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David Platt Rall (August 3, 1926 – September 28, 1999) was a cancer specialist and a leader in environmental health studies, whose work in environmental health helped turn it into a scientific discipline. Rall also advanced public health and prevention. He directed the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences from 1971 – 1990. His work on toxicology and carcinogenesis was recognized by his appointment as the first director of the National Toxicology Program in 1978. He held the rank of Assistant Surgeon General in the United States Public Health Service. He also chaired the World Health Organization's Program on Chemical Safety.
Born in Naperville, Illinois, Rall attended North Central College and received his BS degree in 1946 where his father was president; his MS in Pharmacology from Northwestern University in 1948; his M.D. and Ph.D. in Pharmacology from Northwestern University School of Medicine in 1951. Rall interned at Bellevue Hospital in New York City from 1952 – 1953 when he joined the National Cancer Institute in 1954.
He began his research career as a scientist at NCI, where he served in a variety of research and administrative positions until 1971. Rall also served as a surgeon (1955–1959), a senior surgeon (1959–1960), medical director (1963–1971), and assistant surgeon general (1971–1990) in the United States Public Health Services.
Rall's early work on the blood brain barrier led to modern treatment to prevent the spread of leukemia cells to the brain. Much of Rall's work focused on reducing the side effects of anticancer drugs, which are often toxic in patients when administered in large enough doses to destroy cancer cells. He also researched the effects of prolonged exposure to chemicals in the environments of people in certain occupations. He created the NIEHS journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, in 1972. He was the author of some 200 scientific publications and was awarded the DHEW Distinguished Service Medal of the PHS and the Arnold J. Lehman Award of the Society of Toxicology. In addition to numerous awards he received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Ohio School of Medicine. In 1988, Rall received a Merit Award from the Northwestern Alumni Association for his professional accomplishments.
Following his retirement, he chaired the program of chemical safety for the World Health Organization, served as foreign secretary of the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences and was a board member of the Environmental Defense Fund. Rall also was a scientific counselor at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Rall died in Bordeaux, France as a result of injuries suffered in an automobile accident.