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Biological toxins are poisonous substances produced by certain microorganisms, animals, and plants. Examples of toxins of biological origin include Diphtheria Toxin, Tetrodotoxin, Pertussis Toxin, Botulinum Toxin, Snake Venom Toxins, Conotoxin and Ricin. Although toxins are derived from biological materials, they do not replicate and are therefore not considered infectious.

However, they may be extremely toxic in very small quantities and must be managed like hazardous chemicals in the workplace. Controls must be in place to ensure staff is protected from exposure. The routes of exposure include inhalation, eye, nose and mucous membrane contact, percutaneous, and skin absorption depending on the diluents used. The main issues of concern in the laboratory are accidental exposures to toxin caused by contact with the mouth, eye, skin and mucous membranes, inhalation of toxin powder or aerosol inadvertently generated, or by needlestick incidents.

Work with toxins of biological origin must be included in your laboratory-specific Chemical Hygiene Plan. Documented toxin-specific hazard training and training on the laboratory-specific standard operating procedures (SOP) is required for all laboratory personnel prior to starting work. The training must include but is not limited to the health and physical hazards of the toxin, signs and symptoms associated with exposure, appropriate work practices, personal protective equipment, and emergency procedures.

Some toxins of biological origin are considered Select Toxins, which the US Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) have determined to have the potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety, to animal or plant health, or to animal or plant products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in their Select Agent Program regulates the possession, use, and transfer of these specific biological agents and toxins. Research work with CDC listed Select Toxins may have additional safety and security requirements including registration with UHSP EH&S and the CDC.

Responsible Party

Environmental Health & Safety