Are you ever curious about the safety of sugar substitutes, air pollution, or your city’s tap water? Chemicals may make the world go around, but some of them can be harmful. So how do we know which ones are safe? Toxicologists work in commercial industries, government health organizations, and research institutions to uncover, resolve, and communicate the hazardous effects chemicals may have on us and on our environment. As an industrial toxicologist with consumer products company Procter & Gamble (P&G), Greg Allgood has been responsible for ensuring the safety of products used by millions of people.
What inspired you to become a toxicologist?
I became a toxicologist for two reasons: I wanted the challenge that comes with a multidisciplinary career and I wanted to contribute to public health. The field of toxicology requires me to be knowledgeable in many different areas including nutrition, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, mechanistic toxicology, and physiology. I’ve found that the best breakthroughs in research come from combining unexpected areas of expertise. To paraphrase Einstein, you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it. When earning my master’s degree in public health, I realized my passion to do work that helped society. That passion led me to pursue a doctorate in toxicology. I now work on projects that use my company’s technologies to significantly improve the quality of life in developing countries.
What does an industrial toxicologist do?
Because of my broad background in toxicology, I initially became a member of the team responsible for ensuring the safety of P&G’s nutritional products (a food toxicologist). For example, I would evaluate food additives to determine if any ingredients had the potential to cause cancer, birth defects, or neurological toxicity. During that time I actually appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show to talk about a well-known fat replacement, Olestra, which was pretty exciting! Over time, I found that I could contribute more in a broad range of roles including that of a clinical scientist, regulatory expert, and head of our medical surveillance group. Now I am the associate director of P&G’s safe drinking water project. The project’s water purifying technologies help to address a chief source of sickness and death in our world’s children—unsafe water.
Please describe a typical workday.
That’s what I love about my job, there isn’t a typical day. During the past few months, I’ve traveled to destinations worldwide in search of ways to implement our safe drinking water technology. I’ve presented our research at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, spoken with the vice president of Pakistan, and talked with consumers living in dirt huts in Haiti and remote parts of Kenya. With global relief groups, I’ve worked to help the humanitarian crisis caused by the floods in Bangladesh, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic as well as aid Sudanese refugees in Chad who suffer from devastating malnutrition attributed in part to diarrhea caused by unsafe drinking water. Visiting the homes of people benefiting from our safe drinking water project and seeing the children who are better off now than they were before is very rewarding.
Any advice for students?
Students should explore university websites to learn about various toxicology programs. To find out more about safe drinking water work and other leading health care technologies that focus on improving quality of life, students can visit P&G Health Sciences Institute’s website at www.pghsi.com. Participation in advanced science classes, such as biology and chemistry, allows students to measure their love of science. A student’s present degree of patience and aptitude with research projects can be an indication of how well they will respond to the failures and rewards of industry research.