Toxicology

Air pollution. Water pollution. Hazardous waste. Contaminated food and consumer goods. Regardless of the precautions that individuals take, exposures to environmental toxins are inevitable. And the daily introduction of new chemicals into the environment only adds to the challenges that face environmental health scientists as they seek to understand the long-term impact of environmental exposures on population health. In fact, researchers have estimated that a new chemical is introduced for industrial and consumer use every nine seconds.

In the Toxicology Certificate, students learn about the biological mechanisms of toxic exposure, the process for recognizing and evaluating associated risks, and the ways to use this knowledge to develop environmental health policy that better protects individuals. Professional preparation in this complex field requires an interdisciplinary grounding in chemistry, biochemistry, biology, molecular biology, toxicology, environmental sciences, and medicine. 

The certificate offers many professional opportunities. The United States Department of Health and Human Services declared environmental health a focus area for the next decade, and graduates will fill professional shortages and knowledge gaps in environmental remediation, policy development, and research. They will be well positioned to become leaders in academia, chemical and pharmaceutical companies, and both government and non-governmental agencies working to protect individuals from adverse environmental exposures.

Government/Non-government:

CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
EPA - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
NYC DOH - New York City Department of Health
FDA - U.S. Food and Drug Administration
NRDC - Natural Resources Defense Council

Additional study:

Medical School and Doctoral Programs

Private Sector:

CardnoChemRisk

Admissions Eligibility

Toxicology is open to Columbia MPH students in: 

Biostatistics
Environmental Health Sciences
Epidemiology

Due to course requirements, the certificate is most compatible for students in Environmental Health Sciences.

Students in Health Policy and Management, Population and Family Health, or Sociomedical Sciences who are able to complete the required sequenced courses will be considered for enrollment. However, students must have permission from their home department.

Learn More

Visit the Certificates Database to learn more about core and credit requirements.

Sample Courses

Occupational and Environmental Hygiene

This essential course for EHS professionals introduces students to the field of Industrial Hygiene and Safety Engineering and the application of their principles in the protection of workers and the public. It provides information on contaminants, hazardous work procedures, exposure monitoring, personal protective equipment, site testing, and common equipment that may expose workers above permissible levels. The course curriculum integrates OSHA certification requirements—an industry-specific certification accepted by employers—and allows students to test for and obtain an OSHA 29 CFR 1910.120 "Occasional Site Worker" certification in class. Superfund sites, environmental investigations, and any other work operation requiring sampling or field research of toxic substances at uncontrolled sites are subject to compliance requirements under OSHA. Successful completion of the course and exam gives students the ability to access hazardous sites to conduct Environmental Health Investigations.

Toxicokinetics

Lectures and in-class practice help students learn to analyze experimental data and evaluate literature reports about the toxicokinetic—how a substance gets into the body and what happens to it in the body—aspects of chemical exposure. Topics cover the concept of compartment, analysis of blood and urine data, absorption kinetics, multi- or noncompartment analysis, PBPK modeling and risk assessment, and factors affecting toxicokinetic parameters of environmental toxicants—all framed using real-world problems.

Computational Toxicology

We are exposed to thousands of chemicals in the air, on our food, and as part of consumer products with many hundreds more new chemicals brought to market every year. Yet, only a very small proportion of these have been comprehensively tested for safety. Existing toxicological methods are often insufficient to test every new or existing product due to various constraints including economics, relevance, politics, and ethics. The advent of computational strategies, with high-throughput in vitro and in vivo toxicology data, now permits predictive approaches to a priori, predict potential health risks of chemicals that have not be tested in the laboratory. These strategies range from predicting cellular toxicity based on similarities of chemical structure with chemicals of known toxicity to forecasting human cellular toxicity from pesticides on food and other exposures using high-throughput cellular assays. Integrating publicly available “omics” data, environmental and personal monitoring data, and bioinformatics is empowering innovative discovery about exposure-outcome relationships. The goal of this course will be to expose students to the various data sources and approaches that are used to predict toxicity and introduce innovative data manipulation and display strategies that are increasingly needed in data-heavy disciplines. This is a hands-on course; students will be required to mine publicly accessible data and perform their own analyses, regularly presenting their work in the classroom. Students will be evaluated on their ability to integrate the material and apply it to real data in order to garner thoughtful, novel insight into predictive or integrative toxicity. 

LABORATORY METHODS IN ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH SCIENCES

This course explores foundational environmental health laboratory approaches and techniques that cannot be taught in a classroom setting. It provides the necessary hands-on lab experience to supplement theoretical and case-study examples taught in the classroom. Students are exposed to a wide variety of experimental approaches and techniques used in Environmental Health Sciences. Laboratory exercises include DNA and/or RNA purification from various biological samples, forensic analysis by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), epigenetic modification/DNA methylation studies, gel electrophoresis, ELISA, heavy metal analysis by MS-ICP, cell culture analysis of potential neurotoxins, radiochemistry, Western blotting, microbial contamination, and others. Students will be expected to read relevant foundational manuscripts and relevant methods papers, as well as keep an accurate and detailed laboratory notebook with their experimental notes, findings, and subsequent data analysis. Students will demonstrate knowledge of the material with either written or oral final exam presentations.

Related Certificates

Climate and Health
Environmental Health Policy
Molecular Epidemiology

Related Links

Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health
NIEHS Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan
Superfund Basic Research Program