CAREER INFORMATION

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CLARE – ENVIRONMENTAL TOXICOLOGIST

What career path and training has led you to your current job?

From secondary school, I have always been very fascinated and intrigued by the science subjects and after deciding to do non-essay sciences at A-level (chemistry and physics), I chose to do biochemistry as a BSc at Lancaster University, which included a year at the University of Boulder, Colorado, USA. One of my biochemistry modules included two lectures on mammalian metabolism and first introduced me to toxicology. From this initial spark of interest, I investigated toxicology a bit more and decided to complete the MSc Toxicology at the University of Surrey to really gain thorough knowledge and understanding of this subject. While doing the MSc, we received a lecture from a company called WRc (previously the Water Research Centre), an environmental consultancy company, who have a specialist environmental toxicology division (the National Centre for Environmental Toxicology, or NCET). Their work really caught my eye and it just so happened thatthat they had a job vacancy coming up that would start towards the end of my MSc. I applied and was offered the job and I have been there ever since (approximately 5 years now).

Why did you want to study toxicology?

From the two lectures on metabolism during my BSc, I have always found every aspect of toxicology extremely interesting and applicable to everyday life. It is fascinating to know how the body works to protect ourselves from the millions of chemicals we are exposed to every day. I find it reassuring that future generations are protected through the implementation of results and developments that are being continually discovered from research. It is also interesting that there is often an assumption that natural is always best or safe, when in many situations, this is not the case at all!

What’s a typical day at work like?

I am a desk-based toxicologist, so I sit in an office and do computer-based tasks all day. I complete a lot of risk assessments for chemicals in the environment, particularly those that have been detected in water (environmental (such as rivers and lakes) and drinking water). Therefore, a significant part of my job involves searching for relevant information using a wide variety of sources including the internet, books and journals etc. Once all the information has been found, I then have to compile, often short and concise, reports on the chemical in question to explain its effects to human health, effects to the environment and how it will behave in the environment. These are often done within very tight timescales – often in hours, so it can get somewhat exciting! From this information, I also derive ‘safe’ levels for the chemical in drinking water, and relay the information found to members of the water industry or the UK environment agencies who may not have toxicological knowledge. As a consultancy company, we also do a lot of work for other Government and European agencies involving the presence of chemicals in the environment and their resultant impacts.
 

What are the best things about being an environmental toxicologist?

I think the best bit is knowing that you are making a difference – people come to you asking for advice on health issues and it is really rewarding knowing that you can help them, especially if you come across the incident you are dealing with in the press! Also, with the world becoming a much more environmentally-aware place, it is good to know that you are helping to maintain its overall ‘health’ for future generations.