Northland scientist who worked on alternative to animal testing diesGilman Veith, 69, who brought scientists from around the globe to his Two Harbors home and conferences in Duluth, died Sunday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, his brother-in-law, Matt Matushenko, said Tuesday.
An internationally known scientist who headed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Duluth lab for 11 years and later spearheaded computer modeling of chemicals as an alternative to animal testing has died.
Gilman Veith, 69, who brought scientists from around the globe to his Two Harbors home and conferences in Duluth, died Sunday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, his brother-in-law, Matt Matushenko, said Tuesday.
“He was a walking genius,” Matushenko said, yet “so easy-going. I was a cop. He was a scientist. He got along with everybody.”
That sentiment was shared by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which helped fund his computer-based chemical testing and hailed him as “a true hero.”
“Those of us who were fortunate to know him personally will remember his warmth, wit and passion for saving animals and advancing the field of science,” Jessica Sandler, a PETA senior director, said in a letter to the Lake County News-Chronicle. “We at PETA are extremely saddened by his passing and will work hard to ensure that his legacy lives on.”
In 2007, the Norfolk, Va.-based group granted $120,000 to Veith’s QSAR Foundation — which stands for Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationships — for its research on ways to “improve chemical testing, safeguard human health, and save the lives of millions of animals.”
That work had its roots in Veith’s earlier research, said Donald Mount, who hired him at the Duluth EPA lab and later lived near him in Clover Valley in rural Two Harbors.
“He did a lot of work with structure activity,” or study of the structure of the molecule, Mount said. “It was used a lot by the agency as a way to make a judgment about new chemicals before they were even manufactured.”
The EPA’s particular interest was in substances, like DDT, that didn’t degrade in bodies of water and were consumed by animals, Mount said. The work brought Veith recognition in the field.
“He was Mr. PCB Man,” Mount said. “He was in a number of court trials. There was a big one on the Hudson River in New York” — though Veith wasn’t involved in the Reserve Mining tailings case of the 1970s and ‘80s.
Veith received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and began working at the EPA’s National Water Quality Laboratory in Duluth in 1972, according to the website AltTox.org. He also was associate director for Ecology of the EPA’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory in Research Triangle Park, N.C., for seven years and in 2004 was hired part-time in the same position by the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute.
Veith’s EPA career suffered a well-publicized bump in 1992, when an inspector general’s report suggested he steered contracts worth millions of dollars to a firm connected to his wife, according to wire service reports at the time. Michigan Congressman John Dingell said the investigation into activities at the Duluth facility “may be just the tip of the iceberg” of activities at other EPA labs.
Veith was reassigned. The next year, however, a federal judge cleared him of all charges and ordered him reinstated, the news reports state.
He remained as director of the Duluth lab for 11 years. After that, he worked with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris and started the Northland-based International QSAR Foundation.
That foundation created the “QSAR toolbox,” a database which he described as “a Facebook for chemicals” used by thousands of scientists to identify potentially harmful effects of chemicals without having to do costly and controversial animal testing. The foundation also served to facilitate a middle ground between industry, government and animal rights groups, often at conferences Veith put on in Duluth’s Canal Park,
Veith married Kaye Jacobs, in 1982 and in 1986 bought their land in Clover Valley, which he called “a great neighborhood.”
Funeral arrangements are pending, Matushenko said.