Toxicology: The Language of Hazardous and Broken Dreams

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically (Wingspread Conference, 1998).” The primary elements of the precautionary principle can be summarized as “do no harm” and “take action even if there is uncertainty.” Epiprecaution requires us to include the entire environment of the developing and mature individual into consideration. In other words, “do no harm” is not good enough, we must “do good” and create a nurturing environment. It is not sufficient to simply reduce chemical exposure, we must take the next step to create a nurturing environment. Understanding the risks related to exposure to chemicals (or ‘risk assessment’) is not new. Early humans were careful observers of their environment and the interactions between their environment and their health.  Eating a new plant may involve the risk of harm, but doing nothing risked starvation. If a plant made someone of the tribe sick, people remembered that and avoided that plant in the future. Over time, information about plants and other compounds was passed on to new generations by word of mouth and ultimately by careful recording of those observations, or science! I wrote “A Small Dose of Toxicology” out of a growing frustration with the complexity of the common toxicology text book. My goal was to write a book that linked basic toxicology information with everyday tasks and commonsense governance of the world. Every effort was made to keep the book accurate and fun to read. I selected examples to emphasize toxicology that fits into everyday events and life choices. Do we take one or two cups of coffee or perhaps 4 or 5 cups? How much caffeine was that? In the first 6 chapters address information that is generally important to all scientific based decision-making. Chapters seven thru nineteen cover specific metals or chemicals and humans’ interaction with them. The next seven chapters cover groups of chemicals, such as nanoparticles, solvents and vapors, or other logical groups of materials. The final four chapters include chemicals that fit into broader landscape of systemic pollution in water and soil. The book is now in its 3rd edition, and is available in German, Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic as well as is in English with effort being made in Turkish. In my view toxicology should be a common language of all people, the language of hazardous and broken dreams. This book is meant to provide the tools to prevent the broken dreams and create a language of health and well-being. “A Small Dose of Toxicology” is one resource that connects information about toxicology (the branch of science concerned with the nature, effects, and detection of poisons) to everyday life. Toxicology is a compilation of biology, chemistry, pharmacology, and medicine. This sounds complicated and it can be, but “A Small Dose of Toxicology” boils down these deep subjects into a more manageable, accessible, and personally relevant form. The book includes information on various metals (like mercury and lead), solvents, common chemicals like caffeine, and new compounds like nanoparticles. It covers the system effects of chemicals in water or soil and how those lead to pollution. It also helps us understand why some individuals are more sensitive than others. “A Small Dose of Toxicology” puts some structure around what we already intuitively know about chemicals, hazards, and risk and helps with more critical evaluation of things that can affect our health and environment. The basic information found in this e-book can help in meaningful engagement with decision-makers in industry, government, and the media and help us develop a useful place for chemicals in our world, make decisions about their use, and build a healthier place for ourselves and our loved ones. Steven G. Gilbert, Ph.D., D.A.B.T., Director and Founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders (INND), received a Ph.D. in Toxicology in 1986 from the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, and is a Diplomat of American Board of Toxicology. He is an Affiliate Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington. This story originally published in the the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN).

Toxicology: The Language of Hazardous and Broken Dreams

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically (Wingspread Conference, 1998).” The primary elements of the precautionary principle can be summarized as “do no harm” and “take action even if there is uncertainty.” Epiprecaution requires us to include the entire environment of the developing and mature individual into consideration. In other words, “do no harm” is not good enough, we must “do good” and create a nurturing environment. It is not sufficient to simply reduce chemical exposure, we must take the next step to create a nurturing environment.

Understanding the risks related to exposure to chemicals (or ‘risk assessment’) is not new. Early humans were careful observers of their environment and the interactions between their environment and their health.  Eating a new plant may involve the risk of harm, but doing nothing risked starvation. If a plant made someone of the tribe sick, people remembered that and avoided that plant in the future. Over time, information about plants and other compounds was passed on to new generations by word of mouth and ultimately by careful recording of those observations, or science!

I wrote “A Small Dose of Toxicology” out of a growing frustration with the complexity of the common toxicology text book. My goal was to write a book that linked basic toxicology information with everyday tasks and commonsense governance of the world. Every effort was made to keep the book accurate and fun to read. I selected examples to emphasize toxicology that fits into everyday events and life choices. Do we take one or two cups of coffee or perhaps 4 or 5 cups? How much caffeine was that? In the first 6 chapters address information that is generally important to all scientific based decision-making. Chapters seven thru nineteen cover specific metals or chemicals and humans’ interaction with them. The next seven chapters cover groups of chemicals, such as nanoparticles, solvents and vapors, or other logical groups of materials. The final four chapters include chemicals that fit into broader landscape of systemic pollution in water and soil.

The book is now in its 3rd edition, and is available in German, Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic as well as is in English with effort being made in Turkish. In my view toxicology should be a common language of all people, the language of hazardous and broken dreams. This book is meant to provide the tools to prevent the broken dreams and create a language of health and well-being.

“A Small Dose of Toxicology” is one resource that connects information about toxicology (the branch of science concerned with the nature, effects, and detection of poisons) to everyday life. Toxicology is a compilation of biology, chemistry, pharmacology, and medicine. This sounds complicated and it can be, but “A Small Dose of Toxicology” boils down these deep subjects into a more manageable, accessible, and personally relevant form. The book includes information on various metals (like mercury and lead), solvents, common chemicals like caffeine, and new compounds like nanoparticles. It covers the system effects of chemicals in water or soil and how those lead to pollution. It also helps us understand why some individuals are more sensitive than others.

“A Small Dose of Toxicology” puts some structure around what we already intuitively know about chemicals, hazards, and risk and helps with more critical evaluation of things that can affect our health and environment. The basic information found in this e-book can help in meaningful engagement with decision-makers in industry, government, and the media and help us develop a useful place for chemicals in our world, make decisions about their use, and build a healthier place for ourselves and our loved ones.

Steven G. Gilbert, Ph.D., D.A.B.T., Director and Founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders (INND), received a Ph.D. in Toxicology in 1986 from the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, and is a Diplomat of American Board of Toxicology. He is an Affiliate Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington.

This story originally published in the the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN).