Richard Pleus analyzes agents found in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the medicine we take, the transportation we use and everything we do.

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Meet Dr. Richard Pleus, the founder, CEO and chief toxicologist at Seattle-based Intertox, Inc.

What do you do? I am managing director and chief toxicologist at Intertox, Inc., a toxicology consulting firm in downtown Seattle. My scientific background is in general toxicology and pharmacology with expertise in the neurological and reproductive aspects of those sciences. Intertox has more than 25 years’ experience assessing the risk to humans exposed to chemical and biological agents.

How did you get started in that field? I love to know how chemicals affect the body. A toxicology career gave me the tools to be able to help people understand how chemicals can be either helpful and harmful. We have answered questions like these in many parts of the world. I never experience a dull moment in this profession; it is always interesting.

Why is toxicology important? Every chemical, natural or man-made, has the potential to be toxic — it just depends on the amount and exposure. As toxicologists, we protect public health by analyzing these agents found in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the medicine we take, the transportation we use, everything we do. No one is immune to chemicals, and scientific analysis has the ability to create safer, more informed communities.

Have you changed any personal behaviors after an assessment? Of course I keep an eye on everything I am eating, breathing, taking as medicine or using in some manner. However, I have come to learn that, in general, a healthy body does well to protect us from both natural and man-made agents.

What’s a typical day like? Our clients include governments, small and large private and publicly held companies, the legal community and nonprofit organizations. There is no typical day in our profession! For example, one day we could be sending consumer products to be tested, reviewing medical records, visiting a factory in another state or traveling abroad for a special project. Because everything has a chemical basis, the world is our oyster.

What’s the best part of the work? In addition to the incredible diversity of work that keeps my scientific interest constantly piqued, my favorite part of being a toxicologist is dedicating my career to improving and protecting public health. We can apply rigorous scientific research and the scientific method to not only act in the best interest of public health, but also to help our clients make the best decisions for the health and safety of their people.

What surprises people about what you do? I think people are most surprised when they learn that, despite what the media characterizes, chemicals cannot be categorized as “toxic” or “nontoxic.” All chemicals have the potential to be toxic — it is the dose that matters. Additionally, our work is multidisciplinary, so the Intertox team is comprised of experts in plant physiology, nanoparticles, chemistry, mathematics, microbial biology and regulatory affairs — just to name a few!

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