What is Chemical Toxicology?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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Chemical toxicology is the study of the effects of chemicals on living organisms. This can include chemicals used in the medical field, in agriculture, and in the study of wildlife. The aim of chemical toxicology studies involve finding side effects of certain chemicals or toxins when ingested, ways to detect chemicals in the body, and ways to treat poisonings when they occur. This can be beneficial when developing new products or medications involving the use of various chemical compounds by helping researchers determine which compounds are safe for human use.

The use of chemical toxicology in the medical field most often concerns the treatment of toxin exposure and the development of new medications and treatments. Most medications used in traditional medicine involve the use of multiple chemical compounds. These chemicals have a direct effect on the body, resulting in a reversal of illness or the alleviation of symptoms. Before these compounds can be used or added to existing chemicals that are known to be safe, they must be thoroughly tested and approved by the appropriate agency. To test drugs for safety, clinical trials are generally performed using paid volunteers who agree to take the drug for a set amount of time.


The same methods may be used for determining an antidote for poisoning, as one chemical is often needed to neutralize another. Doctors may also perform tests on individuals who show signs of being poisoned after their deaths to determine what toxins are to blame and the exact effects they had on the body. This is done by running tests on known toxins and narrowing them down and by thoroughly viewing organs and other systems to note any life-threatening damage.

Chemical toxicology is also used in the agricultural and environmental protection industries. Tests must be completed on chemicals used as pesticides for growing crops and those which may be used for common household purposes. This is because trace amounts of chemicals still remain on fruits and vegetables after harvest, and may cause adverse effects on those who eat them. Household items, like cleaners, must also be tested for potential effects on the environment.

While some tests can be performed in a laboratory, other side effects from using chemicals are not observed until negative reactions are noted. For example, a pesticide that is widely used and thought to be safe may have to be recalled if people become ill. This involves another area of chemical toxicology that studies the effects the chemical have had on the person or environment after damage has been done.


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