Gene Kenaga and Robert E White at the 3rd Annual Meeting

Gene Kenaga receives the Service Award from SETAC President Robert E. White at the Third Annual Meeting for his long-term, outstanding service to SETAC.

SETAC and SETAC North America: The Beginnings

Excerpts from “A History of SETAC Part I – SETAC Beginnings.” To read more about the history of SETAC, download a copy of the book as a .pdf file.

The creation of the federal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and congressional passage of dozens of pieces of new environmental legislation during the decade spurred interest in toxicity studies. By 1978, Gene Kenaga; Richard Tucker of EnviroControl, Inc. in Rockville, Maryland; Dick Kimerle of Monsanto in St. Louis; Don Beem of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in Washington DC; Herb Ward of Rice University, Houston, Texas; John Giesy of Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan; and others were discussing the need for a society devoted to environmental toxicology.

“The reason the Society was formed, first and foremost, was there was a real need for a multidisciplinary organization,” Kenaga said. “The USEPA had just been formed in 1970, and while they had responsibility for most pesticide regulation, they didn’t have a lot of staff of their own to deal with these issues.”

In 1979, meetings at Don Beem’s office in Washington DC, the new organization drafted bylaws and a constitution, selected a name for the Society, elected an organizing board of directors, and chose Kenaga to be the Society’s pro-tem president. “We chose three people each from industry, academia and government for that first board of directors,” Kenaga explained. “That was a very conscious decision. We didn’t want to have any complaining from sectors that thought they were left out.”

After the constitution and bylaws were approved, the articles of incorporation were prepared by John Lyons and were approved and signed by Don Beem, Gene Kenaga, Dick Tucker, and Charles Walker at a board meeting on 30 October 1979. The papers were sent to the Recorder of Deeds in Washington DC on 19 November 1979, and SETAC was soon certified as a non-profit organization on 28 November 1979. In 1980, Kenaga was elected SETAC’s first official president.

The First Meeting

On 19 November 1979, the decision was made to hold the first annual meeting at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, for two days in 1980. Richard K. Tucker was appointed chairman of the program committee with Fumio Matsumura and Richard Kimerle, who also organized the first poster session. The theme “Environmental Risk Assessment –– An Integrated Approach” was chosen for the program title.

Dick Tucker was able to obtain $17,000 in financial aid from the USEPA for conducting the first SETAC Annual Meeting. The meeting was held 24 and 25 November 1980 with more than 70 oral presentations and 16 poster sessions, and approximately 470 people attended. Friederich Schmidt-Bleek, director of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency of West Germany, presented the plenary address. Joshua Lederburg, president of Rockefeller University and Nobel Laureate in genetics, received the first SETAC Founders Award.

Just Another Chapter in History

In a short article published in the very first issue of SETAC News, dated November 1980, Donald D. Kaufmann, then the editor, briefly mentions the Society’s possible international implications and affiliations with other organizations. Kaufman notes that some “Canadian friends” have an interest in “the possible formation of a ‘Canadian Society of Environmental Toxicology.’” Additionally, Kaufman explains that the board members had also “received word of the formation of an ‘International Society of Toxicology and Environmental Chemists’ in Europe. In view of the similar aims and goals, these contacts [were] being thoroughly explored by [the] SETAC Board.” Despite its brevity, the article certainly indicates the magnitude of SETAC’s prominence and reputation in only two years of existence. SETAC had attracted the attention of scientific communities across oceans and continents.

From the end of the First Annual Meeting to the end of the Second Annual Meeting, SETAC’s membership had nearly doubled. With a growing number of committed and active participants, the SETAC Board of Directors realized that localized groups could better serve its members not only in the U.S. but also in Canada and Europe. Additionally, the Board knew that students were the future of the Society. Charged to further explore these concepts, the chair of the membership committee, Ruth Arisman, helped to develop the Chapter Program that led to the establishment of SETAC regional chapters. On 20 May 1982, the Hudson-Delaware Chapter became SETAC’s first chapter run locally by an Executive Committee. Soon, other local student chapters ratified their own constitutions and bylaws, established their own boards, and held their own meetings. With the help of the regional chapters, SETAC had an impact at local, national, and international levels.

