International Programme on Chemical Safety

Analytical toxicology

Analytical toxicology is the detection, identification, and measurement of foreign compounds (xenobiotics) in biological and other specimens. Analytical methods are available for a very wide range of compounds: these may be chemicals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, drugs of abuse and natural toxins.

Analytical toxicology can assist in the diagnosis, management, prognosis, and prevention of poisoning. In addition analytical toxicology laboratories may be involved in a range of other activities such as the assessment of exposure following chemical incidents, therapeutic drug monitoring, forensic analyses, and monitoring for drugs of abuse. They may also be involved in research, for example in determining the pharmacokinetic and toxicokinetic properties of substances or the efficacy of new treatment regimens.

Developing an analytical toxicology service

When planning the development of an analytical toxicology service there are a number of considerations. These include the pattern of poisoning and, therefore, the specific substances for which analyses will be required, the existing infrastructure, the availability of ongoing technical support, spare parts and reagents from suppliers, the availability of a cadre of trained staff and the capacity to train new staff and provide continuing professional development. These issues and more are discussed in the following document:

Analytical techniques suitable for low-resource settings

IPCS has developed a manual describing simple analytical techniques for the identification of over 100 substances commonly involved in acute poisoning incidents. These techniques do not need sophisticated equipment or expensive reagents, or even a continuous supply of electricity, and can be carried out in the basic laboratories that are available to most hospitals and health facilities.

Copies of the above publication can be purchased from WHO.

Measuring the concentration of lead in blood and in paint

Lead is a highly toxic metal that is widespread in the environment. Exposure results in damage to multiple body systems, with young children being particularly vulnerable. The measurement of the blood lead concentration is the most commonly used and reliable means for assessing exposure to lead and the need for treatment and other interventions.

Leaded paint is an important source of exposure, particularly for young children. The identification of paint containing lead is an important step in the prevention of lead exposure.

A brief overview of analytical methods commonly used for measuring lead in blood and in paint is provided in the following documents. These documents list well-established methods for measuring lead and describe some of their characteristics, including their advantages and disadvantages. They also highlight the considerations that should be taken into account when selecting an analytical method for different requirements and contexts.