SOT Past President Linda S. Birnbaum, PhD, DABT, ATS, announced her retirement as Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) this week, a position she has held for over 10 years. On her behalf, I wanted to share the message that was shared with her NIEHS colleagues regarding her retirement and plans for the future. Linda has been a driving force in toxicology, positively impacting the science we do and advancing careers as both a mentor and shining paragon. We wish her the best as she transitions to this new phase of her life and look forward to continuing working with her in her new role. –Ronald N. Hines, PhD, 2019–2020 SOT President
With much excitement, but also sadness, I write to let you know that I will be retiring as Director of NIEHS and NTP on October 3, 2019. I have loved serving as the institute’s Director for the past 10 1/2 years. NIEHS is a wonderful organization in all ways, especially the people, including terrific supporters and partners like you.
Together we do exciting, innovative, creative, and impactful work with a focus on preventing disease and disability from environmental hazards. You have all heard me say, many times, that it is better to prevent a disease than to have to treat it, and that it’s easier to change your environment than to change your genes.
I want to assure you that I leave NIEHS in capable hands. I have had the great fortune to hire everyone on the NIEHS leadership team, and each one brings incredible enthusiasm, knowledge, and a shared vision to their roles. The institute is truly functioning as “One NIEHS,” not doing the same things, but working in harmony to make the whole bigger than the sum of its parts. Thanks to you for contributing to our efforts.
Next month, I will have served 40 years in the federal government. My first 10.5 were here at NIEHS, as well as the past 10.5, and in the middle was 19 years at the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)—down the road, and now across Discovery Lake. Initially, I was a senior staff fellow, received tenure, and built my own lab group in the fledging NTP. At US EPA, I headed the largest environmental health research division for 15 years, but served as the acting lead for all of the health divisions for a year, the “Human Studies” Division that conducted epidemiology and clinical studies, and then the risk assessment group in which I led a cross–US EPA effort re the largest Superfund site in the nation, the asbestos poisoning of Libby, Montana. For all of those years, I also had the honor to serve as adjunct faculty in the Toxicology Curriculum and the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at UNC, and in the integrated Toxicology Program at Duke. Only during basketball season did this present a conflict! Then, in 2008, Dr. Zerhouni, the former director of NIH, recruited me back to NIEHS.
I am looking forward to the next stage of my life, but I am not walking away from NIEHS, or from science. I will spend the next two years wrapping up experiments in my laboratory, which I think is doing some really exciting work. Also, I intend to maintain some of my advisory and reviewing roles in various US and international institutions, and I intend to do some writing. I also hope to have a voice on current issues concerning environmental health, and maybe even get involved in politics as well.
So, I won’t say farewell (in three more months), but au revoir! I will continue to see and work with you all in the future.