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.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an eco-toxicologist:
Eco-toxicologists work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to:
In the lab:
In the office:
In the field:
There are a number of places eco-toxicologists can find employment. They include:
Search for jobs on the ECO Canada Job Boad
If you are a high school student considering a career as an eco-toxicologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
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:
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
Soft Skills (personal attributes and characteristics)
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.
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.
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.
Individuals employed as eco-toxicologists may be classified in one or more of the following occupational groupings:
NOC Code: 2121- Biologists and related scientists
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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