SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  20 December 2012
Volume 13 Issue 12

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Commemorating the Accomplishments of Bill Adams and Kevin Brix

Rick Cardwell, Cardwell Consulting, Joe Meyer, Arcadis and Mary Reiley, United States Environmental Protection Agency

Beyond simply recognizing individual achievements, awards are a way to thank people for the service they have rendered to science specifically and to humankind generally. In this regard, this note commemorates the work of Bill Adams and Kevin Brix.

These contributions come to mind while reflecting upon the career of Bill Adams:

  • His seminal paper (Adams et al. 1985) on the organochlorine Kepone, which significantly advanced our understanding of equilibrium partitioning, bioavailability, bioaccumulation and toxicity of both organics and metals in sediments;
  • His manifold efforts over two decades towards advancing our understanding of the fate and effects of metals and metalloids. These efforts have embraced a diverse group of topics such as risk assessment, water quality criteria, selenium toxicity, sediment toxicity and bioaccumulation;
  • Service on boards and committees in the United States and the European Union meshing environmental regulations of toxic chemicals with scientific understanding.

The SETAC Founder’s Award recognizes scientists who have contributed materially to the technical foundation of environmental toxicology and chemistry. Adams’ peer-reviewed publications and book chapters (~100) have been cited more than 2,000 times. Web of Science lists 44 journal papers covering a wide range of topics in our field, including risk assessment (9), bioaccumulation (9), and the aquatic toxicology of organics like phthalates and dioxin (7) and metals and metalloids like selenium (7). Additionally, he has been an organizer and/or an attendee at numerous SETAC Pellston Workshops and Gordon Conferences. Adams is known for his strong commitment to taking on the most difficult questions confronting our understanding of aquatic toxicology. As part of this, perhaps his most enduring service to our profession has been his commitment to sponsor, encourage and mentor the many scientists who subsequently have gone on to their own careers assessing the fate and effects of metals in the environment. The 2013 Chris Lee awardee, Kevin Brix, is one of the people he has mentored.

In addition to being a good scientist and mentor, Adams has been a good funder of research by others while he has worked in industry. He has always been interested in a wide range of ecotoxicology topics, and he has always listened to other people’s research suggestions—regardless of whether he eventually approved the topics. Adams has always been on the leading edge of the curve in various high-profile ecotoxicology activities, because he has always asked what practical problems might arise several years down the road instead of thinking only in the near term. And he has been willing to take a chance by providing seed money for a topic that might not yet appear ripe, waiting to see if something useful developed and then encouraging other funders to “step up to the plate” when interesting results were produced. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine where the biotic ligand model (BLM) that we now take for granted would be if Adams and Chris Lee had not “stepped up to the plate” to financially support development of the model in its infancy in the 1990s. May all other financial supporters of research be as far-sighted as Bill Adams.

In the government, academic and business tripartide that is SETAC, Adams’ pragmatic perspective and questioning have been essential to the successful implementation of his and others’ science in environmental protection policy. His participation in the two decades of collaboration with both US and EU scientists and governments has brought metals policy for aquatic life protection from hardness equations, through water effect ratios, to the state-of-the-art BLM. Adams’ representation of strong science and strong collaborations have enabled stronger environmental decision making.

figure 1
Figure 1. An analysis of Kevin Brix’s peer-reviewed journal papers: 1997-2012 (Web of Science): AT = aquatic toxicology emphasis; CP = comparative physiology, Se = selenium; AT-D = dietary toxicity; WQC = water quality criteria; RA = risk assessment.

Kevin Brix, who had published 28 peer-reviewed journal articles by the time he returned to college, is the 2013 recipient of the Chris Lee Award, which acknowledges the contributions of Lee toward our understanding of the fate and effects of metals in the environment. This award is given to a graduate student who has done outstanding work concerning the fate or effects of metals in the environment. Indeed, Brix has contributed substantially to our understanding of metal toxicity and its physiological mechanisms, having published 49 journal papers by the time he completed his Ph.D. earlier this year (Figure 1). The beauty of this marriage of toxicity and physiological mechanisms is that Brix’s knowledge of metal toxicity is grounded in many years of practical, “in-the-trenches” work as a consultant, yet he is also a master of the most advanced basic research and mechanistic concepts in physiology. Those few who leave a permanent job to return to graduate school know how challenging that transition can be financially, logistically and psychologically. To see someone embrace that challenge so completely and enthusiastically as Brix is a good lesson for all of us. And frankly, we’re glad we weren’t in the competition for the Chris Lee Award with him. He would have left all of us in the dust!

Certainly accomplishments like Brix’s are testimony to hard work and perseverance, but it would not have happened without the encouragement of friends and colleagues, and mentoring by faculty: Chris Lee, Bill Adams, Dom Di Toro and Martin Grosell. Grosell not only was Brix’s Ph.D. advisor but also a strong mentor and friend. It is fitting that we do not stand by ourselves but on the shoulders of many. Kevin is presently working with Chris Wood’s team of comparative physiologists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He can be contacted at

Authors’ contact;;

Literature cited
Adams WJ, Kimerle RA, Mosher RG. 1985. Aquatic safety assessment of chemicals sorbed to sediments. Aquatic Toxicology and Hazard Assessment: Seventh Symposium, ASTM STP 854, Cardwell RD, Purdy R, Bahner RC (editors), American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia, PA, pp 429-453.

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