The FLEHS program can only be realized by an interdisciplinary approach. A consortium of complementary teams carry out the program. Cooperation in the 3 previous campaigns demonstrated that within well delineated research projects, cross-disciplinarity can be very successful. Research teams of the five Flemish universities will participate. This will allow to include aspects related to nutrition and nutritional epidemiology (Ghent University), (molecular) epidemiology (UHasselt) and effect biomarkers (KUL), biostatistics (UHasselt), chemistry and social sciences (University of Antwerp), exposure to organic compounds and effect biomarkers (University of Antwerp), and biomarkers for exposure to metals (Vrije Universiteit Brussel). The association of social scientists and exact scientists will ensure the necessary complementarity for an effective human biomonitoring. The involvement of the research teams from different universities will also allow young PhD students of these groups (team UAntwerpen, UHasselt and KUL) to join the team and get trained in environment and health research themes that are important for environment and health research policies in Flanders. They will develop new capacity for working in interdisciplinary settings.
The inclusion of established and experienced research teams from PIH and VITO guarantees continuity and quality assurance of the human biomonitoring program in Flanders which is the core activity of the program. Part 4 of the proposal offers a detailed overview of the capacity and experience of all the hosting research teams.
University of Antwerp (promotors Loots, Schoeters and Covaci) is initiator of the center and will be responsible for the administrative and financial management and implements its role in narrow cooperation with the commissioner and the consortium.
Prof. Greet Schoeters will be the promoter-coordinator of the consortium. The coordinator will manage the research program, and its milestones and will coordinate the interface with the administrations of the Flemish Government. With respect to the annual planning and technical and financial reporting she will be supported by the initiator. The promotor-coordinator will represent the consortium at the steering group meetings.
Inside the consortium, the promotor-coordinator will steer and manage the cooperation between the different partners and the follow up of the different work packages. This includes also the evaluation of the progress made, the flexibility towards new opportunities and emerging issues related to EU- initiatives and the input of authorities and stakeholders, distribution of tasks according the work plan, management and the outputs of deliverables.
An executive committee of the promotors of the center will be established. This committee will meet at 3 months interval. They function as the management board and will evaluate progress, propose the next annual work plan, prepare reporting to the steering group, publication of the study results and decide on how to accommodate short time assignments on request of the contracting authority. The Executive Committee will keep the overview and has to agree with each order for lab analysis. The executive committee will be co-chaired by the coordinator and initiator.
Dr. Vera Nelen (PIH) is the promoter-spokesperson (‘promotor-woordvoerder’) of the Flemish Center of Expertise on Environment and Health. She will act as the interface between the center and the Flemish Government and its administrations as to medical and health-related issues and is also the spokesperson of the center towards the public and the stakeholders. The content of the messages will be discussed and approved beforehand by the executive committee. For external communication the promoter spokesperson will be assisted by specialized research teams.
The biomonitoring program will be executed by the field coordinators committee (FCC). This committee will be chaired by Prof. G. Schoeters and Drs. E. Van de Mieroop. Prof. G. Schoeters (chairman) will be responsible for the coordination. The FCC consists of representatives of the different disciplines necessary for the realization of the program. The FCC will at least meet on a monthly basis. Delegations of the Flemish government are invited to attend the meetings as observers. The chairman invites, in name of the management of the FCC, the participants and is responsible for the agenda and reports of the meetings.
The FCC works out the details and protocols of the biomonitoring program, described in the long-range plan. The FCC assures optimal integration of all biomonitoring activities of the center including those foreseen in the research projects. It decides on scientific aspects such as the sampling strategy, selection of appropriate biomarkers for the biomonitoring areas and design of the follow-up studies. The choices for biomarkers and target groups will be described in the annual plan and submitted to the executive committee and steering group for final approval. The FCC takes care of the statistical analysis of the data. Decisions in the FCC are based on consensus , if no consensus can be reached, the case will be presented to the executive committee for a final decision. The interpretation of the results will be carried out in an interdisciplinary way, acknowledging the input of the various disciplines. They will be reported to the executive committee. The minority’s point of view will also be reported in case no consensus can be reached. After approval by the executive committee the results will be reported to the steering group and to the stakeholders according to the “Spelregels” document. To facilitate the accessibility of the research results the responsible governmental administrations will be invited to all the meetings of the FCC as observer.