Toxicology and You

Toxicology and You

  • An Introduction to A Small Dose of Toxicology

The purpose of A Small Dose of Toxicology is to build upon our intuitive understanding of toxicology and encourage knowledgeable and comfortable applications of the principles of toxicology. Placing some form and structure around what we already intuitively know about toxicology will allow more critical analysis of not only our immediate environment but many of the current events that shape our local and global society. Toxicological considerations shape directly or indirectly many decisions about our home, play, school, or work environments. As citizens in a democratic society, we must be able to meaningfully engage decision makers in industry, government, and the news media to influence the development of our local environment as well as society. This book is not about the thousands of commercial chemicals that are in use, but rather about the principles that guide decisions about their use and distribution. A little knowledge about toxicology will allow us to better judge the potential effect on our lives, ask insightful questions, and ultimately influence the decision makers.

Understanding the principles of toxicology can provide the power to discover new insights into decision-making. The principles of toxicology can then be applied to an ever changing circumstances as we search for some understanding of the issues. The power is in having the knowledge to evaluate a new situation.

The “Principles of Toxicology” chapter provides an overview of the principles of toxicology while subsequent chapters explore specific topics in great depth. The reader is encouraged to pick and choose specific areas of interest; toxicology is fun when explored out of curiosity. One unique feature of the book is that each chapter has a corresponding PowerPoint presentation. This presentation material was designed to aid the student or the teacher by providing a concise overview of the material in the chapter and, in some cases, provide information from a slightly different perspective. A teacher can use this material for classroom presentation or the student can use the presentation material as class notes or for review of the chapter material. As a teacher myself, I have always wondered how many times the same material has been reproduced to accommodate a lecture.

Everyday Examples of Toxicology

What Aspect of Toxicology?



Developed as a sedative in the early 60s, but found to cause a rare birth defect, phocomelia. In 1962 legislation was passed that new drugs must undergo sufficient animal and human testing prior to approval for use by the FDA.

Hong Kong

a) Many chickens and birds in Hong Kong were killed to stop the spread of a potentially deadly avian virus that could move to humans.
b) Why was Hong Kong a British colony? This was in part due to the Opium Wars, when England and other countries wanted to promote the use of opium to the Chinese population. Consider our own current “war on drugs.”

Princess Diana

At the time of death her driver may have had too much alcohol to drink.

Ambassador to MexicoA number of years ago a former governor of Massachusetts (Weild) was denied the opportunity to become the ambassador to Mexico because US Senator Jesse Helm thought he was “soft on drugs.” Yet this senator was from a key tobacco growing state and a major supporter of the tobacco industry (and hence nicotine). Who is soft on drugs?

$276 Billion

Money lost or spent due to the consumption of alcohol, drug abuse, car accidents, lost work, etc.

$65 Billion

Money lost or spent due to tobacco-related illnesses or disease.


Our food supply is dependent on, and contaminated with, pesticides. Artificial sweeteners, flavors, and colors are used. Mercury contaminates some fish.


Loud noise can damage hearing and can cause an even greater effect in combination with certain drugs.


The dust in your home may contain many hazardous contaminants, ex. lead or pesticides. Many of these can be tracked in the home on shoes or by pets. Removing shoes can reduce contamination in the home.

12,000 Children

Estimated number of children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Coeur d’Alene, Silver Valley, ID

Town contaminated by lead

Solar Radiation (ultraviolet light)

Sunburn, cancer


Found in drinking water, and old smelter and mining sites; causes skin disease and cancer

Toxicology and You Chapter

PowerPoint Presentation

More Information and References

Teaching Resources

  • US National Library of Medicine. Toxicology Tutorials. Site offers three tutorial lessons on toxicology.
  • Society of Toxicology (SOT). K-12 Resources. US toxicology organization site has a variety of useful information and links to educational resources on toxicology and related biological sciences.

