Environmental Toxicology

The field of environmental toxicology aims to keep the environment and the public safe from harmful substances. Read on to learn more about education, employment and earnings for environmental and biological scientists.

Is Environmental Toxicology Right for Me?

Career Overview

Environmental toxicology is a relatively new scientific discipline that explores the ways pollutants and other substances adversely impact the environment, as well as its animal and human populations. This interdisciplinary field draws upon biochemistry, geosciences, epidemiology and the social sciences to examine how biological and chemical agents affect living organisms. As an environmental toxicologist, you might study the movement of toxins through materials, such as soils, air and water, to assess the health risks of short- and long-term exposure. You could also choose to focus on a range of specific issues, from the safety of food additives to the adverse effects of industrial waste.

Career Options

Many environmental toxicologists perform research for private and academic institutions and laboratories that are invested in public and environmental health. You could work in a variety of industries, such as food, petroleum and pharmaceuticals, to minimize or reverse the adverse effects of chemical and biological agents that are by-products of industrial production. Another option is to work as a consultant who conducts environmental risk assessments and helps businesses adhere to public and environmental safety regulations. Governmental agencies, including state health departments and federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, might also hire you.

Employment and Salary information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for environmental scientists and specialists were expected to increase by 15%, or faster than average, between 2012 and 2022. During the same 10-year period, biological scientists, such as biochemists and biophysicists, will also see a faster-that-average-growth in employment (19%). As of May 2013, environmental scientists earned a median annual salary of $65,090, as reported by the BLS. At that same time, the median annual salary for a biochemist or biophysicist was $84,320 (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Become an Environmental Toxicologist?

Undergraduate Programs

Bachelor's degrees in toxicology are rare but do exist. Alternatively, you can pursue a bachelor's degree in environmental studies with a track in toxicology. An undergraduate degree in any of the physical or life sciences, agriculture or engineering is also good preparation for graduate studies in environmental toxicology.

Graduate Programs

Graduate environmental toxicology degrees include a Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Toxicology. According to a 2007 survey by the Society of Toxicology (SOT), doctoral degrees are generally the most common degree obtained among all toxicologists (www.toxicology.org). Some graduate schools offer environmental toxicology as a specialization within related degree programs, such as agriculture and natural resources. Master's and doctoral degree programs provide advanced education in aquatic toxicology, immunotoxicology, ecology risk assessment, chemical transport and statistical analysis. Specializations can include ecological modeling, environmental chemistry and wildlife toxicology, among other areas.

Other Educational Options

Depending on your career goals, you may choose to pursue a dual degree that combines studies in environmental toxicology with law, business administration or public administration. Post-baccalaureate certificates are open to students and professionals in the field who are looking for further training in certain areas, such as environmental management, environmental health sciences and environmental contamination assessment. Professional organizations like the SOT offer you access to job postings, resources and continuing education opportunities that can help you advance your career.

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