SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
14 April 2016
Volume 17 Issue 4
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Senior Resource Group Member Spotlight: John B. Sprague

Matt Moore, SETAC North America Senior Resource Group

Dr. John B. SpragueThis month, the Senior Resource Group highlights the accomplishments and career of John B. Sprague, former professor at the University of Guelph, Canada, and president of J.B. Sprague Associates, Ltd.

“In 1953, I planned to study pollution at the University of Toronto by surveying a sewage-polluted river for a master’s degree, then conduct laboratory tests on the environmental tolerance of crustaceans for a Ph.D.,” said Sprague. “I remember being told that there would never be any jobs in that field! My main contribution came a decade later with a review paper on recommended methods for aquatic toxicity tests. It suggested approaches already well established in pharmacology. My graduate committee had forced me to take a minor in pharmacology, and I almost failed the undergrad course in drug dosages. However, I succeeded in the graduate course which opened up a whole new world of concepts and techniques.”

Sprague translated those approaches into the 1969 review paper, “Measurement of pollutant toxicity to fish. I. Bioassay methods for acute toxicity,” published in Water Research. In 1979, Current Contents declared the work the “citation classic” of the week. In 1989, The Scientist called Sprague’s review “the most cited publication in limnology” during the preceding third of a century. How the review paper came about is a story all its own.

“Fish toxicology was a splinter group at the time, mostly unaware of those established procedures in pharmacology. The excellent Fisheries Research Board of Canada had given me a year’s sabbatical. I spent it at Oregon State University, where there was a wonderful diversity of far-out research including artificial streams.”

All in all, Sprague spent 12 years as the Scientist-in-Charge for pollution studies in the Atlantic Provinces with the Fisheries Research Board of Canada. He spent the next 23 years in academia at the University of Guelph in Canada. For 15 years, Sprague also served as president of his own consulting firm, who alongside Don McLeay, wrote the early manuals on standard toxicity tests for Environment Canada. According to Sprague, “The final effort for that agency before retiring in 2005 was essentially a book on statistical interpretation of results. Not bad for someone who almost failed statistics as an undergraduate.”

For his contributions to science and SETAC, Sprague was named an Emeritus Member of SETAC in 1995. In 2014, he was named a SETAC Fellow.

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.

Author’s contact information: Matt.Moore@ars.usda.gov

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