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In memoriam: Dr. John Froines, visionary UCLA Fielding environmental health researcher and advocate

Dr. John Froines, professor emeritus in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, died on July 13 from complications related to Parkinson’s disease. He was 83.

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Date: 
Thursday, August 4, 2022
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Dr. John Froines, professor emeritus in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, died on July 13 from complications related to Parkinson’s disease. He was 83.

Dr. John Froines

Dr. Froines was a visionary researcher in environmental and occupational health, and a leader in ensuring that research influences policies to protect the public’s health. Over the course of his career in the field of toxicology and exposure assessment, Dr. Froines played a critical role in authoring and advancing environmental regulatory guidelines. His seminal contributions include development of federal standards for lead exposure and cotton dust exposure, as well as identification of diesel exhaust as a toxic air contaminant.

Many people around the world knew of Dr. Froines as an anti-war activist, member of the “Chicago 7,” and for his unwavering passion for social justice. Dr. Froines found a way to professionally blend his passion with his scientist prowess — a through line in his career was utilizing evidence-based research to stand with communities and stand up to corporate and other economic interests.

Dr. Froines utilized his time in Washington D.C. as director of the Office of Toxic Substances for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to author landmark federal standards for cotton dust and lead. As noted in a 2015 UCLA FSPH magazine article: The cotton dust standard helped to eliminate byssinosis, a respiratory disorder that affected workers in the textile industry. The lead standard, designed to protect workers from the neurologic effects associated with the occupational use of lead, was promulgated despite strong industry opposition.

After leaving OSHA, Dr. Froines went on to the role of deputy director at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health before joining the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health faculty in the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences in 1981. Dr. Froines served as chair of the school’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences for four years in the 1990s and director of the UCLA Center for Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences for 20 years, from 1989 to 2009. Dr. Froines held numerous additional roles at the university, including his leadership of the UCLA Sustainable Technology and Policy Program, the UCLA Pollution Prevention Education and Research Center, and the UCLA FSPH Centers for Environmental Quality and Health. He also played an important role in the creation of UCLA Fielding’s interdepartmental PhD degree program in molecular toxicology.

Dr. Froines’ service during his years at UCLA Fielding extended far beyond campus. As noted in a 2015 UCLA FSPH magazine article, under his leadership of the California Scientific Review Panel on Toxic Air Contaminants in 1998, the panel identified diesel exhaust as a carcinogenic air contaminant, setting the stage for California to become a world leader in regulating and reducing the health risks associated with exposure to diesel particulate.

Throughout Dr. Froines’ career, he was recognized for his groundbreaking research and the manner in which he utilized his research to advocate for change. One of many examples of recognition Dr. Froines received for his work was the 2013 Collegium Ramazzini Award. The award recognized his global contributions in occupational and environmental health research and policy, and for him being a “public health hero.”