Humans live in a chemical world. They inhale, ingest, and absorb through the skin many of these chemicals. The occupational-environmental toxicologist is primarily concerned with adverse effects in humans resulting from exposure to chemicals encountered at work or in the general environment.
In clinical practice, the occupational-environmental toxicologist must identify and treat the adverse health effects of these exposures. In addition, the trained occupational-environmental toxicologist will be called upon to assess and identify hazards associated with chemicals used in the workplace or introduced into the human environment. Occupational and environmental toxicology cases present unusually complex problems.
Occupational and environmental exposure is rarely limited to a single type of molecule. Most workplace or environmental materials are compounds or mixtures, and the ingredients are often poorly described in the documentation that is available for physician review.
Moreover, although regulatory agencies in many countries have requirements for disclosure of hazardous materials and their health impacts, proprietary information exclusions often make it difficult for those who treat occupationally and environmentally poisoned patients to understand the nature and scope of the presenting illness. Because many of these illnesses have long latency periods before they become manifest, it is often a matter of detective work, when patients finally present with disease, to ascertain exposure and relate it to clinical effect.
Monitoring of exposure concentrations both in the workplace and in the general environment has become more common, but it is far from widespread, and so it is often very difficult to establish the extent of exposure, its duration, and its dose rate when this information is critical to the identification of the toxic disorder and its management.
The industrial toxicologist plays a vital role in developing a wide range of effective and safe products including petrochemicals, medicines, pesticides, cosmetics, food and drink and household products.
Every company that makes a product or substance has a duty of care to its customers to ensure that the product is safe for its intended use. This means that many companies must check to make sure that the products that they sell (and their constituent chemicals) do not pose a risk to human health.
They need to consider not only whether the product poses a risk to consumers, but also to production workers in their factories, professionals who may be exposed to a product more frequently than a typical consumer (such as hairdressers), and also whether the product could harm the environment after it has been used.
How much safety information is required on a given product often depends on the likely level of exposure to the product, which will depend on how much of the product is made, its intended use, how much is used and for how long. For example, we may want to know far more about a food additive than a new additive that makes up a small part of car engine oil.
Particular industries, such as the pharmaceutical and pesticide industries, often need to conduct many studies and experiments to demonstrate the safety of the chemicals that they develop. Although many naturally occurring food ingredients are assumed to be safe, where new food ingredients or additives are developed, these too must have a robust safety package.
With a huge variety of products and chemicals being constantly manufactured, industrial toxicologists are employed in a wide range of companies. In a large company they may specialize in a particular area, such as genetic or reproductive toxicology, pathology, clinical biochemistry, toxicokinetic or ecotoxicology.
On the other hand, a small company might employ only one industrial toxicologist, who would need a broader understanding of all aspects of toxicology.
At the end of this chapter, the student will be able to:
- What toxicology is
- Describe toxicological health problem.
- Explain Dose-Response Relationships
- Understand toxicology as it relates to workplace
- And many more…