President Search

Cleaning up for the future

Published: June 24th, 2008

Category: Spotlights

Bill Todd

Bill Todd

Cleaning up for the future
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Bill Todd has spent untold hours looking for a needle in a haystack.

In this University of Florida student’s case, that needle is a shadow not much bigger than a grain of rice in a decades-old photograph, marking what used to be tin roof and a few fenced corrals.

In the first half of the 20th century, Southern ranchers – at the federal government’s behest – dug thousands of pits where they dunked cattle in arsenic-laden pesticide, killing ticks that carried deadly disease.

Still tainted with the cancer-causing pesticides, the vats could threaten drinking water – but most were abandoned, their locations long forgotten.

UF researchers, including Todd, have used aerial photographs and maps to locate more than 20 vats in Alachua County. But Todd has evidence of more than 100 in this county alone – and thousands more across the state. Researchers want to find the vats so they can be sealed or cleaned up.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Do I see this or am I hallucinating?’ Todd said. “You want to see it so badly, you know?”

Todd, 32, could have been a college dropout. Instead, he’s earning an applied science Ph.D.

After deciding electrical engineering wasn’t for him, Todd enrolled in an off-campus pistol class taught by Byron French, then a vocational agriculture associate professor.

When French learned of Todd’s academic predicament, he told him ‘Meet me in my office at 9:45 a.m. tomorrow, and we’re not leaving until we figure something out for you.”

That something became a bachelor’s degree in agricultural operations management, a master’s, and now work toward a Ph.D.

The Fort Myers native hopes to continue the cattle project and teach.

“One day I got to thinking about how I wound up here, and I gave Dr. French a big ol’ bear hug and said ‘If it wasn’t for a chance encounter with you, I wouldn’t be here.’”

“And you know what he told me? There are no chance encounters.”

Photo credit: Ray Carson — University Photography

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