Alison Geyh, Hopkins public health professor, dies

She had studied air pollution in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center

  • Alison Geyh
Alison Geyh
February 28, 2011|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Alison Geyh, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health who studied air pollution in Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, died of cancer Feb. 20 at her Ruxton home. She was 52.

Born Alison Daniel in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, where her father was on assignment in the military, she was raised in Anaheim, Calif. As a teenager she was a Cinderella Dancer in the Disneyland Electric Light parade. She remained active in dancing and was also a bicyclist.

"She was a woman of grace and athleticism," said her sister, Christine Daniel of Oakland, Calif. "She had dignity and humility and a remarkable ability to mobilize people to get things done. She had an unwavering sense of ethics."

In 1976, she moved to New York City, where she danced ballet professionally for a number of years before entering Columbia University. There she earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry and met her future husband, Edward Geyh, an engineer. They married in 1986 and moved to Massachusetts, where she earned her doctorate at Brandeis University and did postdoctoral work at Harvard University.

She and her husband moved to Baltimore 11 years ago when she joined the faculty of the Bloomberg School. She taught and investigated the health effects of air pollution and was on the faculty of the department of environmental health sciences.

"She was a chemist by training, and she excelled at taking an idea and making it happen scientifically," said Patrick Breysse, a Hopkins public health professor in the department of environmental health sciences. "She carried herself like a dancer. She was rigid in her posture and was personally intense."

He recalled that after the attack on the World Trade Center, Dr. Geyh came to him and said, "'I am going to New York.' She literally got in a car and started driving."

He said she was concerned about the air pollution that came with the collapse of the structures and how that air would affect workers involved with the cleanup.

"The site was total chaos, but she worried about the health and safety of the workers there. It was not quite clear where she slept, and she was able to win the trust of the Teamsters," said Dr. Breysse, who is also director of the Hopkins Industrial Hygiene Program. Family members said she stayed in a donated room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

She set up air monitoring stations and collected scientific data. Dr. Breysse said she "was accepted on the site as much as any of the cleanup workers." The Teamsters gave her a vehicle — a motorized conveyance called a Gator — to move from one area to another.

"More than 5 years after the World Trade Center disaster on September 11, 2001, uncertainty and controversy remain about the health risks posed by inhaling the dust from the collapse of the twin towers, the subsequent fires, and the cleanup effort," she and fellow epidemiologist Jonathan Samet wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007.

Dr. Geyh also studied air pollution in other U.S. cities as well as pollution in developing countries.

"She studied conditions in Nepal where women cook with open burning using a variety of fuel sources in closed huts," said Dr. Breysse. "They often develop respiratory problems."

In addition to cycling with the Artemis bicycle team in Baltimore, Dr. Geyh enjoyed cooking and the arts.

"She was an imaginative and creative cook who made up her own recipes," said her sister.

A memorial service was held Saturday at the Mount Washington Conference Center.

In addition to her husband of 25 years and her sister, survivors include her father, Richard Daniel of Aurora, Calif.

    Baltimore Sun Articles
    Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.