Toxicology & Environmental Toxicology Expert Units

Toxicology is a field of science that helps us understand the harmful effects that chemicals, substances, or situations, can have on people, animals, and the environment. Some refer to toxicology as the “Science of Safety” because as discipline toxicology has evolved from a science initially focused on studying poisons and adverse effects of chemical exposures, to a science devoted to studying safety.

Toxicology uses the power of science to predict what, and how chemicals may cause harm and then utilises that information to protect human health and the environment.

The toxicology unit evaluates the risks of chemicals used in biocidal products and plant protection products. This evaluation assesses the risks for humans (human health or mammalian toxicology) and the environment (ecotoxicology) from exposure to these product types.

The toxicology unit evaluates chemical safety in two ways;

  • The hazard or the intrinsic characteristics of the chemical i.e. it’s ability to cause harm to human health and the environment.
  • The risk or the likelihood of the chemical causing harm.

Important things to keep in mind when considering toxicology;

  • People, animals and plants will not respond to chemicals in exactly the same way. Many factors will impact on how a living thing responds to a chemical, for example a herbicide will be very dangerous for a plant but could have no effect on a person.
  • The dose or amount of chemical someone or something is exposed to is a very important factor. All substances have the potential to be toxic to humans and other living organisms in certain circumstances and at specific doses or levels.
  • Toxicologists and Ecotoxicologists are acutely aware that certain chemicals can have very significant effects at very low doses. The hazards and risks related to these substances are given special attention.

Human health and ecotoxicological safety evaluations are carried out according to EU agreed procedures (e.g. Biocides Reg. - 528/2012, PPP Reg. - 1109/2009, Uniform Principles Reg. – 246/2011). The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) coordinates, facilitates and offers guidance on agricultural chemicals while the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) is responsible for biocides of all types including household items such as bleach or hand wipes. 

These procedures establish a sound scientific basis for EU and Irish regulations for the protection of human health and the environment.

Guidance for plant protection products (PPP) assessment can be found on EFSA’s website

The EU database of plant protection products can be found here

Guidance on biocide assessment can be found on ECHA’s website