‘forever chemicals’ from wastewater treatment works.
Emily Durant Sheffield The risk of soil contaminants on above- and below-ground urban ecosystems
Rachael Haw Sheffield Insect population responses to air pollution
Angel Ceballos-Ramirez York From water fleas to elephants: Multispecies Extrapolation of Pesticide Toxicity using high-throughput testing methods and Dynamic Energy Budgeting
Isabel Navarro Law York Mesocosm experiments to integrate landscape-scale factors into future directions for pesticide risk assessment
George Pullin York Occurrence and Ecological Impacts of Pharmaceuticals in the World's Estuaries
Cohort 3 - 2023 start
Francesca Mason Cardiff Sentinel Sharks: tracking anthropogenic contamination in the marine ecosystems
Joseph D'Souza

Cardiff

Effects of neuroactive chemicals on freshwater ecosystems
Laura Penny Exeter Call of nature: How do veterinary drugs in livestock dung impact dung beetles and other macroinvertebrates, their microbiota and associated ecosystem services?
Chung Laam (Tiffany) Tsui Exeter Leveraging genomics and artificial intelligence to develop predictive pesticide risk assessment frameworks for wild bees
Lucy Hart Lancaster Understanding the atmospheric transport and fate of fluorinated Persistent Organic Pollutants with global models
Matthew Cato Lancaster Can antibiotics disrupt biogeochemical nitrogen cycling in the coastal ocean?
Safia El-Amiri Sheffield Evaluating the health of treescapes in polluted urban environments
Dylan Asbury Sheffield The Impacts of Mixtures of Chemicals on Mixtures of Freshwater Species in a Changing World.
Laura Sophia Landon Blake Sheffield Towards a unified understanding of species invasiveness along chemical stress gradients
Eleanor Phillips Sheffield A geometric framework approach to understand multi-metal toxicity on individual organisms to evaluate relative risks and benefits of pollution and mitigation
Harry Bond-Taylor Sheffield Chemical-climate interactions: impacts on marine fish communities
Jacob Parkman Sheffield Eggshell thinning as a re-emerging risk to bird populations: the potential role of chemical pollution
Isla Stubbs York Pharmaceutical pollution in agriculture: Impacts & risks for soil health and crop production
Skye Stephenson York Optimising high throughput mechanistic ecotoxicology for assessing comparative toxicity across species and chemicals?
Marianne Lotter-Jones York Towards design of chemical-resilient agricultural landscapes

Equality, diversity, & inclusion

Equality, diversity, and inclusion

Equality, diversity, and inclusion is at the heart of the ECORISC CDT and we employ a range of approaches and mechanisms to tackle inequalities in the PGR recruitment, research, and training journey.

For example:

  • CDT opportunities are advertised widely and promoted to a diverse base of talented graduates using language and imagery that is inclusive and screened for unconscious bias using tools such as Textio.
  • We include equality statements in our adverts to encourage students who may otherwise not apply.
  • We run virtual open days to introduce the CDT to potential applicants, explain the application process and answer any questions the students might have. A second workshop provides candidates who reach stage 2 in our application process with guidance on the submitting a written application, meeting with supervisors, presentations and interviews.
  • We facilitate flexible working arrangements, including part-time working.
  • We have developed a novel structured and three-stage interview and selection process that aims to evaluate applicants based on competencies and personal attributes as well as academic excellence and which minimises bias.
  • Our recruitment approach aims to increase the focus on motivation and competences and reduce the importance of grades and the university attended. For instance, potential supervisors assess applicants based on anonymised applications and apply a scoring system that emphasises research potential rather than educational privilege.
  • We organised a Summer Scholarship Training Scheme which aimed to provide potential PhD students from under-represented groups within the environmental science community a flavour or what it's like to study for a PhD. Scholars were given skills training in the methods and techniques used in environmental chemistry, ecotoxicology and environmental risk assessment. Training and mentorship on the PhD application process also featured within this scheme.

News & Updates

EOCRISC Newsletters

Please see below the ECORISC newsletters, which feature updates from our current students and ECORISC events.

SETAC Europe 34th Annual Meeting 5 to 9 May 2024

19 ECORISC students will be presenting their work at SETAC 2024. The schedule below details when and where you can find them.

Publications

Publications

The publication library details the published work of the ECORISC students so far.

2024

Invisible plastics problem in intensive aquaculture: The case of polyvinylpyrrolidone
Charlotte Robison-Smith, Jo Cable

2023

Assessment of the impacts of GABA and AChE targeting pesticides on freshwater invertebrate family richness in English Rivers 
Imogen P. Poyntz-Wright, Xavier A. Harrison, Andrew Johnson, Susan Zappala, Charles R. Tyler

Water-soluble polymers: Emerging contaminants detected, separated and quantified by a novel GPC/MALDI-TOF method
Eve C. Tarring, Isabelle Durance, Michael J. Harbottle, Robert Lucas, Daniel S. Read, Benjamin D. Ward

A class of their own? Water-soluble polymer pollution impacting a freshwater host-pathogen system
Charlotte Robison-Smith, Numair Masud, Eve C. Tarring, Benjamin D. Ward, Jo Cable

Pesticide pollution associations with riverine invertebrate communities in England
Imogen P. Poyntz-Wright, Xavier A. Harrison, Andrew Johnson,, Susan Zappala Charles R. Tyler

Contact us

ECORISC CDT
Department of Environment and Geography
University of York
York
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1903 322999
ecorisc-cdt@york.ac.uk
@ECORISC_CDT