Toxicology vs Chemistry

What does Forensic Toxicology and Forensic Chemistry do?

  • Forensic Toxicology: is the study of adverse effects of drugs and chemicals on biological systems.
  • Forensic Chemistry: analyze non-biological trace evidence found at crime scenes in order to identify unknown materials and match samples to known substances.

What are the primary duties of each?

Forensic Toxicology- To study the chemicals on living organisms, particularly the poisoning of people. This material can include:
  • Using state-of-the-art chemical and biochemical instrumentation
  • Evaluating determinants or contributory factors in the cause and manner of death
  • Performing human-performance forensic toxicology, determining the absence or presence of drugs and chemicals in the blood, hair, tissue, breath, etc...

Forensic Chemistry- Primarily concerned with searching for and examining contact trace material associated with crimes. This material can include:

  • hairs
  • tire marks
  • fibers from clothing
  • paint and glass fragments
  • blood and other body fluids
  • and flammable substances used to start fires

How have each been used to understand a crime?

Forensic Toxicology- Candy From a Stranger: The Cordelia Botkin Case of 1898- John P. Dunning was on his way home. He then saw a beautiful women and decided to talk to her. Later on they begin to have an affair. Later he began to drink and gambling his money. When he lost his job his wife and daughter had to move in with her parents. John moved in with his mistress and landed a newspaper job. Later on, John told Cordelia that he missed his wife and daughter. He told her that the affair was over and the he would be going back to his wife. Cordelia had gotten upset and told John that the affair was not over, not by a long shot. While Cordelia and John were together he told her that his wife loved candy. Cordelia thought of a plan to get back at John. On August 9. 1898, Elizabeth, John's wife, received the mystery box of candy. Later that day she shared the candy with her friends and family. She had no idea that Cordelia had put arsenic poisoning on it. After 12 days Mrs. Dunning died from the poisoning. When they did the autopsy, they found the poisoning and Mr. Dunning knew exactly who did it any why. Mrs. Botkin was sent to prison but died on March 7, at the age of 56.

Forensic Chemistry: The Night Stalker- A Southern California serial killer dubbed the Night Stalker broke into victims' houses as they slept and attacked, murdering 13 and assaulting numerous others. One night an observant teenager noticed a suspicious car driving through his neighborhood on the night of august 42, 1985. The teenager wrote down the license of the car and told the police. It just so happened that the Night Stalker's latest attack was in the same area. The car was abandoned when the police found it, but police found a key piece of evidence left by the Night Stalker, his fingerprints. Investigators quickly matched the print to 25-year-old Richard Ramirez and plastered his image in the media. Within a week, Ramirez was recognized and captured by local citizens. He was sentenced to death.

How are they different?

Forensic Toxicology: It involves studying the symptoms, mechanisms, treatments, and detection of poisoning on the body. (also know as, "science of poison") It also involves the study of the effects on physical agents or chemicals and the relations between dose and its effect on the exposed body.

Forensic Chemistry: To identify and characterize the evidence as part of the larger process of solving a crime. Deals with the evidence collected from a crime scene. Evidence may include hair samples, paint chips, glass fragments, or blood stains.