From the nomination letter:
It is with great pleasure that we write this letter of recommendation for Dr. Catherine Propper, a nominee for the 2014 Outstanding Science Educator Viola Award in Flagstaff. Cathy is our colleague in the Department of Biological Sciences, and for 20+ years we have watched Cathy’s international scientific career fully develop and her active scientific and educational outreach to the Flagstaff community blossom. We hope that you will agree that Cathy has made extraordinary contributions to scientific education and outreach in the Flagstaff Community, especially with respect to reclaimed water and environmental chemical contaminants.
Cathy has always loved nature, and after growing up in the LA basin she especially appreciates the relatively unspoiled Flagstaff area and its beautiful surroundings, and is passionate about preserving and protecting our natural healthy environment for the future. She was influenced early on by the works of environmentalist Theo Colburn (whom she calls the Rachel Carson of our time), and Cathy has a passion for responsible stewardship of our environment. Her extensive training and work as an environmental endocrinologist has led her to become a locally and internationally recognized expert on the hormone-mimicking effects (endocrine disruption) of pollutant chemicals that find their way into our water supply through sewage reclamation, especially environmental chemicals with estrogen- and thyroid hormone-like effects. Cathy’s work has shown that endocrine disrupting waste chemicals can have insidious impacts on animal and human health.
Using her excellent scientific and communication skills, Cathy and her many undergraduate and graduate students at NAU have been especially concerned about the physiological effects of low, “thought-to-be-safe” levels of common chemicals (pharmaceuticals, sunscreens, plasticizers, solvents, pesticides) that make their way into Flagstaff waste water. Cathy, her students, and a growing number of scientific collaborators worldwide have shown that these chemicals can persist in reclaimed wastewater and affect biological development, sexual differentiation, and sometimes cause disease in animals exposed to the water (Cathy uses amphibians as models for potential effects on humans). She has conducted numerous scientific studies of Rio de Flag reclaimed water, and found that some chemicals present produce troubling effects including delayed or abnormal development in young animals, and abnormal reproduction and behavior in adult animals. Cathy has brought these endocrine disrupting studies to the attention of the Flagstaff public, local regulators, and the state of Arizona through her persistent outreach to our community.
Another troubling concern Cathy’s research has raised is the synergistic effect of complex and varying mixtures of persistent endocrine disrupting chemicals in the waste stream that may potentiate their toxicities. Cathy’s concern is in scientifically quantifying the relative risk of these chemical mixtures, and making the public aware of the potential dangers of adding seemingly innocuous chemicals of our modern life into the waste water stream.
She understands that to promote public health and safety, the public must be informed; that she must present her findings not only to her scientific peers, but also to the public in educational meetings and forums, and to the government. To this end, Cathy and her students have also devoted much time to public outreach (science education).
A list of Cathy’s local and regional outreach activities includes educational presentations to:
2003, 2004, 2006: City of Flagstaff Water Commission
2004: Coconino County Board of Supervisors
2005: Field School for Decision Makers, Flagstaff AZ
2006: Pretreatment Water Group, Phoenix AZ
2006: Mountain West Society of Toxicology, Phoenix
2007: Emerging Contaminants Workshop, Phoenix
2007: Flagstaff Leadership Academy
2007: American Water Resources Assn, Vail, CO
2007: Arizona Water Institute Executive Board Mtg., Maricopa, AZ
2007: Sierra Club
2010: Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Sedona, AZ
2010: Verde Water Assn, Prescott, AZ
2011: Southwest Environmental Health Conference
2011: Science on Tap, Flagstaff, AZ
2013: Flagstaff Festival of Science
Cathy is also in high demand by the scientific community, serving on federal government scientific grant review panels concerned with water supply and public health for the Environmental Protection Agency (2004, 2007, 2012, and 2013), and the National Science Foundation (1997, 2007, 2009, and 2012). She serves as a peer reviewer for over 20 international scientific journals. Cathy has trained 18 graduate students toward MS and PhD degrees at Northern Arizona University, and has mentored a very large number of NAU undergraduates in her laboratory and field studies.
Cathy and her husband Manuel live in Timberline/Doney Park with their children Ella, Melanie, and Manuel Jr. Manuel shares Cathy’s concern for the environment and helps run a multigenerational coffee farm in El Salvador he inherited from his parents, marketing his green coffee beans with other small local producers in El Salvador to a Co-Op Roaster, and also selling some of his produce at the Flagstaff and Prescott Farmers Market and other venues (his family coffee is Café de Dona Ella).