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Toxicologists study the effects of toxic materials in the environment and evaluate the toxic hazards of chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides and new pharmaceuticals. It is a great career choice for those interested in environmental health and ecological conservation. A typical day for a toxicologist might include research, fieldwork, modeling, analysis and advisory work. Toxicologists might also specialize in veterinary, forensic, clinical, pharmaceutical or another specific discipline.
A toxicologist's day might start in the lab identifying and isolating toxic substances or radiation as well as gauging the harmful impact they may have on plants and animals, including humans. Lab work might also include experiments on animals, bacteria and cell cultures to assess biochemical, immune system and molecular effects. This work might include many hours in the lab spent looking through microscopes or at digital images of toxic materials on slides and cultures.
Toxicologists might also spend part of their day out in the field inspecting a site known or believed to contain toxic materials. Field experiments can include short diagnostic tests on a sample of animal and plant life, or taking air and soil samples for analysis back at the lab.
With the results of experiments from the lab and in the field, a toxicologist might then spend part of the day analyzing his data and comparing it with other available research. Using these results, toxicologists can create a safety profile for the substance in question that outlines safe conditions for use and recommend whether testing is appropriate on humans or other living organisms. The safety profile might also be used to develop a model to predict the long-term effects of a chemical on a given organism or ecosystem.
Reporting and Advisory Work
Toxicology work also includes writing reports and scientific papers, formally presenting findings to companies and agencies and, in the case of forensic work, giving evidence in court on scientific research. These reports are used to determine safe handling of toxic substances in daily use or in the case of an accident. Toxicologists also work collaboratively across disciplines with other scientists and regulators to ensure compliance with the law and public safety.
In rare cases, a toxicologist's day might include professional development work such as attending technical seminars and workshops to learn industry best practices and techniques.
Erica Dreisbach is a freelance writer and artist, and has been writing professionally since 2007. She has written articles for eHow and Constant Content, and blogged for Social Venture Network and Open Produce.