Norton Nelson

Norton Nelson

ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH 53, 101--103 (1990) IN MEMORIAM Norton Nelson Dr. Norton Nelson, Professor of Environmental Medicine and former Director of ...

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IN MEMORIAM Norton Nelson

Dr. Norton Nelson, Professor of Environmental Medicine and former Director of the Institute of Environmental Medicine at New York University Medical Center, died on February 4, 1990, at the age of 80. His death resulted from pneumonia following surgery for fractures of the hip and shoulder, which he suffered in falling on the ice three weeks earlier. His passing marks the loss of a pioneer whom many regarded as the father of modern environmental health. Dr. Nelson was born in McClure, Ohio, received his undergraduate training at Wittenberg College, and obtained his doctoral degree in Biochemistry at the University of Cincinnnati. Early in his career, as a biochemist, he was noted for important contributions to carbohydrate research. One of his early reports, " A Photometric Adaptation of the Somogyi Method for the Determination of Glucose" (1944, J. Biol. Chem. 153, 375-380) was listed in Contemporary Classics in the Life Sciences, Vol. 2, The Molecules of Life (1985, J. T. Bauet, Ed., ISI Press, Philadelphia) as being among the most frequently cited of publications, 101 0013-9351/90 $3.00 Copyright © 1990 by Academic Press, Inc. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.



having been quoted at a rate of about 250 times annually for a total of 4485 citations between 1961 and 1982. During World War II, together with other outstanding scientists at the Armed Forces Institute of Medical Research at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Dr. Nelson did ground-breaking work on heat physiology, which was important to the war effort because of its relevance to tank warfare in the desert. In 1947, Dr. Nelson joined the New York University School of Medicine, where he served as Director of the Institute of Environmental Medicine from 1954 to 1979. Under his leadership, the Institute grew to be the largest and most prestigious academic unit of its kind in the world, being noted particularly for its research in cancer, pulmonary disease, and environmental radiation. As Director, Dr. Nelson continued to contribute actively to research on carcinogen metabolism, the deposition of inhaled particulates in the respiratory tract, and the experimental induction and epidemiology of lung cancer. He is widely credited for having developed the basis for the control of the occupational lung carcinogens bischloromethylether, dimethylcarbamoyl chloride, and epichlorohydrin. Dr. Nelson received many awards, including the Billard Award for Research in Environmental Sciences from the New York Academy of Sciences, the Environmental Regeneration Award from the Dubos Center for the Human Environment, the Ramazzini Award from the Ramazzini Society of Italy, the Fellow Award from the American College of Preventive Medicine, and an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Wittenberg University. He was also elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. Under Dr. Nelson's chairmanship in 1965, the National Advisory Environmental Health Committee submitted a Special Report to the Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service recommending the establishment of a federal system for developing occupational exposure standards, which led ultimately to the creation of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Many other contributions resulted from his membership on other advisory committees, including the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Resources; the National Academy of Sciences Board on Toxicology and Environmental Health Hazards; and various committees of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the National Cancer Institute, and the Environmental Protection Agency. He served on the editorial boards of several prominent environmental health journals; was a member of approximately 25 professional societies; was prominent internationally as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the World Health Organization's Scientific Group on Methodology for the Safety Evaluation of Chemicals; and was a participant in the U.S.-Japan Cooperative Medical Science Program, the U.S.A.-USSR Cooperative Program in Environmental Health Research, and many other international cooperative programs. On the local scene, he was active in the Health Research Councils of the City of New York and the State of New York, and he was a member of the Mayor's Science and Technology Advisory Council. All together, his career encompassed approximately 120 major advisory groups and committees, and his influence on legislation that "benefitted and promoted the field of environmental

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health" was noted by the National Journal in its June 14, 1986 issue, which listed him as "one of the 150 people best able to influence the Federal Government." As stated by Dr. David Rall, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, "Dr. Nelson can rightly be considered the father of the second generation of environmental public health, the first being focused on vector-borne illnesses, pure water supplies, sanitation, and food safety. This second generation is directed towards the possible health effects humans create in an industrialized society. Furthermore, through his tutelage and example, a third generation of environmental scientists is emerging. These scientists will understand both what the threats and dangers are and how they act, and will utilize and apply techniques such as molecular biology and computer modelling to develop approaches to prevention and mitigation." He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Rose; three children, Robert, Margaret, and Richard; and three grandchildren. ARTHUR C. UPTON Institute of Environmental Medicine New York University Medical Center RoY E. ALBERT Department of Environmental Health University of Cincinnati School of Medicine