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Former NIEHS and EPA Toxicologist Kate Mahaffey Remembered

By Eddy Ball
January 2009

A smiling lady in business attire poses outdoors in front of trees.
After friends and colleagues learned of her death, tributes quickly began to appear online. (Photo courtesy of David Jacobs)

Friends and colleagues at NIEHS and elsewhere were saddened and shocked to learn of the sudden passing of former NIEHS scientist and policy specialist Kathryn (Kate) Mahaffey, Ph.D., on June 2 in Washington, D.C. She was 65 at the time of her death and is survived by her mother, husband, David Jacobs, four children and step-children, two sisters and two grandchildren.

"NIEHS and the entire environmental community have lost a scientific leader, a spokesperson, and a friend," said long term colleague, NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. "I am personally saddened by the untimely passing of Kate as I was honored to work with her here at NIEHS, during our shared time at the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] and since her retirement."

Mahaffey worked in the NIEHS Office of the Director toward the end of the tenure of former Director David Rall, M.D., Ph.D., and early in the term of former Director Ken Olden, Ph.D., who assumed leadership of the Institute in 1991. She worked out of an office in Cincinnati, traveling regularly between her home and RTP.

An EPA official from 1993 to 2008, advisor to the World Health Organization and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Mahaffey was the primary author of the eight-volume EPA Mercury Study Report to Congress ( Exit NIEHS presented in 1998. She is credited with helping to make certain that children's blood samples were analyzed for lead and included in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She started her federal career in 1972 as a project manager for lead contamination in foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Bethesda, Md., and later worked for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati. Mahaffey had been a professor of toxicology at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services since August 2008 and was also working on the National Children's Study. She mentored many scientists beginning their careers and tutored young children in math at a Washington elementary school.

In 2006, she received the Society of Toxicology's Arnold J. Lehman Award for regulatory toxicology and risk assessment. In 2007, Mahaffey received the Bronze Medal for Commendable Service from the EPA for her work with mercury.

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