What is an Eco-Toxicologist? Eco- toxicologists specialize in toxicology studying the harmful effects of chemical, biological, and physical agents on living organisms, including humans.

Eco-toxicologists draw on a variety of scientific disciplines to predict, measure and explain the frequency and severity of adverse effects of environmental toxins on living organisms.

Their work improves environmental protection by bringing a greater understanding of the hazards and risks to which organisms are exposed.

At a Glance

Imagine you are kneeling on the bank of a cold glacier-fed stream with your arm in the water taking a grab sample.

You are an eco-toxicologist and you are taking samples of the creek because there is concern that a potentially harmful chemical has polluted the water.

Biologists studying fish downstream have noticed the fish population is almost entirely mature adults, with very few young fish. The absence of younger fish indicates that the population is not reproducing; a sign of toxins in the water.

You have been asked to investigate the situation, determine a cause, and find a way to reverse the effects. As an eco-toxicologist, you must find out why the creek's fish have stopped reproducing and if something can be done about it.

The first step toward finding these answers is to visit the site itself, both to gather water samples and to see if there is obvious evidence of the cause in the surrounding environment. This could be a result of dumped chemical containers or a spill site. Even when the cause seems apparent, you must investigate a little deeper.

You will bring the water samples to the lab for analysis, to get a better idea of the different chemicals present in the water.

From the list of chemicals, you will look at each one to see if it is responsible for stopping reproduction. But you aren't finished once you have found the culprit or culprits; you will also study the mechanism by which the contaminant acts on the fish, which will be the key to reversing its effects.

It’s important that you find the source of the toxicant so you can prevent similar incidences in the future.

It's a big task, but your specialty is answering the questions of what, how, and where disturbances are in the ecosystem.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an eco-toxicologist:

  • Take samples of water, soil, sediment, animals, and plants in their environment to measure health, determine exposure levels where necessary, and assess any changes due to particular sources of pollution
  • Conduct chemical and toxicological laboratory assessments on individual substances or contaminant mixtures in water, sediment, and soil to determine their effects on animals, plants, and human tissue
  • Conduct research to develop new toxicological tests to assess environmental situations
  • Evaluate potential risks based on the concentration of toxicants and periods of exposure
  • Develop standards or guidelines for safe levels of chemical, biological, and physical agents in the air, soil, sediment, or water, for example environmental quality criteria
  • Provide advice and scientific information to policy and program developers concerning environmental and human health and legal aspects of chemical use
  • Work in accordance with environmental regulations and legislation
  • Interact with regulators, medical professionals, and communities to better understand environments and people being affected by pollutants, explore commonalities of concern and agree on ways to collectively deal with these issues
  • Inform and advise policy makers and program developers on the health, environmental, and legal aspects of chemical use

Work Environment

Eco-toxicologists work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to:

In the lab:

  • Testing samples and conducting toxicity experiments
  • Culture organisms
  • Designing experimental protocols
  • Ensuring chemical and laboratory equipment are being stored in a safe manner.
  • Calibrating and maintaining instruments
  • Analyzing the potential risks of exposure to pollutants

In the office:

  • Preparing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
  • Researching literature and preparing reports and scientific papers
  • Communicating by phone and in meetings with clients, stakeholders, the general public, government departments, colleagues, and other scientists
  • Presenting study results and findings and developing solutions
  • Researching new technology and advancements in ecotoxicology, and consult with other toxicology professionals

In the field:

  • Collecting chemical samples
  • Supervising and coordinating with technologists, technicians, and trainees
  • Detecting natural products such as toxins, venoms, and plant poisons.
  • Conducting toxicity investigations and experiments on solid, liquid, and air emission waste streams
  • Researching sources of contamination and pollution
  • Responding to emergency situations and contributing to clean-up and recovery efforts

Where to Work

There are a number of places eco-toxicologists can find employment. They include:

  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Colleges, universities, and research institutes
  • Biotechnology firms
  • Environmental consulting firms
  • Firms in other industries, for example, mining, forestry, and chemical production
  • Non-governmental organizations

Search for jobs on the ECO Canada Job Boad

Education and Skills

If you are a high school student considering a career as an eco-toxicologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • English

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an eco-toxicologist is a university undergraduate degree, though the majority of positions are in research and require graduate studies.

If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an eco-toxicologist, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Toxicology
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science
  • Microbiology

Certification is not mandatory for eco-toxicologists, but one that may be considered an asset is our Environmental Professional (EP) designation.


Hard/Technical Skills (obtained through formal education and training programs

  • Knowledge of environmental legislation and regulations
  • In-depth knowledge of chemical structures
  • Knowledge on how to operate lab equipment
  • Ability to interpret data in a clear and cohesive manner
  • Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)

Soft Skills (personal attributes and characteristics)

  • Attention to detail
  • Project management
  • Oral and written communication
  • Self-starting
  • Personal integrity and accountability

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch our free webinar “Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry” or  take our Essential Skills courses.

Role Models

Angela Li-Muller

What does Angela Li-Muller like about her job in toxicology? "I enjoy learning more about environmental problems and working with other experts on solutions." Angela works for the City of Toronto. Her search for information on toxic substances in the environment is carefully plotted. "First I try to find out if some substances are harmful. Then, I try to find out how much of these substances are in the environment.

Thirdly, I try to find out how much of these substances in the environment actually reach body tissues. Based on all this information, I try to determine if what is present in the environment is safe for people." Is there anything she doesn't like about her job? "I find it difficult when people are unwilling to accept my findings because the conclusions do not fit with their belief. Sometimes there is resistance to bad news, and sometimes people just don't want to believe that there is a problem."

Angela's career preparation included a bachelor's and a master's degree in chemistry. Her master's degree had an emphasis on environmental toxicology. Angela completed her academic preparation when she received a Ph.D. with a toxicology focus from the University of Guelph.

Your Impact

As an eco-toxicologist, you’re responsible for predicting the effects of pollutants on food resources for wildlife populations, ecosystems, and humans.

Eco-toxicologists aim to understand, predict and prevent undesirable events in the natural environment. They do this by carrying out ecotoxicity testing and risk assessment on new chemicals that may be used, disposed, or otherwise reach the environment. They are also involved in conducting detailed monitoring studies of invertebrates and fish in polluted rivers, to assess the impact of toxins within a food chain.

Eco-toxicology is just one branch of toxicology. Other fields include academic, regulatory, industrial, pharmaceutical, occupational, clinical, forensic, and contract toxicology.

Eco-toxicologists develop models to help explain the negative effects chemicals can have on the ecosystem to industry.

This means there is a need for collaborative efforts between eco-toxicologists, biochemists, and other scientists. Eco-toxicologists play a pivotal role in contributing globally to protecting food resources in agriculture, aquaculture, and fishing.

As an eco-toxicologist you ensure that organizations abide with the relevant standards and guidelines. These standards are created to prevent harmful events. You must be attentive to the levels of toxicants in stable environments and monitor this. Ideally, you’re looking to prevent a dangerous increase in toxins, but if the level rises too far you must make others aware so that it can be controlled.

When needed, you may even be asked to be in the field to help with clean up efforts to ensure that everything is done in a safe manner.

Occupational Classification

Individuals employed as eco-toxicologists may be classified in one or more of the following occupational groupings:

NOC Code: 2121- Biologists and related scientists

What is a NOC Code?

The National Occupation Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data, describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

The NOC is developed and updated in partnership with Statistics Canada to coincide with the 5- year census cycles. It is based on in-depth occupational research and consultations conducted across Canada, to reflect changes in the Canadian labour market.

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