SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
6 October 2016
Volume 17 Issue 10

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Senior Resource Group Member Spotlight: Don Mackay

Matt Moore, SETAC North America Senior Resource Group

Don Mackay

This month, the Senior Resource Group highlights the accomplishments and career of Don Mackay, Director Emeritus of the Canadian Centre for Environmental Modelling and Chemistry and Professor Emeritus at both Trent University and the University of Toronto. True to Mackay’s affable personality and disposition, here is his take on his career:

For a young assistant professor in chemical engineering in the 1970s, professional advancement was achieved by working on better, more economic and profitable chemical syntheses, separation processes and simulation of chemical fate in industrial plants. Environmental issues were regarded as frivolous and unproductive. I had become interested in hydrocarbons, especially in the Arctic where there was a growing risk of oil spills. Hydrocarbons are hydrophobic but as toxics they are mostly disappointing when they dilute but become much more interesting when halogenated. There was still puzzlement about why DDT evaporated so fast from lakes and soils and why, as Rachel Carson had pointed out, they concentrated in food webs. Organo-chlorines, bromines and fluorines rarely disappoint toxicologically! I decided to try to understand and simulate the fate of these substances in the wild and variable environment instead of the strictly regimented industrial plant.

My paper on using fugacity as a tool for simulating environmental fate was soundly rejected by ACS reviewers, but the editor of Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T), Russ Christman, suggested re-writing it as a Feature Article to by-pass the need for review by awkward chemists and “Finding Fugacity Feasible” containing the unit world concept was published in 1979. How I wish current editors would be so enlightened! Chemical engineers and most chemists ignored it, but certain agricultural and consumer product chemists seemed to appreciate it. They encouraged me and suggested that the newly minted SETAC would be a more receptive professional venue. So started a long, enjoyable and productive association with chemists, ecologists and toxicologists under the SETAC umbrella, and especially with industrial professionals from companies such as Dow Chemical, Dow Corning, 3M, Dupont, Exxon, Monsanto, Proctor and Gamble, as well as chemists at the USEPA lab in Athens, GA and Canadian Government agencies. This encouragement and support enabled me to share my enthusiasm with students and colleagues to develop simple chemical fate models using fugacity, from scales of little critters to fish, humans, the Great Lakes, States and Provinces and ultimately globally.

SETAC was instrumental in shaping my random, disorganized career and enabling me to meet and collaborate with like-minded environmental enthusiasts and learn from keen students who also found a warm welcome in SETAC and who are now preoccupied with their retirement prospects! Thank you SETAC for enriching my scientific escapades and making them so much fun!

The mission of the Senior Resource Group (SRG) is to identify, cultivate and mentor future SETAC leaders, as well as document the Society’s history and evolution of environmental science. If you are interested in becoming a member of the SRG, or if you simply want more information about the group, please contact Laura Swanson.

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