Toxicologists study the harmful effects of chemical, physical and biological agents on living organisms by detecting and examining the symptoms, mechanisms and treatments of poisoning (especially the poisoning of people). They also determine safe or acceptable levels of exposure to particular agents.
Duties & Tasks
Toxicologists may perform the following tasks:
- study the amount of exposure to a substance (from pollution caused by environmental contaminants such as industrial waste products or emergency events such as a gas leak, for example) and the potential effect it may have on public health, plants, animals and the ecosystem
- study how exposure to foreign chemicals affects the genetic, chemical, physical and structural composition of cells, tissues, organ systems and whole organisms
- devise and carry out experiments to determine how chemical or drug concentrations in the body change over time
- test newly discovered or manufactured substances for their safety, effects and possible use as drugs
- analyse blood, urine and other biological and environmental samples to identify the chemical composition and concentration of drugs, contaminants and other substances
- evaluate evidence from cases where tampering and contamination has occurred
- write scientific reports on research and investigations, as well as more general information for scientific, managerial, political and general audiences
- document results, preserve evidence and maintain chain of custody (the document or paper trail showing the process from evidence seizure through to the presentation of the evidence in court) in criminal investigations
- provide advice to managers, politicians, primary producers, healthcare workers, the general public and community groups.
An analytical toxicologist identifies and measures toxic agents in biological and environmental samples to determine the extent of exposure (after poisoning or a chemical spill, or during long-term environmental contamination, for example) and to monitor the remediation of chemical spills.
A clinical toxicologist has medical qualifications to study the harmful effects of chemicals, drugs, pesticides and other substances on humans through the clinical diagnosis of symptoms and biological poisoning. Clinical toxicologists also treat and manage intoxicated patients.
An environmental toxicologist/ecotoxicologist studies the harmful effects of environmental exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents on living organisms (including their effects on humans, fish, other animals and plants), as well as their effects on ecosystems.
A forensic toxicologist specialises in the study of alcohol, legal and illicit drugs, and poisons, including their chemical composition, preparation and identification. Forensic toxicologists also study the absorption, distribution and elimination characteristics of chemicals and substances in the body, as well as the way in which the body responds to them and the factors that determine drug safety and effectiveness.
An occupational toxicologist studies the harmful effects of substances used in the workplace to determine a safe or acceptable level of exposure to workers, as well as appropriate control measures to reduce or eliminate worker exposure.
A regulatory toxicologist has the primary role of ensuring public health and safety from the use of chemicals, drugs and pesticides by identifying potential health risks posed by exposure to such substances. Regulatory toxicologists provide advice to governments, health professionals, politicians and the public on potential risks associated with chemical exposure so that appropriate risk management strategies may be implemented to protect the health of workers and the public.
- enjoy and have an aptitude for science and research
- able to think logically and analytically
- able to carry out detailed and accurate work
- good communication skills
- able to think creatively and solve problems
- able to work as part of a team.