Cover photo for Lester  David Grant 's Obituary
Lester  David Grant  Profile Photo
1942 Lester 2021

Lester David Grant

October 16, 1942 — November 7, 2021


October 16, 1942 to November 7, 2021

Lester David Grant was born in Mount Pleasant, PA October 16, 1942.  He died peacefully in his sleep November 7, 2021. He attended the University of Pittsburgh for his undergraduate work and Carnegie Mellon University, where he received his Ph.D.  He subsequently held a postdoctoral research position at the University of Chicago.  In 1970 he accepted dual faculty appointments in the Psychiatry and Anatomy Departments at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  About 1979, Les joined the Office of Research and Development of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a consultant on lead, followed shortly by becoming Director of the Environmental Criteria and Assessment Office, which later became the National Center for Environmental Assessment-RTP. He retired from EPA in January of 2007. 

Les’ job title was inadequate to reflect his outsized role in protecting public health worldwide from adverse effects of major air pollutants, including ozone, lead, particulate matter, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides. He was particularly known for his role in developing National Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which by law required a review and synthesis of extensive scientific literature, followed by in-depth critiques by an independent group of specialist experts as well as stakeholders and other interested parties.  These reviews often involved highly contentious technical matters that had huge cost implications, but Les successfully handled such issues with scientific aplomb.

Due in considerable part to his scientific expertise and leadership in developing and periodically revising the NAAQS, public health was improved not only in the United States but in many other countries that followed the protective example set by the U.S. EPA.  These countries who sought his expertise to protect their citizens included Canada, The Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, and Southeast Asian nations as well as international organizations such as the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization.

The environmental pollutant lead provides one example of his scientific leadership. In the 1970’s the adverse effects of lead on young children and its ubiquitous environmental distribution were becoming increasingly recognized, resulting in the need for updated regulations. Many technical experts had specialized knowledge of certain aspects of the lead problem, but Les was an international leader in putting together the complex parts of the lead picture so it could be more effectively regulated to protect public health. For example, reducing exposure from lead in gasoline can dramatically reduce blood lead levels in young children. However, other pathways such as drinking water, paint, and dust also had to be considered. At the time, such a multi-source, multi-pathway approach to dealing with lead was quite unusual, but it increased the effectiveness of EPA regulations and influenced the way many other countries approached environmental protection.

Les made immeasurable contributions to protecting public health around the world, not only with regard to the adverse effects of lead on children but, for example, in helping children and people with preexisting lung disease breathe better, those with angina have an improved quality of life, and older people live longer due to reduced particulate matter exposure levels.

Les was an avid poker player and looked forward to games with his friends. He also enjoyed vegetable gardening, civil war history, gourmet cooking, and collecting model trains. He will be deeply missed by family, friends, and colleagues. He is survived by his wife Judith, son David, and daughter Sandra.  His surviving siblings are Charles D. Grant, of VA; Charlotte Dunn of PA; and Leona Mangan of FL.  Les and Judith were married for 57 years and were residents of Chapel Hill since 1970. Donations in his memory can be made to the Audubon Society.

A mass will be held at St. Thomas More December 10 at 2:30 pm. Because of COVID, the church has suspended receptions after Mass.  Friends can participate virtually and simultaneously (  ). Hall-Wynne Funeral Home in Durham is assisting the family.


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Service Schedule

Past Services


Friday, December 10, 2021

2:30 - 3:30 pm (Eastern time)

St. Thomas More Catholic Church

940 Carmichael Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514


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