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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 1, 2005

UI College Of Public Health Dean Honored By University Of North Carolina

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has presented its Distinguished Alumnus Award to James Merchant, dean of the UI College of Public Health, in recognition of his life-saving work in the area of occupational safety and health and his many contributions to public health throughout the world. The award was presented in a ceremony Oct. 12 on the UNC campus.

As a graduate student at the UNC School of Public Health in the 1970s, Merchant studied the impact of byssinosis, a chronic respiratory condition, commonly known as "brown lung disease," that affected many textile workers in North Carolina. Merchant helped identify the risks of exposure to cotton dust. His work led the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to establish the 1978 Cotton Dust Standard, which set limits for occupational exposure to cotton dust for workers in the textile industry and several other industries. This standard is credited with substantially reducing the number of brown lung cases nationwide.

A native of Ames, Iowa, Merchant received a bachelor's degree in bacteriology from Iowa State University in 1962 and a medical degree from the UI in 1966. He completed an internship and an internal medicine residency at Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital, followed by a fellowship in pulmonary and environmental medicine at Duke University.

In 1973, he received a doctorate in public health in epidemiology from UNC at Chapel Hill and was awarded a Trudeau Fellowship from the American Thoracic Society for post-doctoral study at the University of London's Brompton Hospital and Cardiothoracic Institute. Merchant directed the Appalachian Laboratory for Occupational Safety and Health and the Division for Respiratory Disease Studies for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and taught and practiced pulmonary medicine at UNC and West Virginia University (adjunct appointment).

Merchant returned to Iowa in 1981. He served as head of the UI Department of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health from 1997 to 1999, directed the department's Division of Occupational and Environmental Health from 1983 to 1997, and has taught in the department since 1981. He was named the first dean of the UI College of Public Health in July 1999. He also is a professor in Department of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Merchant continues to advocate for workplace safety, for example, raising awareness of the hazards in rural and agricultural settings has led to a number of advances in the injury control field. His other research interests include childhood asthma epidemiology and prevention, environmental health science, occupational medicine practice, rural and public health policy, and rural health and injury control.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4261 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa, 52242.

MEDIA CONTACT: Dan McMillan, 319-335-6835,