The Founding of SETAC Europe, SETAC North America and the World Task Force

In the outgoing presidential address at the SETAC Eighth Annual Meeting in 1987, Ken Dickson explained how the Board had been “exploring how to expand SETAC’s activities more effectively into the international arena.” The following excerpt from Dickson’s speech explains the Society’s need for global expansion:

While we have quite a few dedicated loyal members around the world, SETAC is predominantly a North American professional society. However, the idea behind SETAC and its goals are universal. I asked John Geisy (Michigan State University), Nic de Oude (Procter & Gamble in Brussels), and Chris Lee (Unilever in the United Kingdom) to assess the best mechanism to make SETAC a truly international society.

. . . [T]hey presented to the Board a plan for establishing a sister society called SETAC-Europe. The Board endorsed the concept in principle. . . . There is a feeling among our European colleagues that now is the time to establish a formal SETAC presence in Europe with the same name and basic goals as our Society.

The new SETAC-Europe would . . . work together at every opportunity with a long-range goal of total amalgamation—that is, SETAC International.

In March 1988, the SETAC-Europe Founding Committee, comprised of Renato Baudo, Peter Calow, Norman Crossland, Peter Greig-Smith, Peter-Diedrich Hansen, O. Hutzinger, H. Könemann, Nic de Oude, M Smies, Anders Södergren, and Nico Van Straalen, was formed. The SETAC Board of Directors in North America subsequently formed the World Task Force to support and assist the Founding Committee.

A draft constitution was prepared, and by May 1989, the SETAC-Europe Council was formed. After overcoming obstacles, the Council held the Founding Meeting of SETAC-Europe in Sheffield, UK, 7 through 10 April 1991. More than 600 attendees from 25 countries welcomed SETAC-Europe.

After the founding of SETAC-Europe, the SETAC World Task Force, also known as the Internationalization Task Force, was soon charged with resolving issues related to the development of a SETAC global organization. The SETAC North America Board of Directors and the SETAC-Europe Council saw a need to provide guidance regarding the internal conduct of both (and future) geographic units. Consisting of members from SETAC North America and SETAC-Europe, the World Task Force met at the Eleventh Annual Meeting in 1990 to discuss global coordination of SETAC activities, including publications, meetings, and education. It also proposed possible structures for the global organization. At the Twelfth Annual Meeting in 1991, the World Task Force set the following year as a goal to establish a global organization.

The World Task Force met again in March 1992 to continue the discussion on international communication and coordination, management and economics, and organizational models for international development. With overwhelming approval from SETAC members in North America and Europe, the formation of the International Council of SETAC (ICS) was endorsed at a June meeting by the SETAC Board of Directors and SETAC-Europe Council. The purpose of the ICS would be “to promote international communication and cooperation among member organizations and with related organizations in order to encourage understanding of environmental issues and their resolution through research and education.”

In 2000, Elaine Dorward-King, SETAC North America Past-President, and Norbert Scholz, SETAC-Europe President, explained the move toward a governing body in the first issue of the SETAC Globe:

The ICS at present is the policy coordination body consisting of the officers of SETAC North America and SETACEurope.

It is envisaged that primary responsibility and authority for items of global significance will move to a global governing body that will replace the ICS and have direct authority to set and implement policy. This body is temporarily referred to as SETAC World Council (SWC). The SWC is intended to ensure consistent quality and delivery of member services worldwide. The SWC will have authority over global issues, such as publications, communications, and World Congresses, and will set the levy for administration and delivery of global functions.

Discussions and meetings continued and resulted in a plan for the organization of the SWC, which would consist of 15 elected representatives. By the end of 2001, the constitution and bylaws were approved by the SETAC membership, and SETAC adopted the new organizational structure in January 2002. Lorraine Maltby became the SWC’s first President; Jeff Foran was Vice President; and Kevin Reinert was Treasurer. The SWC continues to govern the SETAC geographic units.

To read more about the history of SETAC, download a copy of the book as a .pdf file.