Toxicologists research the hazards of chemical, biological, and physical agents at different levels of exposure. Their goal is to improve industrial and environmental safety. They also promote public health and protect the environment.
In general, toxicologists:
- do lab studies on substances (such as drugs, food additives, solvents, and herbicides) or on energy (for example, radiation)
- determine the effects of these substances on lab animals, plants, and human tissue and cells
- research new tests for use in toxicological studies
- assess potential risks based on levels and periods of exposure
- study and evaluate data (gathered from studies and reliable scientific documents)
- determine suitable controls for various chemical and physical hazards
- develop standards or guidelines for safe levels of chemical and physical agents in:
- drinking water
- the environment (including the aquatic environment, soil, and various land uses)
- inform and advise policy and program developers on the health and legal aspects of chemical use
- supervise and co-ordinate technologists, technicians or trainees (students)
- share findings through publications (such as journals and the media).
Analytical toxicologists specialize in detecting natural products. These include:
- venoms or plant poisons
- toxic environmental chemicals
- toxic anthropogenic (human-made) chemicals
- the biotransformed metabolites of the above.
Clinical (biomedical) toxicologists work in medical environments or pharmaceutical companies. They study 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 with certain diseases (such as epilepsy or asthma).
Environmental toxicologists study the effects of chemical, physical, and biological agents. They study humans and other organisms who have been exposed to those agents through:
- food, air, water, and soil
- the environment (including aquatic habitats, sediment, and soil).
They determine levels of toxicants in the environment. This helps them establish background or naturally occurring levels. They then identify acceptable guidelines.
Forensic toxicologists examine post-mortem tissues for drugs and poisons. In general, they are called upon when deaths are suspicious, unexpected, or have no anatomical cause. They are concerned with the medical and legal aspects of impairment or deaths. These may relate to drugs, including alcohol. They often testify in court. They may help train police to use breath-testing equipment.
Industrial toxicologists test new products such as pesticides and drugs. This helps manufacturers determine a product’s toxicity. This is important during production to protect industrial workers. It also helps establishing safe uses for consumers and the public.
Nutritional toxicologists test food additives and new food products. They study how additives interact with nutrients in foods to determine their safety for consumers.
Regulatory toxicologists develop controls for safe uses of new chemical products. These can include:
- industrial and agricultural chemicals
Risk assessment toxicologists study the possible results of exposure to toxic substances. They develop guidelines for safe exposure levels.
Veterinary toxicologists study health problems or non-infectious diseases of unknown cause in animals (most often domestic or zoo species).