February 21, 2009
Television shows like “Quincy” and “CSI” have glamorized the
world of forensic science, but they give only the merest glimpse
into the fascinating world of toxicology. For the past four
decades, St. John’s University has given students the whole
This year, St. John’s is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its
acclaimed Toxicology Program with a wide range of lectures,
presentations and other exciting events. The events are drawing
scores of industry experts and prominent alumni back to the Queens
When the Toxicology Program at St. John’s began 40 years ago, it
was the first of its kind in the nation. Dr. Vincent De Paul Lynch
prepared and submitted the visionary grant proposal that resulted
in government support to establish the program.
Today, it is one of only 12 university toxicology programs in the
Northeast. A division of St. John’s top-ranked College of Pharmacy
and Allied Health Professions, the program benefits from the
College’s considerable resources, expert faculty and
A Focus on Safety
Toxicology is the science that explores the harmful effects
chemicals may have on our world and our bodies. “The Madison Avenue
definition is that (toxicology) is the study of poisons,” said Sue
Ford, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and
Director of the Toxicology Program. However, she added that the
role of a toxicologist is far more expansive than that.
“They deal with air pollution, water pollution, medication,
household products,” she noted. “A lot of attention is paid to
determine how safe a product is, and toxicologists do that in many
Safety took center stage at a major Water Quality Conference held
at the Queens campus on February 16. The conference attracted
several experts in the field who came to discuss issues such as
groundwater contamination, the effects of toxic chemicals on marine
life and removing contaminants from our drinking water.
Over 70 students and alumni attended the conference, headlined by
St. John’s alumna Ann T. Lemley, Ph.D., of Cornell University. Dr.
Lemley, a graduate of The School of Education at St. John’s, is a
Professor in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell and Chair of
their Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design.
Her discussion focused on the remediation of contaminants in the
environment, particularly water and soil, in order to assess and
decrease risks through removal or treatment.
Louis Trombetta, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of
Pharmaceutical Sciences, presented on the problem of aquifer
depletion and its effect on communities in upstate New York.
One of the more startling details to come out of the conference is
that New York State has no comprehensive water management plan. Dr.
Ford said one of her mandates is to inspire her students to get
involved with these issues, and realize they can make a
A World of Opportunities
When the program was inaugurated 40 years ago, its initial focus
was on forensic and clinical toxicology, Dr. Ford noted. “A number
of pharmacy schools had some toxicology courses, but we were the
first University in the nation to have an undergraduate toxicology
Opportunities for toxicologists are numerous. Many of St. John’s
graduates work in labs determining how chemicals cause toxicity and
others work in analytical labs doing drug testing or environmental
analysis from soil and water samples. They often are involved in
risk analysis and assessment, collecting all the data generated by
labs in an effort to determine how safe a situation is, and what
controls need to be present to ensure public safety.
Dr. Ford said the role of a toxicologist often is to separate fact
from fiction in determining the causal link, if any, between
certain chemicals and illnesses that may or may not result from
exposure to them. In the past, toxicologists have helped prove
links between cigarette smoke and lung cancer, and the poisoning
resulting from toxic mold in homes, asbestos in the workplace and
mercury in fish, among others.
The program stresses an interdisciplinary approach that gives
students a broad knowledge of biology, chemistry and physics. She
added, “This is a great pre-med major. All the required pre-med
courses are part of the curriculum.”
By their sophomore year, students are introduced to the role
toxicology plays in society. “If you’re not aware of it, it’s easy
to miss,” Dr. Ford observed, “but once you are, you see it
For more information about upcoming anniversary events, please
For more information about St. John’s University’s Toxicology
Program please visit: