James Melius, 69, died of cardiac arrest January 1, 2018, at his home in Copake Falls, NY. An occupational physician who advocated for workers’ health and safety, Dr. Melius drafted the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which authorized billions of dollars for the medical care of first responders. He testified repeatedly before Congress for the bill’s passage, telling lawmakers in 2009, “The failure of the government to properly inform and protect these people from these exposures added substantially to their health risks.”
Born June 16, 1948, Dr. Melius was raised in Copake Falls. He enrolled in the six-year medical science program at Brown and managed the varsity hockey team. In a 1972 letter to the Brown Alumni Magazine, he and fellow members of the Brown Medical Student Society argued that Brown should start a medical school, both to enhance the University and to improve health care in Rhode Island. He received his MD and doctorate of epidemiology from the University of Illinois.
Starting with a residency in occupational medicine at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Dr. Melius focused on reducing the number of workers killed, injured, or exposed to dangerous substances on the job. In 1980, after an explosion and fire at the Chemical Control Corp. chemical storage site in Elizabeth, NJ, he got the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to do medical evaluations of the firefighters. “It was one of the first times that firefighters were evaluated after a major incident,” a former official of the International Association of Fire Fighters told the New York Times. “And that continues today.”
As an international expert on workplace medicine, Dr. Melius helped investigate the 1984 poisonous gas leak at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, one of the world’s worst industrial disasters. In the late 1980s, as director of the New York State Department of Health’s Center for Environmental Health, he led the cleanup of a Superfund site near Niagara Falls. He served the Laborers’ International Union of North America from 1994 until his death. “Jim was a true working class warrior,” the union’s general president, Terry O’Sullivan, said in a tribute.
In 2012, Dr. Melius received the Collegium Ramazzini’s Irving J. Selikoff Memorial Award in recognition of his “lifetime’s work of protecting working men and women from occupational hazards and his heroic service on behalf of the 9/11 rescue workers.” He is survived by his wife, Melanie, and two sons.