Author: Ibon Cancio, UPV/EHU Associated Professor in Cell Biology; researcher in the ‘Cell Biology & Environmental Toxicology’ (CBET) research group of the Plentzia Marine Station (PiE-UPV/EHU); Spanish scientific representative in the EMBRC Committee of Nodes

Edward Goldberg was born in Sacramento, California, on 2 August 1921, receiving his B.S. degree in chemistry from University of California (UC) Berkeley in 1942. Then, before obtaining his PhD in chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1949, he participated in World War II as a naval officer in the Pacific. That very same year, Goldberg was affiliated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, where he would remain his entire research career, writing more than 225 scientific articles and quite a few books on his focus areas: marine chemistry and human impact on oceans. In marine research, scientists work in a multidisciplinary way: a researcher with a background in chemistry needs to talk with biologists, ecologists, oceanographers, etc. and vice versa. Goldberg was a scientist with great speaking and listening capacities. His contributions were mainly in marine environment quality research; he frequently promoted the necessary dialogue between science and policy in view of improving marine environmental health.

Image of Edward Goldberg
Edward Goldberg receiving the Tyler Prize in 1989. Photo obtained from Tyler Prize photos/Flickr.

Throughout his career, Goldberg was interested in the study of the geochemistry of marine sediments and waters as well as the study and management of marine waste and pollution. He initiated studies on the release of artificial radionuclides from nuclear power plants and atomic weapons testing in the USA in the 1950s; he introduced biogeochemical research approaches into radionuclide pollution research and showing routes of exposure affecting humans.

In a one-page paper in Marine Pollution Bulletin in July of 1975, Goldberg started a scientific revolution, which led to important methodological implications (still present in our current-day status quo). He called for a new global contamination monitoring approach based on what he termed the Mussel Watch’ concept. It consists of using intertidal filtering bivalve molluscs (mussels, oysters) to assess temporal trends of different toxic chemicals known to cause environmental problems in coastal areas. His concept was built around the biomagnification capacity of bivalves that can bioaccumulate different chemicals above the concentrations in their surrounding waters. This facilitates the identification of coastal areas of concern due to the high availability of such toxicants. Chemicals of environmental concern at the time of the proposal, but still today, were metals, radionuclides, chlorinated pesticides such as PCBs and DDT or petroleum hydrocarbons. This led to a programme funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), headed by Goldberg from 1976 to 1978, to monitor bivalves in 100 locations across the USA. The programme would be continued under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and adopted into national monitoring programmes worldwide. In the 1980s, the mussel watch programme began to also incorporate the biomarker approach in which different molecular and cell level biomarkers were measured on sentinel mussels to assess possible health effects and responses to the chemical exposures that could be indicative of pollution scenarios.

Image of mussels
Mussels Mytilus galloprovincialis watching the Bay. Photo by Ibon Cancio.

Goldberg will also be remembered for identifying tributyltin (TBT), which was used in antifouling marine paints, as a toxic chemical of great concern. If you have a sailboat, you do not want any living creature attached to the hull as they increase drag. Onganotin paints began to be widely used in commercial and leisure vessels early in the 1970s, and by the mid-70s, there were already reports of abnormal shell growth among oyster farmers in different parts of the world. By the mid-1980s, studies in France and the UK began to point in the direction of an association between TBT and losses in oyster farms. This was when Goldberg began to pay attention to reports on the disappearance of oysters and other shellfish in places close to marinas in the USA. Samplings carried out in Californian waters identified TBT, and its derivatives, as being responsible. Goldberg stated in 1986 that TBT compounds were ‘probably the most toxic compounds ever deliberately introduced in the marine environment by mankind’. His work persuaded the U.S. Navy to eliminate organotins from antifouling paints, and his work was instrumental in setting new environmental standards for harbours. In fact, the use of TBT compounds in the paints used on vessel hulls is now fully banned internationally.

Organotins cause a characteristic thickening of oyster sells that acquire a balloon shape not leaving enough room for flesh growth inside the two shells. (To see the effect of organotins on oyster shells see here.) Additionally, organotins cause the phenomenon of ‘imposex’ whereby female sea snails can grow a penis, which, in severe circumstances, obliterates the oviduct, resulting in complete incapability to reproduce. This in turn results in the disappearance of complete populations in harbours and marinas.

Goldberg wrote vey insightful and influential books that include Marine Chemistry, (1974); Strategies for Marine Pollution Monitoring (1976); The Health of the Oceans, (1976); Black Carbon in the Environment (1985); and Coastal Zone Space: Prelude to Conflict? (1994). The Health of the Oceans published by UNESCO is considered a foundational publication, stating the fundamentals of marine pollution research and management.

Goldberg had the opportunity to work abroad during a few trips to Europe. He spent a year at the University of Bern, Switzerland with a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1960. In 1970, he studied pollution of the North Sea at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels (partner of EMBRC Belgium), and in 1988, he worked at the Rudjer Boskovic Institute in Zagreb and Rovinj (Yugoslavia at the time) as a National Academy of Sciences exchange scholar. He also hosted European researchers on sabbaticals at Scripps, evidence of his academic openness and collaborative disposition. One of the visiting researchers was Ionan Marigómez, an expert in environmental monitoring and health assessment and director of the Plentzia Marine Station of the University of the Basque Country (member of EMBRC Spain).

Picture of Edward Goldberg and family
Edward Goldberg and his wife Kate with Ionan Marigómez and his elder child Adur in San Diego in 2000. Photo by Ionan Marigómez.

Goldberg was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Among the many honours and awards he received, we can highlight the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement of 1989 that he received with Paul Crutzen, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on stratospheric ozone layer depletion. Goldberg was distinguished for his dedication to monitoring the effects of anthropogenic chemicals on the marine environment and his effort to find solutions to such phenomena. The Scripps obituary following Goldberg’s death in 2008 says that during the presentation speech for the Tyler Prize, it was highlighted that ‘scientists and policy makers now have an increased knowledge of the contamination levels of coastal waters in most parts of the world. And the pollution measurements in different laboratories are being made on a comparable basis’. So let us continue along that path and favour (inter)national coastal water quality monitoring approaches to preserve our oceans for generations to come!

Sabrina Gaber
Communication Officer

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