Lecture 2: History of Toxicology
History of Toxicology
Toxicology is arguably the oldest scientific discipline, as the
earliest humans had to recognize which plants were safe
Most exposure of humans to chemicals is via naturally
occurring compounds consumed from food plants.
Humans are exposed to chemicals both inadvertently and
Environmental toxicants (air
and water pollutants) are
substances harmful to the
environment and to humans.
Environmental toxic substances are both natural and
Public perception that man-made ones are more
serious than natural ones - Reality: both
5,000,000 yearly deaths worldwide due
to bacterial toxins (Salmonella, E. coli)
Many examples of diseases associated with
specific occupations were recorded in
antiquity, but they were not considered
serious because the health of the workers
was not a societal concern.
2700 B.C. - Chinese journals: plant and
1900-1200 B.C. Egyptian
documents that had directions for
collection, preparation, and
administration of more than 800 medicinal and poisonous
800 B.C. - India - Hindu medicine includes
notes on poisons and antidotes.
50-100 A.D. - Greek physicians classified over
600 plant, animal, and mineral poisons.
Cleopatra 69-30 BC
Cleopatra – Queen of Egypt (69-30 BCE)
Queen of Egypt -
strychnine and other poisons
on prisoners and poor.
Committed suicide with
Egyptian Asp (Egyptian
cobra sometimes used in
Hippocrates 460-377 BC
Hippocrates was a Greek physician
born in 460 BC on the island of Cos,
Greece. He became known as the
founder or father of modern medicine
and was regarded as the greatest
physician of his time .A person of
many talents he named cancer using
the Greek word karkinos (crab)
because of the creeping, clutching
crab-claw appearance of cancerous
tissue spreading into other tissue
areas. He moved medicine toward
science and away from superstition.
He was also noted for the hippocratic
oath, a code of ethics practiced by
physicians that is still used today.
50- 400 A.D. - Romans used poisons for
executions and assassinations.
The philosopher, Socrates, was executed
using hemlock for teaching radical
ideas to youths.
Avicenna (A.D. 980-1036) Islamic authority on
poisons and antidotes.
1200 A.D. - Spanish rabbi Maimonides writes
first-aid book for poisonings,
Poisons and Their Antidotes
Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493-1541)
credited with being
“the father of modern toxicology.”
“All substances are poisons: there is none
which is not a poison. The right dose
differentiates a poison from a remedy.”
Illuminated the dose-response relationship
The Black Death (1347-1351)
• Striking first in 1347 in
Western Europe with
similar accounts in
the middle east and
Asia, the Black Death
was a devastating
Plague that wiped out
1/3 to ½ of the world’s
• Caused by a bacterial
pestis) carried by
Ramazzini (1713) published
“De Morbis Artificum”
(Diseases of Workers)
describing "asthma" in bakers, miners, farmers, gilders,
tinsmiths, glass-workers, tanners, millers, grain-sifters,
stonecutters, ragmen, runners, riders, porters, and
professors. Ramazzini outlined health hazards of the dusts,
fumes, or gases that such workers inhaled. The bakers and
horse riders described by Ramazzini would today probably
be diagnosed as suffering from allergen-induced asthma.
The lung diseases suffered by most of the other workers
would now be classified as "pneumoconiosis," a group of
dust-related chronic diseases.
- Paracelsus - Miner’s Disease (1533) came from
inhaling metal vapors. Pioneered the use of
chemicals and minerals in medicine
- Hill (1761) linked tobacco (snuff)
- Pott (1775) linked scrotal cancer
and soot (benzo(a)pyrene) in
• Spanish physician Orfila
toxicology as a distinct
• Evaluated the effects of
toxins on different organ
• Wrote Trait des poisons
(1813), which described
in great detail various
types of poisons and their
20th Century History
20th Century – cell and molecular age
Paul Ehrlich –developed staining procedures to
observe cell and tissues and pioneered the
understanding of how toxicants influence living
organisms. Known for his work in hematology,
immunology, and chemotherapy.
- Radium dial painters,
“aniline dye” workers (1900)
painters licked their brushes
to pull it to a point.
- Shoe salesmen (1950s)
radiation of feet in shoes
of children and repeated
exposure for salesmen.
Industrial chemical workers
• Workers typically are exposed to
a greater number of carcinogens
for longer periods of time.
• Occupations with high risk of cancer :
Health care workers, pharmaceutical and
laboratory workers, refinery workers, rubber
workers, furniture makers, and pesticide workers.
Mr. Yuk - 1971
by the Pittsburgh Poison
Center at The Children’s
Hospital in 1971. Used to
educate children and
parents about poisons and
to prevent accidental
Rachel Carson – In 1962, she alarmed
The public about dangers of pesticides in the
Silent Spring I
“As crude a weapon as a cave man’s
club, the chemical barrage has been
hurled against the fabric of life.”
Rachel Carson – Silent Spring (1962)
Silent Spring II
“The “control of nature” is a phrase
conceived in arrogance, born of the
Neanderthal age of biology and the
convenience of man.”
Rachel Carson – Silent Spring (1962)
• The term "ecotoxicology" was coined by Truhaut
in 1969, who defined it as "the branch of
Toxicology concerned with the study of toxic
effects, caused by natural or synthetic pollutants,
to the constituents of ecosystems, animal
(including human), vegetable and microbial, in
an integral context” (Truhaut, 1977).
• Many rivers were
choked with garbage
• Cuyahoga River in
Ohio actually caught
• Marked decline in
• Chapman, P. M. 2002, "Integrating toxicology
and ecology: putting the "eco" into
ecotoxicology", Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 44,
no. 1, pp. 7-15.
• Larry Johnson, 2007. Partnership for
Environmental Education and Rural health
(PEER). Lecture given to the Society of
• Gilbert, Steven G. A Small Dose of Toxicology:
The Health Effects of Common Chemicals.
1. When was cancer discovered and by whom? What else is this
individual known for?
2. What were the contributions of Paracelsus to toxicology?
3. At what period in history was occupational diseases first
recognized as a societal problem?
4. Name and describe 3 occupational diseases which acutely
5. What significant event lead to the onset of the study of ecological
effects resulting from environmental contaminants?
6. How have our concerns concerning exposure to toxic substances
changed throughout history?
7. Construct a historical timeline including dates which illustrates the
history of toxicology.