In Memoriam: David McCurdy


by Nick Panzarino, CHP, Bob Shannon, Dan Montgomery, PhD, Stan Morton, Robert Litman, PhD, and Vincent Chase, CHP

On 5 June 2017, the radiation science community lost one of its valued members, David E. McCurdy, PhD. Dave passed away at his home in Northborough, Massachusetts, succumbing after several years to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was 73 years old.

Dave received a bachelor of arts in education (physics) from California State College in 1965 and a master of science in radiological health and PhD in radiation biology from Colorado State University in 1966 and 1969, respectively. His research studied inhalation hazards associated with uranium mining using a cross-disciplinary approach. Technical areas of this research included aerosol characterization, alpha spectrometry, and personal monitoring devices. As a result of this research, Dave patented a personnel monitoring device that incorporated thermoluminescent materials to measure airborne radon progeny concentrations.

Dave accepted the position of director of the Environmental Laboratory of the State of New Jersey in 1969. One of his principal responsibilities was to develop and implement the state's radiation surveillance program for nuclear power plants. As part of this mission, he developed radioanalytical techniques and instrumentation for analysis of radionuclides in power plant effluents. While at the state laboratory, Dave obtained a U.S. Atomic Energy Commission grant and was principal investigator for research and surveillance at two nuclear power facilities. The research objective was to determine the potential radiological impact to the general public and the abiotic and biotic component of the aquatic and terrestrial environs.

In 1973, Dave took a one-year leave of absence to join the Health Services Division staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He helped develop risk fault-tree analyses modeling to evaluate transuranic waste-disposal areas, their potential hazard, and eventual disposition. After he returned to New Jersey, he implemented a detailed radiological assessment of a major radiopharmaceutical processor and developed the state’s emergency-response plan for a potential accident at a nuclear facility.

In 1976, Dave joined the Yankee Atomic Electric Company (YAEC) as manager of the Environmental Laboratory Group. The laboratory provided comprehensive support for off-site environmental monitoring and surveillance programs for several nuclear power plants. In 1988, he became director of the Environmental Laboratory, assuming responsibility for the Analytical Services and Radiation Dosimetry Services Groups. The Analytical Services Group performed radiochemical analysis of environmental samples that supported environmental monitoring programs and in vitro bioassay programs at participating nuclear power plants. The Dosimetry Services Group performed monitoring and measurement of personnel radiation dose, in vivo bioassay (whole body counting measurements), and in-plant radiation flux measurements. These programs required a staff of 37 scientists and technicians.

In 1991, Dave was appointed chief scientist for YAEC. His new role included oversight of the previous responsibilities as well as integration of strategic and business planning for the analytical and dosimetry services groups. Following acquisition of the Nuclear Sciences Division of YAEC by Duke Energy in 1997, Dave was assigned the position of chief scientist for the Environmental Health and Safety Division within the Decommissioning Business Unit.

During his career, Dave provided technical consulting services and support for many different areas and organizations including:

  • U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Electric Power Research Institute
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
    • Science Advisory Board
    • Updates to the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations
    • Development of the Multi-Agency Radiological Laboratory Analytical Protocols (MARLAP)
    • EPA Homeland Security Projects
  • U.S. Department of Energy
    • EH-52, EH-63
    • National Analytical Management Program
  • U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans' Affairs
    • Veterans' Advisory Board on Dose Reconstruction
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization
  • Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors
  • Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center
  • Furnas Centrais Electricitas of Brazil
  • Taiwan Power Company
  • Institute of Nuclear Energy Research, Taiwan
  • Westinghouse Materials Company of Ohio
  • Multiple nuclear power facilities within the United States

Dave was a member of the Health Physics Society (HPS) and the HPS Environmental Section. He was a member of ASTM and chairman of ASTM subcommittee 19.04 on Radioactivity in Water. From 1977 to 1979, he served on ASTM subcommittee D22.10 Methods of Sampling and Analysis of Atmospheres. He also served on several American National Standards Institute (ANSI) committees: N42.RM, N42.2, N42.23, N13.30, N13.44, N41.5, and ANSI/American Nuclear Society 3.85. He was a major contributor to the writing of MARLAP and team-taught classes describing the use of the MARLAP Manual at numerous locations across the country.

Dave was a visiting faculty member of the University of Lowell (now UMass Lowell) teaching a graduate-level course on environmental monitoring surveillance between 1980 and 1986. He was an invited lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health, presenting such topics as environmental radiation surveillance and environmental monitoring in emergency situations. His talent for teaching became very evident between 2004 and 2015. Dave participated in delivering many lectures to state radiochemistry laboratory personnel on basic radiochemistry and emergency response.

In 1996, Dave served as president of the New England Chapter of the HPS. He received awards in appreciation of his work from various national organizations including the HPS Fellow Award, ASTM Max Hecht Award, ASTM International Award of Merit, and the Bioassay, Analytical and Environmental Radiochemistry Conference Service Award.

In addition to the more than 90 technical papers that he authored or presented, he also provided technical support and data validation/assessment in the development of EPA’s Rapid Radiochemical Methods and Radiological Response Guides to support laboratories' radiological incident response.

Dave had many interests outside his professional career. He was passionate about tennis (Algonquin High School coach and adult player), fly fishing, kayaking, scuba diving, and his pastime as an amateur radio operator.

Dave is survived by his son Mark, Mark's wife Elizabeth, and their two children, Catherine and Grace, and by his daughter Sharon's two children, Douglas and Jessica Weaver. He is predeceased by his wife Jan and his daughter Sharon Weaver.