Scientist Advocate

June 18, 1993

"Speak truth to power" is the Quaker maxim that has guided the career of Ellen K. Silbergeld, the Baltimore toxicologist and world authority on effects of environmental chemicals on the body.

For her effective public health policy advocacy, as well as for hescientific work on the effects of lead poisoning and dioxin exposure, the University of Maryland medical school professor and mother of two has received a $290,000, five-year "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation.

Bridging the camps of research, environmental activism and government, Dr. Silbergeld has successfully fought for reductions of toxic lead in gasoline, house paints and drinking water. She has served on the Science Advisory Board of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and is chief toxics scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, a leading public interest advocacy group.

The MacArthur award will help fund her current research on environmental chemical effects on human genes, including the toxicity of dioxins. Uncertain of exactly how to spend the windfall, she's equally sure it won't produce dusty academic arcana. Scientists shouldn't hide in their labs, Dr. Silbergeld insists, but should exercise "the responsibility to push research into public debate."

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