Friday, August 6, 2010

Tox Tip #2: Toxin vs Toxicant (also Pet Peeve #1)

I haven't made it very far with my Tox Tips so I thought I'd throw out a quickie. This one will put you on your way to being a junior toxicologist and you will definitely sound smarter though it's not very helpful in terms of helping you to avoid harmful substances in your everyday life. My apologies & I will work on that for the next Tox Tip.

Tox Tip #2 is also my Pet Peeve #1 and it is the misuse of the word TOXIN.

I've seen it misused in the New York Times (an environmental writer, no less), Runner's World (an organic farming article a few months ago), all over TV news and just pick any popular magazine that has an article about chemicals and you're bound to see this error. Every time I see it, I'm usually confused because the sentence makes no sense to me and then when I realize what the author is trying to say, I just get really annoyed.

So here we go folks:

A TOXIN is a POISON produced by a plant, animal, or bacteria. A toxin is a protein that is made via metabolic processes by a living thing.

An example of a toxin is botulinum toxin, made by a bacteria, and found in improperly handled or prepared meats. These days, it's also made commercially and referred to as "botox"when used in cosmetic and medical procedures. Shellfish that accumulate a certain type of algae can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning because of a toxin found in the algae. Snake & spider venom are toxins. There are many more examples of toxins.

Environmental contaminants and other wayward man-made chemicals are NOT TOXINS. These are TOXICANTS. So PCBs and mercury in your tuna, dioxins in your milk, bisphenol A in your plastic water bottles, pesticides in your conventional foods, smog in your cities...these are all toxicants, not toxins.

There you have it! You can correct people when they misuse the word TOXIN and know that the toxicologists of the world are giving you the high-five from afar :)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! I love being able to correct people, now I have more ammo! Ok, just kidding, I am not really that annoying (aka Ross or Ted from How I met Your Mother), but it is good to know.