As you might have guessed, toxicology has something to do with the study of “toxic” things. Toxicology is actually a branch of science that originated from concerns about safety and public health, and examined the harmful effects of exposure to poisons and chemicals. Today, toxicology is the study of the harmful effects of chemicals and substances on living beings. It follows the pathways through which exposure to such substances impact different organisms, and how we can remedy individuals that suffered from harmful exposure to such compounds. The chemicals and substances studied by toxicologists could be both natural, such as lead and arsenic naturally found in water, or artificial, such as synthetic pharmaceutical compounds found in drugs.
Toxicology is crucial for ensuring that populations are not endangered through exposure to harmful substances in their environments, whether that is in their homes or in their workplaces. For example, it allows nations to set adequate standards and policies for water quality, for the development of safe pharmaceutical drugs, and for the design of safe workplaces.
The most important factor in determining whether exposure to a substance is harmful is the dose of the substance. As the father of modern toxicology, Paracelsus, once said, “only the dose is the poison.” However, different people might respond to exposure to chemicals differently, and harmful effects may appear at different doses. That is why toxicologists might commonly use the concept of “LD50,” which stands for lethal dose 50%. LD50 is the dose of a chemical at which 50% of an exposed test population dies (usually mice or rats) and serves as a good indicator of the level that might be harmful to humans as well.
Toxicologists may specialize in different areas, such as aquatic toxicology, clinical toxicology, ecotoxicology, occupational toxicology, and more. Overall, the study of toxicology is crucial to ensuring a population’s health and well-being and understanding how even minimal exposure to certain compounds or exposure to normally harmless compounds at certain doses can negatively impact an individual’s capacity to function properly.
Written by Gwen Aubrac