Toxicologists are scientists engaged in the study of toxic materials and how they affect the environment, human and animal health and future technology. Toxicologists conduct studies on food, air, water and soil to determine how they are altered when coming into contact with medicines, garden chemicals and industrial chemicals. There are many different types of toxicologists, including industrial, forensic, regulatory and occupational toxicologists. Depending on their industry, they may have different day-to-day tasks.
Conducting Research and Testing
Most toxicologists work in labs performing basic or applied research on toxic substances. Their employers include academic and nonprofit organizations and government. Basic research has no immediate application but helps the toxicologist understand more about a chemical -- for example, how it breaks down. Applied research is intended to provide useful information -- for example, whether a new chemical works as an antidote to a poison. Toxicologists also develop and perform safety tests on drugs, cosmetics, agricultural chemicals and food additives. Toxicologists develop these tests in tandem with government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.
Working in Government or Consulting
As more and more new chemicals are created and the public becomes aware of their effects, toxicologists help enforce new laws enacted by the government. Government agencies enlist toxicologists to explain the science behind the laws and educate the public. Some toxicologists also work in private consulting companies, helping inform public and private industries of public health risks.
Working on a Team
A toxicologist plays an important role in a team of scientists whenever a comprehensive evaluation of a substance is necessary. Toxicologists collaborate with other technicians, scientists and peers when an experiment needs to be conducted quickly and completely. This collaboration may include field experiments with plants and animals or experiments in the lab with bacteria and cell cultures.
Teaching and Publishing
Toxicologists who engage in teaching help ensure that the next generation of their profession is well-trained and prepared to perform their job. Scientists with a Ph.D. in toxicology qualify to teach the subject at the graduate and undergraduate college levels. If a school does not have a trained toxicologist on staff, it may enlist professional toxicologists to help develop a curriculum and incorporate the subject into other classes, such as biology and chemistry. Some toxicologists also present their research and methods of evaluating safety in published papers or presentations.