Environmental Toxicology

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Introduction to Environmental Toxicology

Toxicology is the branch of science that deals with the study of toxicants or toxic substances, their mechanism of action, chemical structure, potency, and effects on animal or human bodies.


As we all know, environmental pollution has become a cause of concern all over the world. Pollution is a result of certain environmental pollutants that exert a toxic effect on the normal functioning of our surroundings that leads to pollution in the environment.


Thus, the pollutants that are damaging the environment can be regarded as toxicants causing degradation in environmental quality. It becomes essential for us to study such toxicants to reduce the incidence of pollution. This comes in the form of environmental toxicology that forms a connecting link between toxicology and environmental health sciences.


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Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

Environmental toxicology or Entox or Environ Toxicol is the study of the toxic effects of pollutants on environmental health. It also gives a detailed account of environmental toxicity caused due to the different sources of pollution and pollutants. As the nature of environmental pollutants can be both natural as well as synthetic, environmental toxicology deals with the effect of both types of pollutants.


There have been several developments in environmental toxicology ever since the study of environmental pollution began. This led the research about environmental health and toxicology giving rise to a separate branch in science.


Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology

As toxicology and pharmacology are two interrelated branches in chemistry, environmental toxicology is also associated with pharmacology. Under the pharmacological counterpart of environmental toxicology, people study the toxic effects of harmful chemicals or drugs on the environment.


It provides information regarding the effect of environmental toxicity on human as well as animal health. The effects of environmental pollution are not limited to just our surroundings as they penetrate deep into the body-systems of living organisms and exert a negative effect. Environmental toxicology and pharmacology deal with publishing reports and analysis about such effects and their trends over a designated period. This study is also given the term environ Toxicol Pharmacol for short.


Environmental Toxicology and its Branches

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Due to the differentiation of environmental pollutants and their side-effects, environmental toxicology is divided into different branches.

For the scope of this discussion, we shall consider two branches of environmental toxicology that are:

  • Environmental health toxicology, and

  • Ecotoxicology

Let's discuss these branches in detail:

Environmental Health Toxicology:

As the name suggests, environmental health toxicology deals with the study of the effects of harmful environmental pollutants on the human body and animal body. This branch deals with the mechanism of action, toxicokinetic, toxicodynamic, and treatment that is associated with the pollutant when it comes in contact with a living system.

The phenomenon associated with environmental health and toxicology are:

  • Bioaccumulation: One of the biggest problems of environmental pollution is that of bioaccumulation. It is the process by which the toxic chemicals or pollutants present in the environment enter the body of living organisms particularly human beings, and create a reserve in the body. These chemicals are accumulated from abiotic sources and are ingested through passive diffusion. The visceral organs of the body namely GIT, liver, kidney, lungs, and gills will accumulate the toxicants that put the normal physiology in danger.

Ecotoxicology:

The other component of environmental toxicology is ecotoxicology that relates to the harmful effect that the environmental pollutants impose on the ecosystems of the living communities that form the part of the biosphere.


An ecosystem has several mechanisms of interactions occurring within the living and the non-living components. Under ecotoxicology, there are two factors considered as causes for environmental degradation, and these include:

  • Abiotic Factors: The abiotic factors refer to the non-living components of the environment or an ecosystem that behave as toxicants. These factors cause environmental degradation through hydrolysis and photolysis.

  • Biotic Factors: The living organisms present in an ecosystem are known as the biotic components. Some of these biotic components may cause environmental degradation. It can be useful at the same time harmful. The fungi and other microorganisms that help in degradation through scavenging and decomposition are vital servers of the ecosystem. The activities of mankind on the other hand can cause the liberation of toxicants in the environment.

Did You Know?

An estimated 25% of India’s coral reefs have been destroyed as a result of environmental degradation.


Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

SETAC (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry) is dedicated to environmental sciences. The main objectives of the organization are to develop strategies regarding the improvement of the environment and prevention of pollution in the environment. The organization does by organizing meetings, workshops, rallies as well as symposia to discuss the developments in environmental toxicology. They also promote education in the field of environmental toxicology with the help of online courses and organizing various public awareness campaigns. The society also publishes an Environmental toxicology and Chemistry journal that accounts for the details of the position of environmental pollution.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is Environmental Toxicology?

Ans: Environmental toxicology is the branch of environmental science and chemistry that deals with the study of the toxicants or pollutants that are responsible for environmental pollution or any harmful effect on the quality of the environment. It provides information regarding the toxic effects of these pollutants on the environment, human and animal health as well as their mechanism of action, sources, and pathways of polluting. Environmental toxicology has two broad branches that include ecotoxicology which is the study of the effect of an environmental pollutant on ecosystems and environmental health toxicology that deals with the effect of harmful chemicals or substances on human health.

2. What is Environmental Degradation?

Ans: Environmental degradation refers to the phenomenon of deterioration in the quality of the environment that may result in long-term side effects. Environmental degradation is caused due to abiotic as well as biotic factors. The abiotic or non-living factors bring about the degradation in the environment through processes like hydrolysis and photolysis. The chemical compounds that are produced during these processes lead to deleterious effects on the environment and hence cause degradation. The biotic factors or living factors can also cause environmental degradation for example the microorganisms that are responsible for decomposition can lead to environmental degradation when decomposition occurs at an accelerated rate. The interference in the environment caused by human activities also results in its degradation.