Careers for Environmental Toxicologists: Job Options and Requirements

As scientists who examine the effects of chemical products on living organisms and the environment, environmental toxicologists typically possess a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and work in a variety of fields. Toxicologists who further wish to market themselves to potential employers can pursue postdoctoral training in toxicology. Optional certification is available through the American Board of Toxicology and the National Registry of Environmental Professionals.

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Job Options for Environmental Toxicologists

Environmental toxicologists research the effects of chemicals on people, animals and ecosystems. They predict possible environmental hazards and assess risks and benefits associated with certain chemical compounds. Toxicologists also study ways to reduce ground, air, water and food chain contamination. The work of environmental toxicologists informs public policymakers about the effects of existing and emerging chemical products.

From pesticides to pollutants, chemical waste is produced in agricultural, industrial and home environments, so environmental toxicologists can choose from a range of fields in which to work. Some toxicologists may explore potential relationships between chemicals used in food production and cancer. Other professionals may examine the natural resistance of living organisms to particular toxins and the implications this has for future medical treatments. Many toxicologists document the life cycles of certain chemicals and their byproducts within an ecosystem.

Environmental toxicologists can choose from consulting, teaching and research careers. According to the Society of Toxicology (SOT), industries, such as pharmaceutical and petroleum companies that produce chemical compounds, were by far the largest employers of toxicologists as of 2008 (www.toxicology.org). Toxicologists may also find employment through the Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency, evaluating health risks for humans and the environment. Research and consulting professionals may work with corporations in developing safer chemical compounds that adhere to federal regulations. Teaching positions may be found in undergraduate and graduate institutions with toxicology, biology or chemistry departments.

Environmental Toxicologist Requirements

Aspiring environmental toxicologists with a 2-year or 4-year degree in toxicology, biology or chemistry can attain positions as lab assistants, fieldworkers and technicians. However, students interested in conducting research, teaching at the postsecondary level or seeking higher-level, more competitive toxicologist positions need to consider a Ph.D. program. Graduate-level studies may take an interdisciplinary approach, but they also offer concentrations in areas like cellular toxicology, environmental chemistry, risk management and public policy.

Environmental toxicologists often work with other scientists and officials, so they should be adept at communicating their results through technical writing and public speaking. Employers also tend to favor applicants who have laboratory experience and strong project management skills. Knowledge of statistical analysis, experimental design and predictive computer modeling may further prepare individuals for careers in environmental toxicology.

Career and Salary Info for Environmental Toxicologists

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that environmental scientists, including those involved in health, were expected to see an increase of 15% in employment through the 2012-2022 decade. In May 2012, the annual salary for environmental scientists in general was $68,970 per year, according to BLS statistics.

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