Kathryn R. Mahaffey's Work on Mercury Shaped U.S. Policy

By Lauren Wiseman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kathryn R. Mahaffey, 65, a former Environmental Protection Agency official who was the primary author of a congressional report on mercury poisoning during the late 1990s and who had been a toxicology professor at George Washington University since August, died June 2 of arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease at her home in Washington.

In 1998, Dr. Mahaffey presented to Congress the eight-volume Mercury Study Report, which included new data on mercury poisoning. The report helped focus national attention on mercury exposure in the United States. Later, she was an advocate for maintaining fish advisories for groups at heightened risk of mercury poisoning, including infants and other children and women who are nursing or of childbearing age.

She started her federal career in 1972 as a project manager for lead contamination in foods at the Food and Drug Administration in Bethesda. She later worked for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, with both positions in Cincinnati.

In the 1970s, she also helped make sure 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. The study increased understanding of lead poisoning and contributed to the elimination of lead in paints and gasoline.

Kathryn Rose Mahaffey was a native of Mahaffey, Pa. She received a bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1964. She received a master's degree in 1966 and doctorate in 1968, both from Rutgers University. All her degrees were in nutritional science.

In 1993, she started her 15-year career with the EPA, from which she retired as a senior mercury scientist. She was an adviser to the World Health Organization during the early 1990s and worked with countries including Australia, Malaysia, Germany and Poland to help establish national regulations for lead.

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

She was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Her marriage to Samuel Kramer ended in divorce.

Survivors include her husband of 13 years, David Jacobs of Washington; two children from her first marriage, Harriet Meehan and Bert Kramer, both of Dayton, Ohio; two stepchildren, Paul Jacobs of Coralville, Iowa, and Robin Jacobs of Baltimore; her mother, Harriet Mahaffey of Mahaffey; two sisters; and two grandchildren.

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