Meet the Scientist – Cynthia Ward

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Cynthia Ward

The Meet the Scientist series brings you conversations with NCEH/ATSDR scientists. These conversations aim to give you a sense of the talented people who are working to keep you safe and secure from things in the environment that threaten our nation’s health. Meet Cynthia Ward, a scientist in our Division of Laboratory Sciences who works in inorganic speciation metals analysis. Read on to learn more about Cynthia’s work and how it helps protect public health.


Cynthia Ward is originally from Milledgeville, GA, where she attended Georgia College. She received a Bachelor of Science in biology with a minor in chemistry, and a Masters in Public Administration. After moving to Atlanta, GA in 2000, Cynthia attended Mercer University, where she received Masters degrees in Health Care Management and Business Administration.

Path to Public Health

Cynthia’s path to public health wasn’t exactly straightforward. “It was sort of a fluke,” Cynthia said. “I thought that I wanted to go to medical school until I was in my last year of undergrad and did some volunteer work in a hospital. I quickly decided that being a physician was not the career path for me. Although I had enough credits to graduate, I took an instrumental analysis course my last semester at Georgia College that covered various types of scientific analytical instrumentation. The knowledge from that course helped land me my first job in industrial hygiene. I have been working in metals analysis since then.” So, how did she end up at CDC? After the company where Cynthia worked downsized and closed its lab, she began working at an environmental laboratory. She eventually met someone there who worked at CDC and helped her obtain a position as a contractor in 2004.

Working at CDC

The work that Cynthia is involved in could help improve the health of U.S. communities. She’s a team leader for a group that deals with inorganic speciation metals analysis. With inorganic speciation, her group routinely determines the amounts of the different forms of arsenic in human urine samples and the different amounts of mercury in human blood samples. A major component of the speciation work that they do is with samples collected through the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES). According to Cynthia, “We determine the concentrations of arsenic and mercury species in urine and blood samples from individuals from a representative sample of the U.S. population.

NHANES breaks down the data according to the following demographics:

  • gender
  • race
  • age
  • geographic region

These demographics allow us to identify groups or individuals being exposed to the more toxic forms of species. They also aid the medical officer assigned in identifying the source of the exposure.”

She and her team also analyze samples in cases of emergencies, such as accidental poisonings. In these cases, she and her team help determine how much arsenic or mercury a person was exposed to. Cynthia explained, “Some of the forms of arsenic or mercury are more harmful than others. Therefore, it helps the doctors involved to know what the person was exposed to and how much of it. This in turn helps doctors know if treatment is necessary and if so, what kind of treatment.”

Most Rewarding About Her Work

As a CDC scientist, what does Cynthia find most rewarding about her work? She shared, “The most rewarding part of my job has to be the people I work with. I currently have a team of eight, and watching and helping them grow and develop in their careers makes the difficult days worthwhile.”

Special Interests

During her downtime, Cynthia engages in a few relaxing activities: “I love to read – mainly fiction. I also love to take on home improvement projects and decorating.”

Hope you enjoyed reading about CDC scientist, Cynthia Ward. Interested in other Meet the Scientist conversations and NCEH/ATSDR accomplishments? Visit the NCEH/ATSDR Your Health, Your Environment blog!

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Page last reviewed: February 21, 2014
Page last updated: February 21, 2014