Meet the Scientist: Morris Maslia

Posted on by Dr. Christopher J. Portier
Dr. Portier meets with Morris Maslia, MSCE, PE
Dr. Portier meets with Morris Maslia, MSCE, PE

My “Meet the Scientist” series brings you conversations with NCEH/ATSDR scientists that aim to give you a sense of the talented people who are working to keep you safe and secure from those things in the environment that threaten our nation’s health. He’s a water modeling expert, Croes Medal recipient, and lover of lamb chops. Read on to learn more about the work of Morris Maslia in my latest “Meet the Scientist” entry!

About Morris

Morris Maslia, MSCE, PE, was born on U.S. Army Base Fort McClellan in Aniston, Alabama. In 1958, he and his family moved to Israel for four years before relocating to the state of Georgia. Morris earned two degrees in civil engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and as I surmised from the big Georgia Tech button pinned to his shirt, he’s still a huge supporter of his alma mater!

Morris is a research environmental engineer in ATSDR’s Division of Community Health Investigations.  He developed ATSDR’s Program on Exposure-Dose Reconstruction and  leads ATSDR’s innovative water modeling analyses to estimate peoples’ past exposures to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune He is married with three sons, and his favorite restaurant is Violette, a local French restaurant where he enjoys dining on ….you guessed it—lamb chops!

Path to Public Health

After completing his academic studies, Morris told me he worked as a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Georgia from 1980–1989. In 1982, he and a colleague conducted modeling analyses to assist the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Circuit Judge in New York with the first implementation of a superfund cleanup by EPA in the Hyde Park/Love Canal area. From 1990-1992, he became a consultant for an engineering firm, but then recognized this career choice wasn’t his forte. Shortly thereafter, a colleague referred him to ATSDR. The agency was searching for someone to work at National Priorities List sites, the EPA’s list of the most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the United States. Morris “fit the bill” and ATSDR hired him in January 1992.

Work Projects

During his career, Morris has worked on several sites—some of which were of public, national, and congressional interest. All have had implications for public and environmental health. For example, currently, Morris and his team are concluding a 10-year effort to determine levels of historical drinking-water contaminants (TCE, PCE, VC, benzene) at the U.S. Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina . Using the latest in computer modeling technology, this work will show contamination levels that existed month-by-month in housing areas on the base  from 1942–2008. Morris’ work will also provide ATSDR epidemiologists with monthly levels of contaminants in drinking water to use in its specific birth defect and childhood cancer case-control study and other health studies related to Camp Lejeune

Morris’ Most Exciting Career Experience

Morris shared his most exciting career experience with me, which was an ATSDR investigation at Toms River in New Jersey (Dover Township) which focused on the incidence of cancer in children. Morris said he and his team tested the hypothesis that the increased cancer incidence was associated with contaminated drinking water from public-supply well fields serving the town. Morris’ extensive water modeling expertise helped EPA improve its EPANET water-distribution system model. He told me results of this study were only the second time ever that an association was documented between a cancer cluster investigation, environmental contamination, and resulting health effects, the first being Woburn, Massachusetts.

Croes Medal Recipient

In 2011 Morris received the J. James R. Croes Medal, awarded by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Presented annually since 1912, the award recognizes a paper that makes a definitive contribution to engineering. Morris co-authored a paper titled “Optimal Design of Sensor Placement in Water Distribution Networks,” published in the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, January–February 2010. 

“I was pleasantly surprised when the Executive Director of ACSE notified me of my award by letter. Neither my co-authors nor I had any idea we were even in contention for the award,” said Morris.   In notifying Morris of the honor, ASCE wrote, “In selecting your paper for this award, the committee particularly noted its contribution to engineering science.” 

On a Personal Note……….

Off-duty, Morris is an Atlanta board member of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a non-profit organization founded in 1901. Noted Morris, “Over the past 111 years, JNF has evolved into a global environmental leader by

  • planting 250 million trees
  • building over 210 reservoirs and dams
  • developing over 250,000 acres of land
  • creating more than 1,000 parks
  • providing the infrastructure for over 1,000 communities
  • bringing life to the Negev Desert in Israel
  • educating students around the world about Israel and the environment.”

During March 2012, Morris participated in a mission to Israel’s Negev Desert to assess a community’s environmental, health, social, and educational resources and needs. The JNF hopes to help the community retain its young professional residents. It would also like to attract more young professionals to the town and area over the next ten years.

Posted on by Dr. Christopher J. Portier

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Page last reviewed: June 21, 2012
Page last updated: June 21, 2012