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Remembering Dan Wartenberg (1952-2020)

Daniel Wartenberg

We lament the passing of our close friend and valued colleague Dan Wartenberg.  Dan brought epidemiology to EOHSI, the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, and to the then nascent School of Public Health.  He taught epidemiology and biostatistics to medical students and helped build an epidemiology and quantitative methods track in the newly created New Jersey Graduate Program in Public Health.  He combined technical expertise and rigor with a broad vision for how epidemiology contributes to many other disciplines from research ethics, to air pollution, to cancer.  Dan’s graduate studies at SUNY Stony Brook, combined statistics and oceanography, imbuing him with respect and enthusiasm for the environment, and under Robert Sokal, Dan became a pioneer of geospatial analysis. He was a creative statistician and a creative epidemiologist. He collaborated widely both within the Rutgers community and beyond. He was profiled in the journal RISK ANALYSIS for “empowering community epidemiology” (2016).  With Michael Greenberg he pioneered the study of cancer clusters and how they can be identified and defined in time and space.  Some of his other topics including linking air pollution and birth outcomes, health effects of World Trade Center Dust, symptom patterns and psychiatric illness in troops, and even analyzing locations of birds nesting in colonies from Cape May to Montauk.  His was an active member of the Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution.  Perhaps his most important studies showed that trichloroethylene was indeed a human carcinogen.  His publications include a mix of highly technical statistical methodology, population based studies of causation, and the ethical challenges of epidemiology.  Dan was a valuable part of epidemiology teaching and mentoring at EOHSI and SPH. He was brilliant and visionary.  He was a unique, gifted, and accomplished scholar.    

Dan inspecting mercury cannisters ca2008


Dan was a founder and President of the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology, an Elected Fellow of the American College of Epidemiology, and was elected to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement.  Although his academic accomplishments are impressive (see Risk Analysis, 2016: 36:1683), his ability to work with communities led him to engage in community activities concerning human and environmental exposures.  While community members all too frequently felt left out and did not trust government’s efforts concerning the possibility of cancer clusters, they trusted Dan.  Sometimes he demonstrated that in an apparent cluster, cancer cases were actually random, reassuring community members and at other times he identified that clusters were real requiring investigation.  His work raised fundamental questions about the importance of statistical power in assessing the likelihood of clusters, and in examining multiple sources of exposure.  He contributed to his own community by serving as a volunteer fireman for two decades, becoming Assistant Chief.  He had a brief political career during which he lobbied extensively and eventually successfully, getting the Department of Defense to move a huge quantity of mercury out of Hillsborough NJ  (see 1st photo above—Dan inspecting mercury cannisters).  Some years later the mercury warehouse caught fire fulfilling one of Dan’s convincing scenarios. 

Dan died August 21, 2020 after a long bout with Alzheimer illness.  Like everything else he did, he embraced the Alzheimer Association, became an advocate and educator about Alzheimer’s, and spoke widely on what being a victim meant, how to cope, and how to answer questions from patients, family and friends.  Despite his advancing illness, he trained vigorously for the Peaks Island 2.5 mile swim, and completed it.  This was no small feat for one with Alzheimer’s, and he was quite proud of it.  For the last few years he lived in Maine with his devoted and beloved wife, Caron Chess.  They request that any memorial contributions be given to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund at Curealz.org.  

We remember Dan’s warm personality, stimulating intellectual discussions about a broad range of topics, and his friendship.  We will miss him.

Joanna Burger and Michael Gochfeld   22 August 2020

Dan with Tiko