By David Michaels
Congratulations to Ron Melnick! Ron is a senior toxicologist and director of special programs in the Environmental Toxicology Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Since coming to NIEHS as a young toxicologist 36+ years ago, Ron has produced made a huge contribution to our understanding of the health effects of chemical exposures.
Beyond this, Ron has worked tirelessly to ensure that NIEHS science is done in a way that it can be used in developing public health policy, and he has worked equally hard to ensure that policy makers use the best science in setting policy.
We’re congratulating Ron because the American Public Health Association has just announced that he is the winner of the 2007 David P. Rall Award for Advocacy in Public Health “for his outstanding contributions to public health through science-based advocacy.”
In a letter nominating Ron for the award, Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote that Ron “has devoted his entire professional life to improving our knowledge and understanding of issues concerning public health” and described him as a “committed workhorse and public servant, laying the scientific foundation for sound policies that protect public and environmental health.”
In addition to advancing the understanding of the toxicity of widely used industrial chemicals, Ron also advocates for the appropriate use of science in legislation and the courtroom in order to protect public health. For instance, in his American Journal of Public Health article “A Daubert Motion: A Legal Strategy to Exclude Essential Scientific Evidence in Toxic Tort Litigation,” Melnick argues:
Based on sound scientific evidence, it is possible to characterize the likelihood of human risk from exposure to specific environmental agents. This principle has been adapted by most national and international health agencies that assess the health effects of environmental agents. In the face of uncertainty, these agencies consider it prudent to act on the warning signals that arise from experimental studies and make decisions that are protective of public health. Although most rodent carcinogens have not been adequately evaluated in human studies, too often carcinogenic effects that were detected in animal studies were later confirmed in human studies. In some instances, such as that of diethylstilbestrol, animal warnings were ignored and, as a result, many people suffered the consequences of exposure to an agent that causes genital and reproductive abnormalities and cancer in humans.
Put Ron Melnick’s name in a PubMed search, and you get 91 papers, many of which have played an important role in the policy debates of the last decade. His contribution to public health has been huge, and this award is very well deserved.
David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.