John Finklea

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John F. Finklea
Born August 27, 1933
Died December 22, 2000
Education B.S., Davidson College; M.D. Medical University of South Carolina; M.S. and Ph.D. in public health, University of Michigan
Medical career
Profession Public health administrator, physician, professor
Institutions Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, University of Alabama
Research Public health

John F. (Jack) Finklea was a physician, professor, researcher, and public health administrator notable for his leadership at the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.


John Finklea, a native of Florence, South Carolina, earned his B.S. from Davidson College at Davidson, N.C., and his M.D. from the Medical University of South Carolina. He also received master's and doctorate degrees in public health from the University of Michigan.[1] Finklea began his medical career as a physician and a professor at a series of medical schools.[2] His interest in public health took root as he researched air pollution health hazards for the Federal government.[1]


From 1970 through 1974, Finklea served as head to the Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Research Laboratory in Durham, N.C. At the EPA, Finklea gained a reputation as an agitator (according to Business Week) for controversial research on the health effects of atmospheric sulfates from power plants.[2] The research connected sulfur dioxide emissions to acid rain,[3] a conclusion that rankled many in the power industry.[1] He opposed the use of catalytic converters to control auto emissions because of their adverse environmental impact, a stand that directly conflicted with EPA policy. These controversies put pressure on Finklea to resign, which he did at the end of 1974.[2]


Appointment as director[edit]

Finklea took over as director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in April, 1975. He replaced Dr. Marcus M. Key, the Institute’s first director. Following Key's resignation, deputy director Edward Baier had served as acting director and many within the Institute expected Baier to be appointed to the post. Finklea took over NIOSH in the midst of Congressional complaints that NIOSH was too soft on industry, industry claims that NIOSH's research was sloppy, and organized labor accusations that NIOSH was overly slow in sharing important health data.[2]

Finklea worked to accelerate health hazard research, especially in the chemical industry. Over Finklea's tenure, NIOSH identified 65 potentially dangerous substances found at job sites, as compared to the 23 such warnings issued during the first four years of NIOSH's existence.[4] Within months of his appointment, Finklea had NIOSH issuing a steady stream of alerts on toxic substances.[2]

Chemical identification[edit]

Under Finklea's leadership, NIOSH issued a register of 100 chemical compounds considered potential carcinogens. He encouraged cooperation between NIOSH, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), chemical process companies in the effort.[1] His was one of several voices working to increase awareness for birth defects, miscarriages, and other reproduction-related problems stemming from chemical and radiological exposure.[5] Additionally, Finklea called on Congress to adopt toxic substances legislation related to carcinogenic pesticides, and Kepone in particular.[6]

Resource constraints[edit]

Finklea suggested that NIOSH did not have the resources to fully execute its mandate. For the millions of workers who Finklea claimed were at risk, NIOSH "would require the combined efforts of all government agencies involved in evaluating or regulating substances to which workers are exposed."[7] He was forced to drop a number of projects because of budget and workforce constraints, among them a study of workplace stress.[8]

With NIOSH's limited resources, Finklea chose to direct the researchers under him toward the completion of criteria documents—scientific literature surveys that determine the relative dangers of workplace substances. Preparation of the documents accounted for over 40% of NIOSH's budget.[9]


After nearly three years as its director, John Finklea abrubtly resigned. He did not publicly announce the departure or offer any specific reason.[9] The Washington Post speculated that Finklea had been under pressure to resign because of what it called, "bureaucratic feuding".[4] Finklea served temporarily as a special assistant to William Foege, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[10] His spot as direct was filled by J. Donald Millar, who described NIOSH at that time as being afflicted with "alienation and conflict".[9]

University of Alabama[edit]

Finklea returned to academia at the University of Alabama as a professor of medicine at the medical school and as a professor of environmental sciences at the school of public health. He researched, among other things, the effects of welding gases and fumes. He was instrumental in establishing the University of Alabama Occupational Health Clinic. He retired from in 2000.[11]


In 1989, Finklea became assistant director of the Injury Control Program at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, and he chaired its research review committee.[11]

Heart trouble[edit]

In 1979, Finklea survived a coronary occlusion and bypass surgery. He had a second coronary occlusion and repeated bypass surgery in 1990.[11]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "He's not afraid of controversy of ruffled feathers". Chemical Week. July 23, 1975. p. 40. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "The safety watchdog starts getting tough". Business Week. August 11, 1975. pp. 62D. 
  3. ^ Rensberger, Boyce (June 13, 1974). "Acid in Rain Found Up Sharply in East". New York Times. p. 89. 
  4. ^ a b "Finklea Resigns as NIOSH Chief; Pressure Is Cited". The Washington Post. January 11, 1978. pp. A3. 
  5. ^ Burnham, David (March 14, 1976). "Rise in Birth Defects Laid to Job Hazards". New York Times. p. 1. 
  6. ^ "More Kepone testimony". Chemical Week. February 18, 1976. p. 20. 
  7. ^ "Telling would be costly". Chemical Week. May 18, 1977. p. 23. 
  8. ^ "Regulations". Business Week. July 28, 1975. p. 79. 
  9. ^ a b c "The conflicts that roil NIOSH". Business Week, Industrial Edition. April 17, 1978. pp. 134J. 
  10. ^ "NIOSH director hands in resignation". Chemical Week. January 18, 1978. p. 9. 
  11. ^ a b c Kilburn, Kaye H. (July 1, 2001). "In Memoriam: John F. (Jack) Finklea". Archives of Environmental Health. Heldref Publications. Retrieved November 7, 2008.