Studies & Degrees in Environmental Toxicology

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Environmental toxicology is a multidisciplinary field within the area of toxicology, dealing with the harmful effects of various chemical, biological, and physical agents on living organisms. To further elaborate, environmental toxicologists concentrate on the study of natural and man-made pollutants and the way they influence humans, wildlife as well as whole ecosystems. Environmental toxicologists collect various types of samples (living and nonliving) from an area of interest, aiming to examine their physical and chemical composition, and therefore determine the degree of contamination. The soil, water, and air samples are also tested with the purpose to determine the source of pollution, which would give a better understanding on the health impacts on the species living there.

It is very common that a professional in this field specializes into a particular type of ecosystem, species, or pollutant. For instance, a researcher can concentrate their studies on the impact of an oil spill on marine life, and then organize results into an official report that can be reviewed by other toxicologists. Furthermore, the findings of these researchers are often used by government agencies, who use them to set new pollution control standards; non-profit conservation groups consult with environmental toxicology experts, too, as do land development companies.

Personal Qualities

Environmental toxicologists sincerely care about the environment and the preservation of human and living organisms’ life and health. Further qualities include:

  • Enjoy research and science-based work
  • Aptitude for sciences like biology and chemistry
  • Excellent analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Very good communication skills – both oral and written
  • Willing to work outside and be physically fit

Study Options

At least a bachelor’s degree is required in order for you to pursue a career in environmental toxicology. A four-year study in the disciplines of environmental science, biology, or chemistry is usually sufficient for you to become a field researcher. On the other hand, if you are aiming to design and lead independent studies, you would typically need a PhD in environmental toxicology, combined with a number of years of postdoctoral fellowship training.

You should be prepared to embark on a variety of disciplines, including molecular biology, biochemistry, environmental chemistry, geochemistry, social sciences, computer science, etc. You should also be seeking for your program to address current environmental toxicology issues, and having this in mind you might check the additional seminars and guest lecturers they have been inviting. Finally, the ability to gain on-hands experience is crucial in this field too – carefully research universities that offer plenty of such opportunities.

Career Options

As an environmental toxicologist, you would have a good variety of exciting and challenging career options. If you join an academic or non-profit institution you would most likely be involved in research – discovering new knowledge on how toxic substances produce their effects. There are many subspecialty areas in toxicology research: chemical carcinogenesis, reproductive and developmental toxicology, neurotoxicology, immunotoxicology, inhalation toxicology, risk assessment, and many others. What is important to keep in mind is that often research involves the use of lab animals, and you should be OK with that. As mentioned earlier, you could also assist government agencies or non-profit groups, helping them find the best way to analyze the severity of damage on ecosystems as well as developing the best way of cleaning it. Land development companies may also work with environmental toxicologists to make sure that construction efforts are as environmentally-friendly as possible.