Toxins are all around us. They are in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the cleaning products we use. They are impossible to avoid. What are they doing to our bodies? To our environment? Luckily, a toxicologist is wondering the same thing.
Toxicologists study and research the symptoms, mechanisms, and treatments of potentially harmful toxins. Toxins are found in things like weed killers, new medicines, foods, cosmetics, water, even the air.
The toxicologist’s goal is to identify and understand what toxins are present and to know the effects those toxins will have on the environment and the people who are exposed to them.
Toxicologists are scientists who understand biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy, pathology, environmental science, and physiology. Most of their work is done in a laboratory under a microscope. They may look very closely at a pesticide used on apple trees, examine a new medication for acne, or test a fish from a possibly polluted lake.
There are over 80,000 chemicals registered in the United States and nearly 2,000 new chemicals are registered each year. Toxicologists test products, foods, the environment, and substances to see if any toxins are present. They want to find and report any dangers as soon as possible to ensure our safety. It’s a job that keeps them very busy.
Pharmaceutical companies, food companies, large universities, government, and consulting firms hire toxicologists to study their products before they are put on the market. This way if a certain cosmetic turns your skin green or a certain food makes you grow hair on the sole of your foot, an alternative can be found.
To do their research, toxicologists conduct scientific experiments on animals or people. Most research takes place in a laboratory, where experiments are run on animals first to simulate any complications they may present to humans. Through research and experiments, toxicologists are the ones who can give a product the thumbs up. Or the thumbs down.
If the experiment results are questionable, toxicologists try to suggest or find alternatives or antidotes. It’s like solving a chemical mystery. Then they make recommendations to agencies, industries, and lawyers about each toxin. They need to have solid communication skills because they may need to write official reports or even testify in court. A toxicologist’s decisions truly affects society. Their stamp of approval determines what is available to the general public.
Toxicologists need to obtain a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in science, preferably toxicology. After obtaining a degree, most toxicologists take the American Board of Toxicology exams. These certifications test toxicologists on toxicity of agents, organ systems and effects, general principles, and applied toxicology. The exam ensures a consistent level of education among toxicologists nationwide.
The other wonderful thing that toxicologists established and that we all rely on is the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
These centers allow us to call them 24/7 with questions about poisoning. Once again, toxicologists keep us safe.
There are only about 9,000 toxicologists working in the United States. As our country becomes more health conscious, more toxicologists are needed. Most toxicologists make $55,000 to $81,000 per year. Some make up to $200,000 per year, but most average $67,000. Becoming a toxicologist is hard work and takes years of higher education, but it is entertaining detective work that really does save lives.
It’s alarming how many toxins there are in our life – many that we don’t even know about. At least people are more aware than they used to be. That’s why toxicology is a booming field.
Quick Facts About Toxicology Positions
Job Title: Toxicologist
Description: Research potentially harmful toxins
Certifications/Education: Bachelor, Master, or Doctorate degree in Toxicology
Necessary Skills: Knowledge of Biology, Anatomy, Chemistry
Potential Employers: Pharmaceutical Companies, Food Companies, Universities, Government
Pay: $55,000 to $81,000 per year, $67,000 is average