Forensic Toxicologist Job and Salary Information

Job Duties, Salary Potential and Education Requirements for Toxicologists

Forensic Toxicologist
Forensic toxicologists can earn a great salary. Cultura/Jason Butcher/Riser/Getty Images

A number of crimes involve toxins entering the body, such as poisoning, driving under the influence, and illicit drug use. Detectives and criminal investigators seek help from forensic toxicologists to get the answers they need when they suspect a chemical substance is related to a crime. 

What Are Forensic Toxicologists? 

Toxicologists study the presence and effects of toxins on living creatures, particularly humans.

They may work for environmental groups, government and law enforcement agencies, or independent corporations and laboratories.

The term forensics means "of or having to do with a question of law." Forensic toxicologists are simply toxicologists who apply their knowledge to legal matters.

Who Were the First Forensic Toxicologists?

The ancient Greeks were perhaps the first society to advance what we now recognize as forensic science when they studied toxins. The Greeks developed an extensive knowledge of poisons, as well as their effects, their signs, and their symptoms. This new knowledge base led ancient investigators to recognize previously undetectable murders due to poisoning.

Tremendous advances have been made in all scientific disciplines since ancient times, and our ability to detect toxins has evolved significantly. Today, forensic toxicologists play a crucial role in solving crimes and helping to determine causes of death.

What Do Forensic Toxicologists Do?

Forensic toxicologists perform the bulk of their work in laboratories. They analyze samples from bodily fluids and tissues to determine the presence of harmful or intoxicating chemicals. They use microanalysis and their knowledge of biology and chemistry to quantify these substances.

In the law enforcement sphere, they might work for criminal justice agencies, police departments or government forensic labs. They might look for poisons and toxins such as alcohol, legal and illegal drugs, metals such as lead, dangerous chemicals, and gases such as carbon monoxide. Sometimes, the toxicologist's findings are the primary factor in determining whether or not a crime was even committed in the first place. 

Toxicologists might also work for regulatory agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection, the Food and Drug Administration, and poison control centers to help detect dangerous chemicals in the environment, food, and water supply.

What Education and Skills Does a Career in Forensic Toxicology Require? 

Plan on earning a bachelor's degree at a minimum, preferably one in the natural sciences such as physics, biology, or chemistry. You should also take courses in pharmacology to enhance your knowledge of medicines.

An advanced degree is not usually required when you're starting out in a forensic toxicology job, but it can help if you want to advance in your career.

Forensic toxicologists must be highly analytical and able to articulate and report their findings.

They may be called upon to provide courtroom testimony, so communications skills are important as well. 

What Kind of Salary Can Forensic Toxicologists Earn?

Salaries for forensic toxicologists can vary widely. They depend on your location and who you work for. Realistically, you can expect to start out at about $65,000 annually. The average salary is about $75,000 for those with more experience. Those with considerable experience and laboratory directors can earn upward of $100,000 a year as of 2017. 

Job opportunities are available throughout the country, and you can improve your chances of finding a job if you are willing to relocate. An assistant toxicologist in Texas can earn from $65,000 to $94,900, while a job with the Virginia Department of Forensic Science pays from $75,850 to more than $96,800 as of 2017.

Is a Career As a Forensic Toxicologist Right for You?

If you enjoy laboratory work and find analysis appealing, you might enjoy working as a forensic toxicologist very much. Although the work can be repetitive and redundant at times, it's also quite interesting and extremely important.

A career in forensic toxicology can be a great way to apply your scientific knowledge toward a great career in criminology or criminal justice.