Toxicologists plan and carry out laboratory and field studies to identify, monitor and evaluate the impact of toxic materials and radiation on human and animal health and on the environment, as well as the impact of future technology, that is they use analytical and scientific techniques to identify toxins such as chemicals, biological substances and radiation, and to assess the potential risks and harmful effects posed by them.
The majority of toxicologists’ work is laboratory-based: designing, planning and undertaking controlled experiments and trials; devising and testing hypotheses; using appropriate analytical techniques to identify and quantify toxins; and analysing and interpreting data.
Toxicology can be divided into eight distinct job areas: industrial, pharmaceutical, academic, clinical, forensic, regulatory, occupational, eco-toxicology.
Toxicologists’ work typically includes isolating, identifying and quantifying toxic substances or radiation, and/or any harmful effects they have on people, animals, plants or ecosystems. They plan, carry out and interpret laboratory and field experiments or observations of plants and animals, and/or on in vivo or in vitro systems, using bacteria or tissue culture.
Toxicologists liaise with other scientists and technicians, evaluating statistical data and risk analyses. They write reports and scientific papers, present findings, and in the case of forensic work, give evidence in court.
They evaluate the safety of new chemicals in pharmaceutical products, toiletries, other consumer products, packaging and industrial chemicals. Chemical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and agrochemical companies involve toxicologists in all stages of product development, either within their own facilities or through research organisations.
They may also be required to advise people over the telephone in cases where someone has taken a dangerous drug or chemical, as well as test bodily fluids to identify and measure levels of drugs and chemicals.
Toxicologists need to have a logical and independent mind, meticulous attention to detail, excellent written and oral communication skills and good team-working abilities.