Toxicology and its practical use in chemical incident response

Virginia Murray and Rachel MacLehose

in Essentials of Environmental Epidemiology for Health Protection

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199663415
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191759116 | DOI:
Toxicology and its practical use in chemical incident response

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Toxicology is the study of the nature and mechanism(s) of toxic effects of substances on living organisms and other biological systems. This chapter summarizes a chemical incident where the source–pathway–receptor concept facilitated the investigation and remediation using environmental epidemiology tools.

Toxicology is one of the key disciplines informing environmental epidemiology as it identifies harmful toxins and the precise nature of the potential harm. One of the main criteria for inferring causality proposed by(Bradford Hill 1965) is biological plausibility, and toxicology is fundamental to understanding the way in which a given toxin enters the body and acts on specific biological systems. The source–pathway–receptor model is a crucial part of our understanding of how environmental toxins can reach humans (and the susceptibility of particular population groups). This is particularly important in environmental epidemiology where exposures are often to complex mixtures of chemicals (waste sites, industrial effluent, smoke plumes, etc.) with multiple routes of exposure (air, water, soil) and levels of exposure are often relatively low. Toxicological information is vital in identifying which chemicals are most likely to cause toxic effects and in which form, so that any investigation of health effects correctly classifies individuals as exposed or unexposed. An understanding of chemical behaviour in the body informs the correct evaluation of environmental exposure and gives an indication of which media to sample in order to determine the relevant environmental exposure levels.

Chapter.  3608 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology ; Epidemiology

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