As the public health community mourns the loss of a great scientist and colleague, The Pump Handle would like to share some of what has been written about Kate Mahaffey.  Please leave your own remembrances in the comments section below.

“I have known Kathryn as a colleague for more than a decade, but most recently have been impressed with her steadfast scientific integrity while at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  She always managed to honestly communicate scientific findings that while unpopular with some, were critically important to protecting public health.   …Kathryn is a role model for the next generation of environmental public health practitioners.   [The skills she developed were] often learned through ‘trial by fire’ and Kathryn has certainly experienced that, but has always maintained her scientific integrity grounded in the best science available.”  Henry A. Anderson, MD, chief medical officer, state environmental and occupational disease epidemiologist, Wisconsin Division of Public Health.


“Kate has been a role model for the use of science in the service of public health.  She has demonstrated the ability to conduct world-class scientific research and translate scientific knowledge into health-protective actions, even in an environment that is sometimes highly policitized.  This is an art that can be learned only through experience, and Kathryn is remarkably effective at it.”   Vincent James Cogliano, PhD, chief of IARC Monographs Programme

It was just about 1 year ago that I met Kate Mahaffey for the first time.  She was wrapping up her final weeks at the EPA, looking forward to the flexibility of retirement, and excited about the opportunity to teach a toxicology course for our masters-level public health students.   She spoke modestly about her early training in nutritional sciences (PhD) with specialties in biochemistry and physiology, and post-doctoral training in neuro-endocrine pharmacology and epidemiology.  Her first job in federal service was as a research chemist in FDA’s Bureau of Foods (Cincinnati, OH) which evolved into an amazing array of science-based policy positions at FDA, NIOSH, NIEHS, and EPA.  In 1994, she was selected as the lead scientists for the Mercury Study Report to Congress (1997) as required by the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act.   Her early (1970’s) research on lead contamination of foods from lead-containing food cans was enough to satisfy me that Kate Mahaffey was a remarkable public health scientist.

Some of Kate’s most recent published work includes:

Tan SW, Meiller JC, Mahaffey KR. The endocrine effects of mercury in humans and wildlife. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2009;39(3):228-69.

Mahaffey KR, Clickner RP, Jeffries RA.  Adult women’s blood mercury concentrations vary regionally in the United States: association with patterns of fish consumption (NHANES 1999-2004)Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Jan;117(1):47-53.

Mahaffey KR, Clickner RP, Jeffries RA. Methylmercury and omega-3 fatty acids: co-occurrence of dietary sources with emphasis on fish and shellfish. Environ Res. 2008 May;107(1):20-9.  [abstract]

Mahaffey KR, Schoeny R. Maternal seafood consumption and children’s development. Lancet. 2007 Jul 21;370(9583):216-7.

Aoki Y, Belin RM, Clickner R, Jeffries R, Phillips L, Mahaffey KR.  Serum TSH and total T4 in the United States population and their association with participant characteristics: (NHANES 1999-2002). Thyroid. 2007 Dec;17(12):1211-23.

Mergler D, Anderson HA, Chan LH, Mahaffey KR, et al. (The Panel on Health Risks and Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury.) Methylmercury exposure and health effects in humans: a worldwide concern.  Ambio. 2007 Feb;36(1):3-11.

Mahaffey KR. Mercury exposure: medical and public health issues. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2005;116:127-53; discussion 153-4.

Her list of research publications is awesome and inspiring.  Some of her earliest work is:

Mahaffey KR, Corneliussen PE, Jelinek CF, Fiorino JA. Heavy metal exposure from foods. Environ Health Perspect. 1975 Dec;12:63-9.

Mahaffey KR. Nutritional factors and susceptibility to lead toxicity. Environ Health Perspect. 1974 May;7:107-12.

Kolbye AC Jr, Mahaffey KR, Fiorino JA, Corneliussen PC, Jelinek CF. Food exposures to leadEnviron Health Perspect. 1974 May;7:65-74.

Goyer RA, Mahaffey KR. Susceptibility to lead toxicity. Environ Health Perspect. 1972 Oct;2:73-80.

Please leave your own remembrances of Kate in the comments section below.