Environmentalist pioneer Commoner dies in NY at 95

October 3, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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NEW YORK (AP) — Scientist and activist Barry Commoner, who raised early concerns about the effects of radioactive fallout and was one of the pioneers of the environmental movement, has died at age 95.

Commoner died Sunday afternoon at a Manhattan hospital, where he had been since Friday, said his wife, Lisa Feiner. He lived in Brooklyn Heights.

Not only did Commoner live in Brooklyn Heights, he was a product of Brooklyn from childhood. He grew up in East New York and Flatbush and went to James Madison High School. During his adolesence, he often trolled Prospect Park during the weekends, looking for specimens of plant life to examine under his microscope.

Commoner then went to Columbia University, majoring in zoology. He got his doctorate in cellular biology from Harvard University.

Commoner was an outspoken advocate for environmental issues. He was one of the founders of a well-known survey of baby teeth in St. Louis that started in the late 1950s. The survey assessed the levels of strontium-90 in the teeth and showed how children were absorbing radioactive fallout from nuclear bombs that were being tested.

The survey helped persuade government officials to partially ban some kinds of nuclear testing.

Feiner said Commoner had “a very strong belief that scientists had a social responsibility, that the discoveries would be used for social good and that scientists also had an obligation to educate the public about scientific issues so that the public could make informed political decisions.”

Commoner took on that role of educating the public, writing books on environmental issues. Among his works were “Making Peace with the Planet” and “Science and Survival.” He made the cover of Time magazine in early 1970 and ran for president as a third-party candidate in 1980.

He founded the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at Washington University in St. Louis in 1966; he moved it to New York’s Queens College in 1981 and headed it until 2000.

Along with his wife, survivors include his two children from his first marriage, Lucy Commoner and Frederic Commoner, and a granddaughter.

–Additional material by Raanan Geberer, Brooklyn Daily Eagle

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