European, Asian, and International Agencies

  • Organization For Economic Co-Operation And Development (OECD). Chemical Safety and Biosafety. OECD Site contains general information on environmental and chemical health and safety.
  • European Commission. Public Health. European Commission has extensive health-related information in many languages. European Environment Agency. European Environment Agency has extensive environmental health-related information in many languages.
  • National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). NICE was set up as a Special Health Authority for England and Wales and its role is to provide patients, health professionals, and the public with authoritative, robust, and reliable guidance on current "best practice."
  • Chemical Safety Information from Intergovernmental Organizations. INCHEM is a means of rapid access to internationally peer-reviewed information on chemicals commonly used throughout the world, which may also occur as contaminants in the environment and food. It consolidates information from a number of intergovernmental organizations whose goal it is to assist in the sound management of chemicals.
  • International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS). Pesticide Data Sheets. Site has large list of pesticide data sheets.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). The World Health Organization, the United Nations' specialized agency for health, was established on April 7, 1948. WHO's objective, as set out in its constitution, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. Information is in English, Spanish, and French.

North American Agencies

  • Health Canada. Health Canada provides extensive health-related information in English and French.
  • Canadian CHEMINDEX database. The CHEMINDEX database contains information on over 200,000 chemicals; record contains identification information on a unique chemical substance, including chemical names and synonyms, the CAS registry number, and a list of the CCINFO databases containing information on that substance.
  • Canadian MSDS Database. Material Safety Data Sheets on over 120,000 compounds from 600 North American manufacturers and suppliers.
  • US National Library of Medicine. This site provides access to probably the greatest sources of reference material in the world. The Health Information section has specific areas related to toxicology as well as many searchable databases.
  • US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Contains a wealth of information on many common environmental pollutants such as lead, mercury, and pesticides, including regulatory information. The site also has a great kids section.
  • US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). "IRIS is a database of human health effects that may result from exposure to various substances found in the environment." An excellent source of information about many compounds and a great starting place.
  • US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program. "The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is a publicly available EPA database that contains information on toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities reported annually by certain covered industry groups as well as federal facilities."
  • US National Toxicology Program (NTP). In 1978 the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) established the NTP to coordinate toxicological testing programs, strengthen the science base in toxicology, develop and validate improved testing methods, and provide information about potentially toxic chemicals to health regulatory and research agencies, the scientific and medical communities, and the public.

Non-government Organizations

  • Environmental Defense Fund. The Environmental Defense Fund is dedicated to protecting the environmental rights of all people, including future generations. Among these rights are clean air and water, healthy and nourishing food, and a flourishing ecosystem.
  • North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). NAAEE is a network of professionals, students, and volunteers working in the field of environmental education throughout North America and in over 55 countries around the world. Since 1971, the association has promoted environmental education and supported the work of environmental educators.

Library References

  • National Library of Medicine. US TOXNET. TOXNET is a cluster of databases on toxicology, hazardous chemicals, and related areas.

Introductions to Toxicology and Risk

  • Ottoboni, Alice. The Dose Makes the Poison: A Plain Language Guide to Toxicology, 2nd Edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991. A very good introduction to toxicology.
  • Berger, Bob. Beating Murphy's Law: The Amazing Science of Risk. New York: Delta, 1994. A fun look at risk in everyday life.
  • Morgan, M. Granger. "Risk Analysis and Management". Scientific American 269, (1993): 32-41. This is a good short overview of many of the issues in risk analysis.
  • Kent, Chris. Basics of Toxicology. New York: Wiley, 1998. More detailed overview but still accessible.

Reference Books (lots of good information, but costly)

  • Hayes, A. Wallace (ed). Principles and Methods of Toxicology, 5th Edition. London: Taylor & Francis, 2007.
  • Klaassen, Curtis D. (ed). Casarett & Doull's Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons, 7th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. One of the classic toxicology textbooks that contains more than anyone wants to know about toxicology.
  • Hardman, Joel G. et al. (eds). Goodman and Gilman's The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, 12th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. A detailed book on the pharmacological (i.e. beneficial) and toxicological (i.e. adverse) effects of drugs. Also considerable basic physiological information.
  • US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. Neurotoxicity: Identifying and Controlling Poisons of the Nervous System. Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1990. An excellent overview of toxicology with an obvious emphasis on chemical agents that affect the nervous system.


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1 Comment

  1. I fail to see the relevance between the Opium Wars and over a hundred years later bird flu! surely you would have been better quoting bird flu as H5N1 or H10N8, or SARS which rapidly spread across the world from Hong Kong. Or even the outbreak of Swine Fever in 2009 and 2012