Scientist brought world’s experts to Clover ValleyAn internationally known scientist who brought experts from around the world to his Clover Valley home and spearheaded computer modeling of chemicals as an alternative to animal testing has died.
An internationally known scientist who brought experts from around the world to his Clover Valley home and spearheaded computer modeling of chemicals as an alternative to animal testing has died.
Gilman Veith, 69, who also headed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Duluth lab for 11 years, 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, such as 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 according to the website AltTox.org. He also was associate director for Ecology of the EPA’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory at the Research Triangle Park near Durham, 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. U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Michigan 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 QSAR Foundation also served to facilitate a middle ground between industry, government and animal rights groups, Veith said, arranging for experts and representatives from different countries to meet, often at conferences he put on in Duluth’s Canal Park, though he also touted smaller retreats, of just three to four experts, at Lake Superior resorts.
“You just need to get people away from distractions so they can sit and talk for a few days,” he said.
Yet Veith traveled the world. During trips to the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he said, “We were watched by the KGB.” On one trip, an innocent knickknack garnered attention.
“When we went to do studies on Lake Baikal, I brought with me a fridge magnet in the shape of Lake Superior. I was going to give it to the captain of the ship we were on. I didn’t have a translator with me or anything. He was the classic Russian sailor, there with his pipe. As soon as he saw the magnet he said ‘Lake Superior. Duluth.’ Just from the shape of the lake.”
Veith married Kaye Jacobs in 1982 and in 1986 bought their land in Clover Valley, which he called “a great neighborhood.”
A few years ago, Mount said, “Gil got interested in logging,” though he was only able to work one season before getting sick.
“We’d go to breakfast once a month or so and talk about how to do it without spending so much money, or what trees to cut,” Mount said.
Another co-worker at the EPA lab was Duluth’s Gary Glass. He, too, remained in touch.
“I was hoping he would win the fight for a few more years,” Glass said.
Funeral arrangements are pending, Matushenko said.