SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
5 October 2017
Volume 18 Issue 10
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Senior Resource Group Spotlight: William Adams

Matt Moore, SETAC North America Senior Resource Group

William AdamsThis month, the Senior Resource Group highlights the accomplishments and career of William Adams, retired general manager and senior scientist for Rio Tinto and principal of Red Cap Consulting, LLC.

Adams’ career began with a master’s degree in wildlife toxicology on mercury and a doctorate on residue dynamics of selenium in aquatic ecosystems. He noted, “With this background in metals I promptly switched to organics, a not so logical choice, and did a post-doctorate fellowship at Michigan State University for two years on PCBs and atrazine.” The next 14 years of his career were spent at Monsanto Chemical Company. According to Adams, “…while the research I did at MSU on PCBs helped me be hired at Monsanto (sole producer of PCBs in the US), I never again published on these materials for some ‘obvious’ reasons.” At Monsanto, Adams developed an environmental program designed to evaluate PCB substitutes and other common chemicals such as phthalates, adipates and phosphate esters. He considers himself lucky enough to get caught up in the dioxin fever in the early 1980s and published a few papers on this subject. At that point in time, he insisted, “You couldn’t go wrong on this topic!”

Adams’ 1983 paper on assessing kepone in sediments, which demonstrated the importance of using porewater as a key route of exposure for toxicity assessment, was quickly linked to equilibrium partitioning by Dominic Di Toro and others and has become a sentinel paper for sediment assessment. This has been Adams’ most widely cited publication.

In 1991, Adams joined ABC Laboratories as director of the aquatic toxicology program.  While there, he continued to publish and ventured into the world of pesticides for a few years. In 1995, he moved to Salt Lake City to work for the Rio Tinto Kennecott site. This brought him back to his roots, and the world of metals in the environment, and led to many research projects on bioaccumulation, toxicology, dissolution and environmental fate of metals. At Rio Tinto he held several positions, but ultimately formed a global group responsible for managing closed mine sites and other properties needing remediation. This afforded many trips to Europe, Australia and other parts of the world where he made life-long friends.

When asked to reflect on his career, Adams’ remarked, “My career has spanned 41 years since graduate school and I have been fortunate to be able to publish many papers over this time period. My first publication on selenium was in 1976 and my last paper on this same topic was in 2016, a mere 40 years apart. There is no end in sight yet on this topic. Great fun!”

Adams is no stranger to the SETAC family. He joined SETAC in its second year and has been a strong supporter ever since. He served on the Board of Directors in the mid-1980s, was instrumental in establishing the Metals Advisory Group and participated or lead several Pellston Workshops®. According to Adams, “SETAC was instrumental in shaping my career and enabling me to meet and collaborate with many associates. I was honored in 2013 with the SETAC Founders Award and subsequently nominated to be a SETAC Fellow. The science at SETAC is always excellent and is rivaled by many conversations and side-bar meetings. It is nice to see that SETAC has been a huge success. I look forward to seeing my friends in November this year.”

William AdamsAs a side note, one of the first papers I requested from the old interlibrary loan system during my graduate school days at Arkansas State University was “Sediment quality and aquatic life assessment,” authored by none other than Bill Adams.  As you can see, not much has changed in 25 years.

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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