Toxicologists investigate the hazards of chemical, biological and physical agents at different levels of exposure. Their goal is to improve industrial safety, and public and environmental protection through a better understanding of the nature of the hazards over a wide range of levels, including those to which living species are exposed.
In general, toxicologists:
- conduct laboratory studies on substances (for example, drugs, food additives, solvents, herbicides) or on energy (for example, radiation) to determine their effects on laboratory animals, plants and human tissue and cells
- conduct research to develop new tests for use in toxicological studies
- evaluate potential risks based on levels and periods of exposure
- analyze and evaluate data gathered from studies and reliable scientific publications to determine appropriate controls for various chemical and physical hazards
- develop standards or guidelines for safe levels of chemical and physical agents in workplaces, air, food or drinking water
- provide advice and scientific information to policy and program developers concerning the health and legal aspects of chemical use
- supervise and co-ordinate the activities of technologists and technicians.
Analytical toxicologists specialize in detecting natural products such as toxins, venoms or plant poisons, toxic man-made chemicals and the metabolites of ingested substances.
Clinical (biomedical) toxicologists work in medical environments or pharmaceutical companies investigating the effects of drugs or other chemicals on the human body. They may be part of a medical team responding to emergencies such as drug overdoses, or they may monitor drug therapies for patients who have certain types of diseases (for example, epilepsy or asthma).
Environmental toxicologists study the effects of chemical, physical and biological agents on humans and other organisms exposed to those agents through food, air, water and soil, and determine levels of toxicants in the environment.
Forensic toxicologists examine post-mortem tissues for drugs and poisons in deaths that are suspicious, unexpected or for which there is no anatomical cause. They are concerned with the medical and legal aspects of impairment or deaths related to drugs, including alcohol, and often testify in court. Techniques may include the use of genetic DNA analysis. Forensic toxicologists also may assist in training police in the operation of breath testing equipment.
Industrial toxicologists test new products (for example, pesticides, drugs) for manufacturers to determine a product's toxicity during production (to protect industrial workers) and establish safe uses (for consumers and the general public).
Nutritional toxicologists test food additives and new food products, and investigate interactions of additives with nutrients in foods to determine their safety for consumers.
Regulatory toxicologists develop appropriate controls for safe uses of new chemical products such as industrial chemicals, agricultural chemicals, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
Risk assessment toxicologists study the possible consequences of exposure to toxicants and develop guidelines for safe exposure levels.
Veterinary toxicologists investigate health problems or non-infectious diseases of unknown cause in animals, usually domestic or zoo species.