John P. Giesy, Waco, Texas; Joseph W. Gorsuch, Webster, New York; William J. Adams, Salt Lake City, Utah; and Foster L. “Sonny” Mayer, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Jerry Lee Hamelink

Jerry Lee Hamelink

As SETAC matures, some of the founding members and giants in the field are passing away. On 13 November 2018, one such person, Jerry Lee Hamelink, Ph.D. (77) of Hudsonville, Michigan, passed away after suffering a severe stroke. Jerry was born in 1941 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and attended Michigan State University where in 1969 he received his Ph.D. in limnology, becoming known as “The Fish Doctor” by colleagues and friends. In those days, there were no programs in ecotoxicology, but that is clearly the subject that caught Jerry’s interest. The first Earth Day was in 1970, and there were a number of issues relative to contaminants in the environment. In fact, Rachel Carson wrote much in her book “Silent Spring” about effects of DDT on robins dying on the Michigan State University campus. The campus was known as one of the most beautiful in the US, due in part to the cathedral like appearance evoked by the mature elm trees. As Dutch elm disease started killing the trees, there was a massive effort to curtail the loss by spraying liberally, one might say indiscriminately, with DDT. So, this issue was well known and hotly debated on the campus. For that reason, Jerry was working on uptake and dynamics of DDT in aquatic systems (he studied the impacts in a quarry). We remember Jerry talking about an experiment he had done to investigate accumulation of DDT into daphnids where he concluded that the DDT was being bioaccumulated into the organisms. He then fed the daphnids to fish and concluded that it was being biomagnified from one trophic level to another. In 1971, the results of these studies were published as “A Proposal: Exchange Equilibria Control the Degree Chlorinated Hydrocarbons are Biologically Magnified in Lentic Environments” by Jerry Hamelink, Ron Waybrant and their professor Bob Ball in the Transactions of the American Fisheries Society1. Later, in 1982, he published another landmark paper in the very first volume of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C)2 with one of his Ph.D. students, Anne Spacie, titled “Alternative models for describing the bioconcentration of organics in fish.” Some of the SETAC community might not remember Jerry or know how he so profoundly transformed thought on bioaccumulation and biomagnification.

In 1969, after serving for a short time as a lecturer at Michigan State University, Jerry became an Assistant Professor of Fisheries and Limnology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where he remained until December 1974. Jerry always challenged his students to apply what they learned and to think outside of the box. While at Purdue, Jerry started to work on the acute and chronic toxicities of the herbicide fluridone to invertebrates and fish. This research led him to accepting a position at the Eli Lilly Company as a Research Scientist from December 1974 through June 1988. There, he developed and led the environmental toxicology program for a decade and then worked on other aspects of toxicology that Jerry used to refer to as “real toxicology.” In June of 1988, he accepted the Senior Scientist position at Dow Corning in Midland, Michigan, where he directed the environmental toxicology program until June 1993. While at Dow Corning, he conducted some of the first studies into environmental fates and potential for effects of silicones such as octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane (OMCTS) in the environment.

Jerry was a great supporter of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), which is where many of us found a home for ecotoxicology in the dark ages before SETAC. Now comes one of the more difficult parts of the story of Jerry Hamelink, at least for us who were his friends and held him in such high esteem. One night on a foggy road somewhere in Ireland, Jerry was involved in a terrible traffic accident that left him near death. It was months before he could return to the US, and when he did, it was clear he was not the same highly intelligent, articulate man we had known. His career had been cut short in a split second on a slippery road one night in Europe. But for us, that is where the story got interesting and miraculous. Jerry, being Jerry, refused to give up and worked at physical therapy. Then one day, when we were having a function at Michigan State University, Jerry showed up without a walking cane. Jerry was our friend for nearly 50 years, and while many of you might have never known him or long ago forgotten him, we wanted to let you know his life was not in vain, and he touched many young scientists and inspired them and encouraged them, and had a huge impact on the science.

Bill Adams, another eminent SETACer was also a member of the cohort of environmental toxicologists and chemists to come out of the program at Michigan State, remembers this about Jerry: “I first met Jerry Hamelink in 1977 at the ASTM Second Annual Symposium on Aquatic Toxicology in Cleveland, Ohio. I was impressed with Jerry’s work on bioaccumulation and partitioning of non-polar organic into lipids in fish; something that is widely understood now. Jerry was an innovative thinker, always quick to share his ideas and was a leader in the emerging field of ecotoxicology at that time. You could always count on Jerry to come to a symposium with a new piece of research, a strong presentation and a lot of bravado in his presentations.”

Jerry’s colleague and friend, and long-time supporter of SETAC, Sonny Mayer remembers that “Jerry was very enthusiastic about environmental toxicology” and that is why Sonny chose him to co-chair the first ASTM Symposium on Aquatic Toxicology and Hazard Evaluation in 1976 held in Memphis, Tennessee. It was highly successful at the time, bringing together 300 scientists. They organized and chaired this first ASTM Aquatic Toxicity Symposium, a precursor to the formation of SETAC in 1979. The ASTM Aquatic Toxicology Symposia continued until 1990 (14 symposia), followed by nine ASTM Environmental Toxicology and Risk Assessment Symposia, ending in 2000. Sonny and Jerry were editors of the first ASTM proceedings, “Aquatic Toxicology and Hazard Evaluation”3 published in 1977. Jerry was active in ASTM and intensely supportive in the formation of SETAC, being very involved in its activities, including the Senior Resources Group in later years. Sonny’s last technical involvement with Jerry was in 1986, when they published a paper on toxicity of the herbicide fluridone in ET&C4. That publication has been cited more than 200 times and is still cited today.

In addition to the science, and the challenges he endured, Jerry enjoyed life and never lost hope. He continued to attend SETAC meetings, which he loved.  He loved to fish, especially with former students, friends and family. He was a life-long Detroit Red Wings hockey fan. 

Author’s contact information: jgiesy@aol.com, jgorsuch@rochester.rr.comadamsw10546@gmail.com and comanche46@comcast.net

References

1Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 100 (2): 207–214.

2Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 1 (4): 309–320.

3ASTM Tech. Publ. 634, Philadelphia, PA. 315 p.

4Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (5):87–94.

View job opportunities in the SETAC Career Center
Submit an abstract for SETAC Toronto
Register for the Environmental Risk Assessment of PFAS Meeting
SETAC Helsinki
Submit an abstract for SETAC Cartagena
ET&C Virtual Issue on polar environments
Read the 2018 SETAC Annual Report