Why an Environmental Toxicology Degree?
Environmental toxicology is the study of how toxic chemicals affect organisms and the environment. It can include how the chemicals move through ecosystems, how they are absorbed and metabolized by plants and animals, the mechanisms by which they cause disease, result in congenital defects, or poison organisms, and how those effects may be treated, minimized, or reversed.
Environmental toxicologists may collect and test samples to determine the presence and amount of contaminants, and study how they got there. For example, they may test tissue samples, water, air, or food. By doing so, they help keep us safe. Some also make policy recommendations to federal regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Food and Drug Administration.
Environmental Toxicology Undergraduate Programs
Environmental toxicology is an advanced specialized field. Most professionals enter graduate school with bachelor's degrees in more basic related areas such as environmental biology, environmental chemistry, or ecology. For this reason, there are few undergraduate programs focusing on this area. Still, consulting firms do hire graduates without Master's degrees.
There are a handful of undergraduate programs for toxicology in general, which can prepare you for graduate studies in environmental toxicology. Pursuing a bachelor's in environmental science with a focus on toxicology is another option. Some schools offer undergraduate degrees in environmental health science, which also include courses on environmental toxicology and biochemistry. As with other scientific fields, gaining practical experience through internships with government agencies and nonprofits is recommended.
The University of California, Davis offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Toxicology. Students start out with fundamental course work in calculus, chemistry, biology, statistics, and computer analysis. Later in the program, they proceed to more advanced topics such as biochemistry and environmental toxicology. Students learn about pollutant fate and transport, how they're metabolized by organisms, and how they affect organisms.
St. John's University in New York City offers a 127-credit Bachelor of Science in Toxicology. First-year students focus on core courses in math, biology, chemistry, pharmaceuticals, and English. Subsequent courses include anatomy and physiology, pathology, and other subjects. The fourth year of the program focuses heavily on toxicology, including analytical and quantitative toxicology, regulatory toxicology, risk analysis, and lab work.
Master's Degrees in Environmental Toxicology
The vast majority of environmental toxicologists have advanced degrees. Graduate programs build on foundational undergraduate work. They may include more in-depth courses on chemical fate and transport, risk assessment, toxics in food and water, and policy. They generally involve a significant amount of lab work. Depending on the program, they may also include courses at the interface of toxicology, other life sciences, and the physical sciences, such as soil science, hydrology, and botany.
Cornell University offers graduate studies in environmental toxicology, and is home to the Institute for Comparative and Environmental Toxicology (ICET), a research center. Its “Graduate Field of Environmental Toxicology” spans several departments. Students must take a basic concepts course, a biochemical/molecular mechanisms course, an exposure/risk assessment course, a seminar, a journal club course, and twelve electives. A thesis is also required. Students can choose a concentration in Students may concentrate in Cellular and Molecular Toxicology, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Chemistry, Food and Nutritional Toxicology, or Risk Assessment, Management, and Public Policy (minor).
The University of Alabama at Birmingham is an accredited school of public health offering an online Master's of Public Health in Environmental Health. UAB's comprehensive program covers all aspects of the discipline, from the biological basis of environmental toxicology to the development of public policy. Coursework options include statistics, epidemiology, environmental management, occupational health and safety, and more.
Doctoral Programs in Environmental Toxicology
Many environmental toxicologists have doctoral degrees, including half of all professionals working for the federal government. Doctoral programs in environmental toxicology focus on independent research. It's important to find an advisor who shares your research interests, or at least is familiar with the specialization. Your advisor will help you shape your plan of study, and will also provide direction for your research.
Clemson University's Environmental Toxicology graduate and Ph.D. programs were rated 17th in the most recent National Research Council Assessment of Doctoral Programs. Its programs are administered with an interdisciplinary approach. The faculty's areas of research include chemical fate, biochemical toxicology, and ecological and aquatic toxicology. 18 hours of dissertation research are required.
Oregon State University's Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology (EMT) offers doctoral degrees in toxicology. EMT programs and faculty combine the studies of environmental chemistry and molecular toxicology to research disease and protect public health. Applicants with master's degrees in related areas such as chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, and other fields are encouraged to apply.
Jobs in Environmental Toxicology
The employment outlook for environmental toxicologists is excellent. Jobs in this field are expected to grow 15-21%, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Many professionals are employed by federal and state government, where they test environmental samples or help develop related policies. Many also help develop and test the environmental and health safety of new chemical and pharmaceutical products for private companies. Some advise on chemical issues for environmental consulting companies.