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Environmental Factor, July 2012

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Olden named to head EPA programs

By Eddy Ball

Ken Olden, Ph.D.

When Olden came to NIEHS in 1991, he said his goal was to raise the Institute’s image among key officials in the executive and legislative branches, to make the NIEHS a prime-time player in environmental health nationally and worldwide. (Photo courtesy of CUNY)

In a May 31 email to agency staff, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official Lek Kadeli announced the appointment of NIEHS Director Emeritus Ken Olden, Ph.D., to head two high-profile programs.

Kadeli, who is acting assistant administrator of the EPA Office of Research and Development, wrote that Olden will direct both the National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) and the Human Health Risk Assessment Program (HHRA) effective July 2. Kadeli wrote that he expects Olden to make important contributions to the programs. “Ken comes to EPA with a strong legacy of promoting scientific excellence in environmental health.”

Olden served as director of NIEHS and NTP from 1991 to 2005, when he left his leadership role and became a lead researcher in the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis Metastasis Group. In 2008, he accepted an offer from the City University of New York (CUNY) to be founding dean of the new School of Public Health at Hunter College, a unique program with an urban public health focus.

Olden led the development of the curriculum and recruitment of 26 tenure-track faculty. In early 2011, Olden moved with the school from its temporary home to a new eight-story, 147,000-square-foot green building in East Harlem. Last summer, the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) announced its accreditation of the CUNY School of Public Health (SPH) for a five-year term extending to July 1, 2016.

From the outset, Olden saw his role at CUNY as a three-year commitment to get the new school underway. “Once the transition to our new location is complete, my task [here in New York] will be over,” Olden said when accreditation was announced.

According to a story about his appointments in the June 8 issue of Inside EPA Olden will oversee efforts to revamp the agency’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), which produces many of EPA’s most influential and sometimes controversial risk assessments. Industry has complained that the assessments are overly conservative, public health advocates have complained about delays, and last year the National Academy of Sciences issued a critical report outlining recommendations for improving IRIS.

Olden succeeds NCEA Acting Director Rebecca Clark, who served for two years following the departure of the program’s long-time former director, Peter Preuss. Olden’s primary assignment will be at NCEA headquarters in Washington, D.C., although Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based regional director John Vandenberg said he anticipates Olden will also have office space at the facility in N.C.

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