Forensic toxicology involves the study of toxinsâ€”poisons, drugs, and other materials that have a life-threatening effect on a living beingâ€”for the purpose of public safety and justice. A forensic toxicologist knows the absorption rate, distribution rate, and a slew of other characteristics regarding how toxins interact with the human body. Forensic toxicologists perform tests on human tissue samples and body fluids (which typically come in evidence bags fresh from a crime scene) in order to determine whether or not a toxin is present.
Strict adherence to scientific protocol is a key aspect of this career. Also, a forensic toxicologist must have a lot of patience. The job can be tedious at times and it requires detailed documentation throughout the whole process. Good communication skills, both written and oral, are needed for writing reports, giving court testimony, and interacting with other forensic personnel. Prioritization is another key skill. The pressure to complete lab tests quickly may arise and this must be handled with composure.
Working in a lab, the forensic toxicologist performs tests on samples collected by crime scene investigators. They use highly sophisticated instruments, chemical reagents and precise methodologies to determine the presence or absence of specific substances in the sample.
The work requires patience and the ability to follow specific steps to achieve reliable results. The forensic toxicologist must document every step of the process, and take care to follow rules regarding chain of custody for physical evidence.
The field of forensic toxicology has grown to include drug testing for employers and traffic enforcement officials, testing of animal samples for wildlife criminal investigators, testing for “date rape” drugs and performance-enhancing substances. Forensic toxicologists also work on cases involving environmental contamination, to determine the impact of chemical spills on nearby populations.
Job opportunities are expected to be excellent because the number of job openings is expected to continue to exceed the number of jobseekers. Willingness to relocate will further enhance one’s job prospects.
The average salary for a forensic toxicologist is $75,000 annually but will vary depending on location, type of industry, difficulty level of work projects, and experience in the field. Seasoned toxicologists and laboratory directors command salaries of $100,000 or more while newly hired toxicologists may begin their career at salaries in the $60,000 range.