Toxicology is essentially the study of the effects of chemical substances.
Chemicals may affect the environment, humans or animals. Usually, toxicologists
focus on the negative effects.
Scientists who study toxicology outside of medicine are called non-clinical
"People who work in industry tend to be more applied as opposed to people
in academia, where they tend to be much more basic or theoretical sometimes,"
says toxicologist Gordon Krip.
Toxicologists may work as researchers, medical doctors or regulators. Universities,
medical centers or governmental agencies may employ toxicologists. There are
many different fields of specialization.
Forensic toxicology is one area of specialization. It is the art of chemical
analysis as it applies to criminal or post-mortem investigations. Forensic
toxicologists examine a corpse to determine the nature of the substances that
caused the death. Various factors such as time of death, source of the poison
and how it was administered can be determined.
Forensic toxicology plays an important part in the war on drugs, by giving
us more information on how drugs like heroin affect people.
Veterinary toxicologists specialize in toxicology as it relates to the
health of animals. It includes everything from biotoxins (natural chemicals
produced by plants, animals, bacteria, fungi and phytoplankton) to the toxic
effects of pharmaceuticals, feed additives, radiation and environmental agents
on animals and humans.
Environmental toxicology studies how chemical substances affect the environment
and how those effects, in turn, affect humans. They may collect information
about pollutants from lakes and streams, work with factories to assess environmental
damage or help in preventing environmental damage. Environmental toxicologists
may also work in a medical setting to examine how environmental damage affects
people. When there is a chemical spill, an environmental toxicologist may
be called in.
A toxicological pathologist studies how chemicals affect humans. They may
work as regulators, determining what substances are safe for use by humans.
They may also work in the medical profession, interacting directly with patients
or conducting research. One example of this is a person who works in a blood
lab, analyzing levels of medication or other substances.
Don't expect a standard 40-hour week. Most toxicologists put in 50 to 60
hours a week. University professor Donn Kushner says a full-time academic
researcher must put in at least 50 to 60 hours a week to stay competitive.
Toxicologists working in the medical profession usually are not exposed
to unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Those who work with dangerous organisms
or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety procedures
to avoid contamination. Medical scientists also spend time working in clinics
and hospitals administering drugs and treatments to patients in clinical trials.
Those involved in environmental or ecological science may take field trips
that involve strenuous physical activity and primitive living conditions.
They may have to travel extensively to isolated areas.