Posted on January 15, 2015

Dr. Irving J. Selikoff_edited-1Tomorrow would have been Dr. Irving Selikoff’s 100th birthday.

Selikoff”s legendary research and work help to advance workers’ health and safety. His contributions in shaping public policy are unmatched.  As Sir Isaac Newton said, If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.  Thanks to Dr. Selikoff’ and many other researchers, we have irrefutable facts to continue the crusade to end the deadly legacy of asbestos.

For me, he was more than a researcher; he was a humanitarian.  I often reference his quote “Statistics are people with the tears wiped away.” Selikoff’s groundbreaking survey of 17,800 asbestos insulation workers showed  “people who worked with asbestos for less than a week had scarred lungs 30 years later.”  As an outspoken occupational safety and health advocate, his work led to new safeguards and regulations. Selikoff’s legacy includes more than 350 scientific articles and two books which are still used today.

Since 2006, each year at the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization conferences we recognize exceptional leaders with the Dr. Irving Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award which honors the recipient’s dedication to increasing asbestos awareness and taking action to eliminate asbestos-caused diseases.

Below are four quotes from past Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement honorees, which illuminate the enormous impact Selikoff had on their lives, the past, present, and undoubtedly, our future.

Dr. Selikoff never lost sight that behind his important statistics were the unique individuals–each and every one of them—who suffered and died from asbestos diseases. ~  Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH, Professorial Lecturer Dept of Environmental & Occupational Health Milken Institute School of Public Health George Washington University

As Dr. Selikoff’s first MD/PhD student he opened the world of asbestos and occupational health to me, and I try to honor his memory with my work and career. ~  Dr. Arthur Frank, Professor of Public Health and Chair Emeritus of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Drexel University School of Public Health and ADAO Science Advisory Board Co-Chair.

Dr. Selikoff’s clinical acclaim helped stop the devastation of TB, uncover the epidemiology of asbestos diseases and bring about an era of modern occupational medicine to the United States by his relenting insistence in creating the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. ~ Richard A. Lemen, PhD, MSPH, Assistant Surgeon General, USPHS (ret.) and Rear Admiral, USPHS (ret.) and ADAO Science Advisory Board Co-Chair.

Selikoff was a legendary figure in occupational health who understood the importance of informing the public through the media and was masterful at that.  In 1970, an official with the giant UK asbestos company Turner & Newall noted that from the standpoint of the US asbestos industry: “A curious air of despondency existed and the general feeling was that nobody, apart from Dr. Selikoff, was listened to when questions about asbestos and health were raised.” ~ Barry Castleman, ScD, Author of the “Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects,” and ADAO Science Advisory Board Member.

As a mesothelioma widow, I am truly in awe of Dr. Selikoff, his students, and his colleagues that continue his work today.  I can only wonder what he would say to Americans and Congress on his 100th birthday with continued use of asbestos around the globe, and lack of ban asbestos policy in our own country.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Selikoff!  In my world, you are a true hero.

Special thanks to Earl Dotter for the use of his wonderful 1990 photograph of Dr. Selikoff.

Together, change in possible.


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2006 – 2014 Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Honorees

Paul Brodeur, 2006 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award – New York City, NY

Dr. Yasunosuke Suzuki, 2006 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award – New York City, NY

Dr. Michael Harbut, 2007 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award – Philadelphia, PA

Barry Castleman, ScD, 2008 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award – Detroit, MI

Dr. Stephen Levin, 2009 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award  – Manhattan Beach, CA

Dr. Hedy Kindler, 2010 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award – Chicago, IL

Dr. Guadalupe Aguilar Madrid, 2011 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award – Atlanta, GA

Dr. Arthur Frank, 2012 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award – Manhattan Beach, CA

Dr. Richard Lemen, 2012 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award – Manhattan Beach, CA

Dr. Celeste Monforton, 2013 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award – Washington, D.C

Dr. David Egilman, 2014 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award – Washington, D.C

Dr. Ken Takahashi, 2014 Dr. Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award – Washington, D.C


The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO),  a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, does not make legal referrals.