Dr. Joseph V Rodricks
Dr. Rodricks addressed a gathering of more than 120 students, faculty and members of the university community with talk of the plight of late 18th-century chimney sweeps. It’s his lead-in for a talk he gives on the history of cancer and its causation over a 250-year period. He details the evolution of the disease, and how the public health community has received and responded to it.
A founding principal of legacy Environ and an internationally recognized expert in toxicology and risk analysis, Dr. Rodricks is also an expert in nutrition science, a professional endeavor backed by years as a scientist for the US Food and Drug Administration and dozens of committee appointments for the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
This past May, the university named Dr. Rodricks an outstanding researcher in the disciplines of food science and nutrition, and he was invited to speak as the 31st G. Malcolm Trout Annual Lecturer. His talk, "Chemicals and Cancer: The 250-Year Journey from the Chimney Sweeps of London to the Modern Age of Risk Analysis and Regulation," is one he’s comfortable delivering, as he’s spent much of his career studying the topic.
"For centuries, physicians theorized that cancer was caused by internal imbalances, and those theories – which were not based on real scientific analysis – governed how cancer was treated,” he explains. In the late 18th century, a London physician discovered that cancer in chimney sweeps was caused by their exposure to soot. That opened the door for the public health community to slowly accept external causation by the 19th century, and propelled the study of other carcinogens such as arsenic and coal tar.
Dr. Rodricks ended his talk by declaring that there is no ending. “Today, we are finding more and more carcinogens in more and more places,” he says. “We try to control them one at a time, but these are perennial problems that just change in form and shape. As it stands now, there really is no plan to deal with the big picture.”
The G. Malcolm Trout Endowment was created in 1982 to honor its namesake, a leader in the dairy industry credited with helping make homogenized milk feasible in the early 1930s by linking the processes of pasteurization and homogenization in its production. The funds provide scholarships to Michigan students and support a visiting scholar/ lectureship.