World-renowned U of S toxicologist receives national honour

University of Saskatchewan toxicologist John Giesy has been awarded one of Canada’s top honours for contributions to environmental science.

Giesy, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Toxicology, will receive the Miroslaw Romanowski Medal from the Royal Society of Canada in recognition of his critical work addressing environmental contamination. He will receive the award on November 16 at the Society’s annual general meeting in Banff, Alberta.

“It is always validating, and humbling, to have your work recognized by your peers,” said Giesy, who has devoted his life to making the environment safer and healthier for humans and wildlife alike.

The Miroslaw Romanowski Medal was established in 1994 and is given annually for significant contributions to the resolution of scientific aspects of environmental problems.

Giesy said the award recognizes the international accomplishments of all members of his research group at the U of S.  

“It is absolutely a team effort. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the full support of the university and my colleagues. Without them and their efforts, I would be like a quarterback with nobody to block for me and no one to catch the ball.”

Giesy’s work led to the discovery of an important class of chemical pollutants34perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)—that can be toxic to wildlife. Until recently, PFCs were used for making everyday items such as microchips,  paper and textile coatings. His research had a direct impact on the assessment of these chemicals by regulators in the United States and Canada and led to the global withdrawal of the most toxic and widely distributed PFCs.  Many are now listed in the Stockholm Convention—a global treaty to remove persistent organic pollutants from use.

Giesy has also conducted research on endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been found in common items such as baby bottles and the lining of tin cans. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sought out Giesy to develop a way to test for these chemicals. He and his group devised a test that’s now required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and approved by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development for use in worldwide screening programs.

“John is a scientist who, through his research, has made an enormous impact on society,” said U of S President Ilene Busch-Vishniac. “His work is a shining example of how the discovery of knowledge in Saskatchewan has implications far beyond our borders. 

Giesy has received a number of national and international awards over the past three decades. He recently won a lifetime achievement award from the Paris-based Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment.

In 2010, Giesy was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, which is Canada’s national academy of distinguished scholars, artists and scientists. It works to promote learning and research in the arts,  humanities and natural and social sciences. Its members provide expert advice and recommendations to Canadian governments, industry and non-governmental organizations on a wide range of public policy matters.