Safeguarding human health and the environment

At a glance

  • What toxicologists do: Toxicologists study the effects of chemicals on living organisms to determine their potential risks and safety.
  • Where toxicologists work: Toxicologists can be found in government agencies, research institutions, universities, and industries related to chemicals and products.
  • Routes into toxicologyBecoming a toxicologist may involve studying science in school, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fields like biology or chemistry, and sometimes earning advanced degrees for specialized expertise.

Read on to find out more, or explore toxicologists’ job profiles below.

What toxicologists do

Source: Royal Society of Chemistry Toxicology Interest Group

Toxicologists study toxic substances and their effects on living organisms. They carry out testing, analysis, and evaluation of chemicals to understand their effects on both people and the environment. Their work involves:

  • Safety testing. Toxicologists test various substances like medicines, food, water, cosmetics, and household products to ensure they are safe for public use. They assess potential risks to human health and recommend safe usage levels.
  • Environmental Studies. They also investigate how chemicals can harm the environment and ecosystems. This helps in understanding the impact of pollutants on nature and wildlife.

The role will normally involve:

  1. Toxicity testing. Conducting experiments to assess the harmful effects of chemicals on living organisms.
  2. Risk assessment. Evaluating potential risks and hazards of toxic substances to human health and the environment.
  3. Safety evaluation. Ensuring products like medicines and cosmetics are safe for public use.
  4. Environmental impact studies. Investigating how pollutants affect ecosystems and the environment.
  5. Data analysis and reporting. Analysing research findings and communicating results to stakeholders.

Toxicologists play a crucial role in ensuring that the products we use are safe and that the environment is protected from harmful substances. Their work is vital for public health and environmental preservation.

Where toxicologists work

Job opportunities for toxicologists can be found in both public and private sectors, with roles focused on various aspects of toxicology, safety assessment, and environmental protection.

  1. Universities and research institutions. Many toxicologists are associated with universities and research institutions, conducting research, teaching students, and contributing to scientific advancements.
  2. Government agencies. Toxicologists may be employed by government bodies. In the UK these include  the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the Environment Agency, where they contribute to public health, safety, and environmental protection.
  3. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Toxicologists evaluate the safety of drugs and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements during drug development.
  4. Environmental organisations. Toxicologists may work for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and environmental groups focused on studying and mitigating the impact of pollutants on the environment and wildlife.
  5. Public health institutions. Some toxicologists work in public health departments or specialised toxicology units, where they address public health concerns related to toxic substances and environmental pollutants.
  6. Toxicology testing and consulting firms. Toxicologists may be part of private companies that offer toxicology testing, risk assessments, and consulting services to various industries.
  7. Contract research organizations (CROs). These organisations conduct toxicology studies and safety evaluations on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, food and beverage manufacturers, and other industries.
  8. Forensic laboratories. Some toxicologists work in forensic toxicology laboratories, analyzing samples in criminal investigations and post-mortem examinations.

There are also jobs with organisations developing new techniques for toxicological assessment to reduce and replace use of animals (e.g. the NC3Rs in the UK).

Routes into toxicology

To become a toxicologist, you typically need a degree in a related field like chemistry, biology, or environmental sciences. You can study full-time or opt for a higher/degree apprenticeship where you can earn while also receiving formal training and education in toxicology. Specialise further with postgraduate studies and gain experience through internships or research positions.Find out more about apprenticeships  and the different types available.