What Does a Toxicologist Do?


A toxicologist develops and implements laboratory studies and field surveys to assess the impact of toxins on humans, animals, plants and the environment. He conducts trials and experiments to evaluate short- and long-term toxic effects. He also considers ways to prevent toxic invasions and minimize the negative influences of toxins already present.

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Toxicologists fall into nine basic categories of specialization. These types include analytical toxicologists, who specialize in detecting natural or man-made poisons; clinical or biomedical toxicologists, who specialize in drug and chemical effects on humans; and environmental toxicologists, who study toxin levels in the environment and their effects on all living organisms. Forensic toxicologists focus on toxins involved in suspicious human deaths and often assist in criminal investigations. Before new products hit the market, industrial toxicologists test them for adverse affects on humans and the environment, and nutritional toxicologists do similar tests on food and food additives. Controls on the usage and applications of chemicals are tested and controlled by regulatory toxicologists, and risk assessment toxicologists research the results' exposure to toxins may have in long and short-term situations. Veterinary toxicologists study health problems and diseases in animals.

Close up of microscope.
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The goal of toxicologists is to examine the threats and hazards surrounding man and the environment and improve protection to the private, public, commercial and industrial sectors. Studies of specific toxic substances and threats are dictated by the area of specialty chosen by the toxicologist. Research often entails field studies as well as laboratory experiments and trials.

Reports are required from toxicologists to summarize the results of their experiments for review by peers and associates. Joint efforts of a number of toxicologists sometimes are needed to reach satisfactory conclusions. Data from related studies and published papers often is instrumental in drawing conclusions, developing preventive programs and formulating assertive eradication plans.

Toxicologists in lab.
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Toxicologists work as part of a team or independently. Travel sometimes is necessary to collect data, provide testimony or affidavits, attend meetings or assist in crisis intervention. Extended work hours may be necessary in special circumstances.

Work for toxicologists can be performed in offices, labs, outdoors or at private or public facilities where testing is done. Close attention to safety standards and guidelines is important in handling caustic chemicals and using delicate testing equipment. Protective clothing sometimes is required for clean room environments.

Working together.
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A bachelor’s degree in an applicable field such as biology, genetics, immunology, chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology, physiology or mathematics is required for entry-level toxicologist jobs. Most toxicologists have either master’s or doctoral degrees. Specialty toxicologists must have additional degrees. For instance, a veterinary toxicologist requires a veterinarian degree prior to taking advanced toxicology courses.

Bachelor's degree.
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A wide variety of industries requires the skills of a toxicologist. Some companies hire general toxicologists, while others need special skills. Food and pharmaceutical manufacturers, government agencies, consulting firms, research facilities, hospitals, universities and chemical/petrochemical companies hire toxicologists.

Work for a pharmaceutical company.
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