5 Toxicologist Responsibilities: With Skills and Definition

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 19 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Toxicologists perform a vital role in furthering society's understanding of toxic chemicals and how they affect the body and the environment. Candidates interested in becoming toxicologists may benefit from understanding the typical responsibilities of the role. Understanding these responsibilities can help you decide whether you have the appropriate qualifications to become a toxicologist and whether you have the right skills to complete their expected duties. In this article, we discuss the definition of toxicology responsibilities and provide five examples of responsibilities, with a guide to the skills these professionals use to complete their tasks.

What are toxicologist responsibilities?

Toxicologist responsibilities refer to the tasks that toxicology professionals face in a laboratory or research institute. These professionals are responsible for studying toxic substances and chemicals, gaining a more comprehensive understanding of how these substances interact with human cells and the impact they have on animals or the environment. Toxicologists work in laboratories and research the properties of substances. From this, they compile written reports and present these to the relevant authorities, such as government research institutes or universities to generate treatments for certain diseases or to understand how to counteract the negative effects of certain substances on the environment.

Toxicologists also work in forensic science and can help authorities like the police gain a better understanding of properties taken from substances in crime scenes or samples of DNA taken from individuals. These professionals are critical to several industries, including crime and prevention, conservation and healthcare. Toxicology professionals may split their time between laboratory-based work, analysing tissues and samples of toxic substances and in standard offices, compiling written reports and conducting research based on their findings in the laboratory.

Related: How to Become a Toxicologist?

5 toxicology duties

Here are five examples of toxicology duties:

1. Collecting samples for further testing

One of the first tasks that toxicologists face is collecting samples for further testing. This can include collecting DNA samples from human tissue, extracting toxic substances from blood or taking a sample of a toxic chemical from a contaminated source. These professionals also work with radiation, so they may analyse the effects of a low dose of radiation on human cells. Collecting samples typically requires professionals to use special instruments to not inflict any harm on the human or animal tissue, ensuring tissues and samples remain intact for further testing.

Depending on their industry, toxicologists may do this themselves or work with forensic scientists such as pathologists and forensic professionals to collect tissue samples. Collecting samples also requires a high degree of caution to ensure volatile substances like chemicals don't interact with reactive chemicals. To do this, toxicologists may use specialist safety equipment to work safely and effectively both inside and outside laboratories.

Related: How to Become a Forensic Pathologist (6 Step Guide)

2. Writing toxicology reports

Based on their findings, toxicologists compile written reports that clearly outline the early results of their studies. Typically, they collect their results prior to writing, allowing them to formulate an appropriate hypothesis and state their methodology. When writing these toxicology reports, they may work in collaboration with research assistants to ensure they provide the correct supporting evidence and format their results and arguments effectively. Usually, toxicologists compile written reports to present them to the relevant authorities. These authorities can include government bodies looking to understand pathogens that are in regular circulation in citizens, and research institute authorities such as senior professionals, and healthcare providers who wish to understand more about a substance's effect on the human body, such as a particular drug or radiation. To write toxicology reports, toxicologists arrange their data into a clear format, allowing readers to easily identify trends in the information and make adequate conclusions on the efficacy of substances.

Related: How to Become Analytical Chemist in 3 Steps (With Skills)

3. Conducting research

When compiling written reports and before beginning to analyse certain chemicals or substances, it's important for toxicologists to conduct thorough research into the properties of substances. This is critical from a safety perspective as this allows them to prepare and handle potentially dangerous substances and ensure they use the appropriate equipment to keep substances intact and free from contamination. This research also supplies toxicologists with a preliminary understanding of what their data may reveal.

Conducting research before completing a study helps toxicologists prepare for their results, allowing them to look for trends in the data that provide a definitive conclusion on the effects of certain substances. For example, a toxicologist studying the effects of a certain drug on human cells may research preliminary studies that have already happened to provide themselves with a benchmark and to see if their results concur with previous conclusions. Conducting this research can also provide toxicologists with inspiration on how to organise their research study and what methodologies to use.

Related: How to Become a Clinical Researcher (With Typical Duties)

4. Advising on the proper use and handling of harmful substances

After compiling the results from their studies, toxicologists typically work collaboratively with other professionals to advise on the proper handling and use of toxic substances. Based on their research, toxicologists can draw conclusions on the effects of certain substances and provide a more comprehensive insight into how other professionals can use these substances in the future, ensuring they do so in a safe and controlled manner.

To advise, toxicologists may release written reports, host panels and explain their results to a group of experts or discuss their results with their colleagues. This responsibility enhances workplace safety and limits injuries or contamination in a laboratory.

Related: 8 Rewarding Careers in Science to Consider (With Benefits)

5. Researching how to treat symptoms after exposure

After initial analysis and research, toxicologists then research and test antidotes and treatments for toxic substances to help public health campaigns. This responsibility can include conducting research on prior studies and collaborating with healthcare professionals such as pathologists and chemists. Typically, toxicologists test treatments on human or animal tissue to understand the efficacy of drugs such as vaccines and antidotes. This includes compiling a comprehensive study consisting of control groups to ensure that results provide an accurate conclusion. From this, they can release this data to the relevant regulatory authorities to find new treatments for diseases, intoxication and chemical exposure.

Related: 20 Careers in Health Science

How toxicologists use their skills

Qualified toxicologists require a comprehensive set of skills to complete their tasks as they handle toxic substances and provide in-depth analysis to further understand harmful substances. Toxicology professionals typically acquire these skills via specialist training, including gaining a bachelor's degree in toxicology, science or forensic studies. Here are some of the skills that toxicologists use to fulfil their daily responsibilities:

  • Analytical skills: One of the primary tasks that toxicologists face is analysing data related to research and results gathered via analysing toxic substances. Analytical skills help to support professionals when studying trends in the data and compiling research reports to present to the relevant scientific authorities to determine the effects of toxic substances and how to counteract them.

  • Problem-solving: Strong problem-solving skills are essential to toxicologists as they use them to think of ways to prevent harm and mitigate the effects of harmful substances. Problem-solving skills enable toxicologists to find ways to help people respond to dangers such as excessive sun exposure or chemical burns, using their own findings and research as a problem-solving framework to address dangers.

  • Communication: Toxicologists frequently compile written reports which requires strong written communication skills to effectively and clearly communicate findings. Additionally, they also work with other laboratory staff, which requires strong verbal communication skills to ensure that everyone works safely and effectively while collaborating.

  • Organisation: Toxicology studies typically require professionals to collect a large volume of toxic substance samples for further analysis. Organisational skills help toxicologists manage these samples and reach results, producing accurate reports with clear data alongside maintaining a safe work environment by ensuring that professionals account for each substance at all times.

  • Time management: When analysing substances, it's important to remember that some substances have a short time frame when professionals can adequately analyse before becoming ineffective. Good time management skills ensure that toxicologists perform their required studies before this time and compile the necessary reports before a set deadline.

  • Technical skills: Toxicologists use many instruments during their working day, including molecular imaging and RNA detection tools which require specialist skills to operate. Technical skills allow toxicology professionals to use these tools safely and effectively, gathering tangible results for their studies.

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