The Emergence of Modern Toxicology

  • Philip C. Burcham


Many ancient societies exhibited astute awareness of poisonous substances: their rudimentary ‘toxicology communities’ likely included physicians who used toxic plants and metals for therapeutic purposes as well as ‘professional poisoners’ who offered their services to political leaders for the elimination of unwanted rivals. Eventually, the emergence of modern chemistry began unleashing the economic and scientific powers of chemical substances, and evidence for their harmful effects accumulated as the Industrial Age unfolded. Incisive descriptions of occupational diseases by astute physicians such as Paracelsus, Pott and Rehn were of groundbreaking significance to toxicology. Soon after, pioneers such as Fontana, Orfila and Christison laid the foundations for experimental toxicology by studying chemical toxicity in animals. Yet no event was more important to the development of toxicology than the thalidomide disaster of the early 1960s. A flurry of activity saw toxicology-focussed societies, journals, regulatory agencies and research institutions established around the world. Toxicology today is a highly evolved, multidisciplinary endeavour that develops its own conceptual frameworks while also drawing upon advances in the chemical, medical and biological sciences.


Poisons History Paracelsus Felice Fontana Mathieu Orfila Robert Christison Percival Pott Ludwig Rehn Frances Kelsey Rachel Carson 

Going Further

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip C. Burcham
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Medicine and PharmacologyThe University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia

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