Fitzpatrick leads a major program as acting Coordinator of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Assessment Forum (RAF).
The RAF, which is staffed through EPA’s Office of the Science Advisor, involves about 40 senior EPA scientists from across the agency. Fitzpatrick became the acting RAF Coordinator in January 2013, occupying a position previously titled RAF Executive Director. She brings a broad background as a project manager and chemist, toxicologist, environmental scientist and risk assessment specialist to the new RAF position; she has worked in government, in industry and as a private consultant. Fitzpatrick is also this year’s chair of the SRA Dose Response Specialty Group (click here for details).
“Most people do a really poor job of putting risk in perspective,” she recently commented. Her own work often attempts to do so – and she doesn’t shy away from big problems.
One of the most widely cited publications she’s been involved with stemmed from a project to develop a screening strategy to evaluate human health effects from exposure to nanomaterials. Another project sought to formulate an approach to environmental risk assessment for genetically modified plants. (See citations below.)
After finishing a Master’s degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Fitzpatrick began her technical career as a textile colorist, matching artists’ concepts with the dyes that would create the fabric colors that the artists had envisioned. After a subsequent stint as a bench chemist working in environmental hygiene, she began her training in risk assessment in the late 1980s, doing her first major risk assessment work, involving a Superfund site, soon after.
Today Fitzpatrick combines her work at EPA with several other interests, including skiing – she was on her way to Vail for her third trip of the year right after this interview – and playing cello in a symphony orchestra. Her advice to people just starting out in a risk-related career: Look at all your opportunities, not just the job you thought you were training for.
The RAF’s official charter defines its scope as building consensus on risk assessment and related science policy issues. About a dozen technical panels expand on the RAF’s work.
Recent documents the RAF has produced – all available on its web site at epa.gov/raf/pubyear.htm – include a Microbial Risk Assessment Guideline, a Benchmark Dose Technical Guidance document, a Human Health Risk Assessment Colloquium Summary Report and a draft document describing a Framework for Human Health Risk Assessment to Inform Decision Making.
-- Susanna Priest, SRA News Editor
Studies mentioned in this story:
J. Wolt et al. 2010. Principles of Environmental Risk Assessment for Genetically Modified Plants: Problem Formulation. Transgenic Research 19(3):425-36.
G. Oberdörster et al. 2005 Principles for Characterizing the Potential Human Health Effects from Exposure to Nanomaterials: Elements of a Screening Strategy. A Report from the ILSI Research Foundation/Risk Science Institute Nanomaterial Toxicity Screening Working Group. Particle and Fibre Toxicology 2005, 2:8.
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