A program that focuses on the scientific study of the health effects associated with exposure to toxic chemicals and systems occurring in the natural, work, and living environments; the management of environmental toxins and toxicity; and the development of protections for humans, animals, and plants. Includes instruction in applied ecology; microbiology; toxin transport, fate, and degradation; dermal toxicology; reproductive and genetic toxicology; atmospheric and environmental chemistry; metals toxicology; environmental mutagens and biotransformation; nutrient interaction; chemical sensitivity, disorders, and disease; risk assessment; animal waste management; environmental health; and hazardous materials management.

Environmental toxicologists work to understand and reduce the presence of harmful chemicals in natural and populated areas.

When potentially harmful compounds spread to densely populated or natural areas, they can pose a threat to the people, animals, and other organisms that dwell there. This harm can manifest in any number of ways - from pharmaceuticals in water supplies that affect their animal populations and permanently alter the food chain to heavy metals left in the ground that have been linked to birth defects in the people living nearby. Environmental toxicologists must be prepared for all kinds of scenarios; their work can involve frequent exposure to harmful chemical compounds, so expertise and safety equipment are essential.

Due to its focus on the well-being of populations, environmental toxicology is closely related to public health and their goals often align. However, environmental toxicologists are also concerned with chemical situations that impact ecosystems, and their primary focus lies in understanding the chemical makeup and effects of all kinds of toxins. This kind of work involves a lot of risk assessment and a commitment to keeping the natural world balanced and safe for all its inhabitants.

Work in environmental toxicology may include...

  • Conducting toxicity tests on chemical samples
  • Collecting and analyzing data in the lab or field
  • Using specialized technology to project chemical impact
  • Observing chemical effects on humans, animals, and ecosystems
  • Developing solutions for increased safety

Employers of environmental toxicologists are all over the map, from product developers to public health organizations. Various government agencies, notably the FDA and EPA, hire environmental toxicologists to work in research and regulatory roles, where they may contribute to new discoveries or policies. Many toxicologists work as private consultants in different corners of industry, particularly product development and quality control. They may work with food producers, chemical manufacturers, or pharmaceutical companies to ensure the safety of products before they go to market, or work with building inspectors to ensure the safety of public spaces. Others work in academia as research professionals, writers, or instructors, where they can spread their knowledge to other disciplines.

Most environmental toxicologists start out in Bachelor's degree programs, where they focus their studies on biology or chemistry. Coursework in genetics, environmental science, and public policy can provide useful context to students interested in pursuing environmental toxicology, and well-rounded graduates can often find positions in the field with this level of experience. Those who want to study the particulars of the discipline in a dedicated program tend to pursue graduate school; Master's programs are a good path for students interested in field work, policy, or administration. For those who want to conduct independent research or work with restricted materials, PhD programs are the way to go.

Environmental toxicologists make it possible for people to navigate the world with less risk; if you're looking for a field where you can make a difference, a career in environmental toxicology could be a great fit.

For more information, please follow the links below:

  • The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry is a worldwide professional organization dedicated to the study of environmental problems, the regulation of natural resources, research and development, and environmental education.
  • The Society of Toxicology is a professional and scholarly organization of scientists who practice toxicology and aim to create a safer and healthier world by advancing the science.
  • ATSDR - Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences is a division of the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry focused on investigating the relationships between exposures to hazardous substances and adverse health effects.The Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society promotes scientific knowledge and research into the causes and consequences of damage to the genome and epigenome to ensure a healthy, sustainable environment for future generations.