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Society for Risk Analysis Inducts William Ruckelshaus to the Pantheon of Risk Analysis

Dec. 19, 2019

The Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) inducted William Ruckelshaus to the Pantheon of Risk Analysis. The Pantheon, established in 2008, recognizes luminaries and visionaries in risk analysis and serves to illustrate how the field contributes to the advancement of knowledge and public good.

Ruckelshaus served as the first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, from December 1970 to April 1973. During the EPA’s formative years, he concentrated on developing the new agency’s organizational structure, enforcement actions against severely polluted cities and industrial polluters, setting health-based standards for air pollutants and standards for automobile emissions, requiring states to submit new air quality plans and the banning of the general use of DDT. 

As EPA administrator again from 1983-1985, Ruckelshaus worked to improve staff and public morale towards the agency and advanced the process of risk-based decision-making for environmental risks subject to EPA regulation. He also oversaw the removal of the pesticide ethylene dibromide (EDB) from U.S. agricultural use, reaffirmed EPA commitment to federal-state partnership to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay and helped the EPA institute tighter controls on hazardous waste management. 

“Bill Ruckelshaus was decades ahead of his time in putting principles and decisions about risk into practice,” states Adam M. Finkel, Sc.D., University of Michigan, former advisor to the EPA and chief regulatory official at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Ruckelshaus was a great statesman with the ability to find common ground and bring people from different sides of an issue together to still advance projects that better life for people living in communities across the U.S. These skills are rare in our current world.”

Ruckelshaus was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 from President Barack Obama. He received his bachelor’s degree in history from Princeton University in 1957 and earned a Bachelor of Laws from Harvard Law School in 1960. He also served two years in the U.S. Army, becoming a drill sergeant at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington. SRA is giving this recognition posthumously following Ruckelshaus’ death on November 27, 2019, at the age of 87. 

Finkel added that, “Nothing expresses the hopes of SRA members more than Bill’s support for the idea that ‘without a much more successful way of handling the risks associated with the creations of science, we will have set up for ourselves a grim and unnecessary choice between the fruits of advanced technology and the blessings of democracy.’” (Science, Risk, and Public Policy, Science (magazine) 9/9/83).

Melanie Preve