Methyl mercury, organic mercury or just mercury…which one?
Safety Assessment
Ria Falvo, BSc, DABT

Methyl mercury, organic mercury or just mercury…which one?

Prepping for the toxicology boards is tough. Here are some useful tips that might make the journey easier

Thalidomide, glutathione, axonopathy, mercury, carbon tetrachloride...these words will inevitably infiltrate and saturate your brain, and become your new vocabulary when you start preparing for the American Board of Toxicology certification exam.

Inexorable daily studying and subconscious review of mental notes will happen while sitting in your car, shopping for groceries or getting ready to fall asleep, as you try to remember why Type 2 alveolar cells are cuboidal or what caused the puzzling “Ginger Jake paralysis” epidemic. (The alcoholic drink was contaminated with a plasticizer.) Walking through the gardening section of my hardware store, I searched my brain, “Is Malathion an organophosphate and does it cause “SLUD” (salivation, lacrimation, urination, defecation)?”

Still, despite not being able to completely relax and bathe in the warm tranquility of a summer evening (simply impermissible for my brain), there is the personal satisfaction that I am gaining invaluable knowledge with each chapter and enhancing my credibility as a Study Director.

I’ve been a Study Director in preclinical toxicology for 14 years, meeting one of the requirements to take the exam. I gratefully received plenty of advice, words of wisdom and encouragement from exemplary peers that traveled this journey before me.  This is what I learned on how to prepare for this exam.


  • Hit the books early. First and foremost, allow yourself several months of study time. Working full-time and having somewhat of a normal life leaves just a few hours a day for studying, if that. So plan ahead. Way ahead. Commence reading Casarett & Doull’s Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons (the abbreviated version is Casarett & Doull’s Essentials of Toxicology) at least six months prior to taking a preparatory course. (The Mid-America Toxicology Conference has one in April and the Advance Comprehensive Toxicology is in August.) Reading the material in advance familiarizes you with the lectures and gives you time to absorb the material. By the time the prep course rolls around, you’ll be ready to take comprehensive notes, instead of just jotting down words. Another important acquisition is the 2000 Toxicology Board Review Questions (R. J. Fruncillo). I read a chapter, wrote notes on the book and the course material, and then worked on the related questions. This method immensely facilitated my comprehension and memory.
  • Two Brains are Better than One. I found that working through questions with a study partner was beneficial because of the opportunities to brainstorm and present different points of view. I also bought the ABT app (for IOS and Android; ~120$CDN). It offers questions of the day and a bank of about 600 practice categorized questions that you can test yourself on anytime, anywhere.
  • Mnemonics and Music. Create mental associations. They will stimulate your brain to make other connections. Watch tutorial videos for complementary visual and auditory appreciation, listen to the correct type of music (my selection is relaxing music with alpha waves). It will elevate your frame of mind. Most importantly, practice sample exam questions so you can train your brain to retrieve the answer. At the end of this Toxicology bible, a bookful of written notes will serve as my review during the final couple of weeks of exam prep.
  • Take a sabbatical. If you can, take time off from work to give exam prep your undivided attention. My employer started a sabbatical program this year. It is only a benefit to be able to spend your day entirely focused on studying. Study hard, rest well, eat healthy, laugh and learn. Nothing toxic about that.
  • The ABT exam is a demanding and challenging endeavour. Involve yourself to the best of your ability. Fulfillment follows, be it personal empowerment of your intelligence and competency, or a worldwide recognition of expertise in area of toxicology.

How to Cite: 

Falvo, Ria. Methyl mercury, organic mercury or just mercury…which one? Eureka blog. Aug. 18, 2016. Available: