Mining Feature: Douglas Johns, M.S., Ph.D., Selected as New Director of Spokane Mining Research Division

Monday, September 30, 2019

Dr. Johns poses with group at a stop of NIOSH's Coal Worker Health Surveillance Program black lung screening mobile unit.

Dr. Johns (center) visits with NIOSH employees and a representative of Sen. Joe Manchin's staff at an August 2017 tour stop of NIOSH's Coal Workers' Health Surveillance Program black lung screening mobile unit in Morgantown, WV.

On September 29, 2019, Douglas Johns, M.S., Ph.D., became the Director of the Spokane Mining Research Division (SMRD) of the NIOSH Mining Program.

With his extensive background addressing environmental and work-related respiratory hazards, Dr. Johns said he is “excited to focus on the mission of SMRD to ensure the health and safety of miners.”

Dr. Johns is no stranger to the mission of NIOSH, as he was previously the Deputy Director of NIOSH’s Respiratory Health Division in Morgantown, WV. He served seven years with the division working with industry, academia, and government to track, address, and communicate work-related respiratory hazards. A noted top responsibility included oversight of the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program, which provides free black lung screenings for coal miners.

Dedicated to excellence at NIOSH, Dr. Johns has taken on other service and leadership roles within the Institute, including a near seven-year tenure as a member of the CDC/NIOSH Institutional Review Board (IRB) in addition to serving for more than five years as the Chair of the CDC/NIOSH Long-Term Training Committee.

“I’m excited to learn more about mining as an industry. My background is in human health risk assessment, so I look forward to working on NIOSH’s new Miner Health Program, but am just as interested to learn about and support the safety and engineering components,” he said.

Dr. Johns with other NIOSH leaders visit a molybdenum mine.

Dr. Johns (far right) visits a molybdenum mine with other NIOSH leaders.

In his new position, Dr. Johns would like to continue to guide SMRD’s health and safety research efforts in a way “where we do not just point out problems, but where we can offer solutions.” He notes that he sees numerous opportunities to work collaboratively with the Pittsburgh Mining Research Division, academia, other NIOSH programs, and other federal agencies.

“I want to make sure we focus our efforts in areas that will maximize impact and ensure our staff recognize the importance of our work,” he said.

Before beginning his career with NIOSH, Dr. Johns worked as a Senior Health Scientist, Team Lead, and Branch Chief with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Office of Research and Development. His previous research and scientific assessments were used to inform conclusions related to the causal nature of the relationships between exposure to air pollution and various health outcomes, and have formed the scientific foundation for the reviews of the U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Dr. Johns with other senior federal scientists who collaborated to develop a strategic research plan.

Dr. Johns (second from left) with other senior federal scientists who collaborated to develop a strategic research plan for a new EPA research program.

In addition to serving as a lead author on a number of scientific assessments designated by the EPA as highly influential, Dr. Johns has also authored 27 high-impact peer-reviewed journal articles and invited book chapters with a major emphasis on assessing the risk of exposure to environmental and occupational hazards. He has received many awards in recognition of his outstanding scientific contributions, including several U.S. EPA Bronze Medals and one Gold Medal, and has also been honored for providing practical support to governmental program and regional offices. In his role as a scientist and administrator, Dr. Johns has been invited by universities, government agencies, and other organizations to present on scientific topics and programmatic leadership to a variety of audiences. This scholarly work in combination with his other accomplishments highlight his expertise in the human response to respirable mine dust and inhalation exposure.

Originally intending to become a medical doctor, Dr. Johns attended Utah State University as an undergraduate studying environmental biology. After realizing that he was fascinated by the science underlying the field of medicine but did not have a desire to be a practicing physician, he decided to pursue graduate studies in Public Health, earning an M.S. in environmental health and a Ph.D. in environmental and occupational hygiene from the University of Washington. His early scientific investigations involved human subjects research, conducting and assessing exposures to low levels of common air pollutants to advance the science of biomonitoring for both exposure and effect.

Dr. Johns and his wife, a labor and delivery nurse, have a daughter and a son who both attend Utah State University on full scholarships as a result of earning National Merit Finalists honors. Originally from Idaho, Dr. Johns is excited to be back in the Northwest and closer to family.

Dr. Johns with his family on a bicycle trip to the western fjords of Norway.

Dr. Johns and his family on a bicycle tour in the western fjords of Norway in May 2019.

Outside of his professional life, Dr. Johns clears his mind by running in his free time. While he does run, he makes the distinction that he does not consider himself a runner, as he does not love it. In his younger years, he ran as a way to stay in shape for basketball in junior high and high school. He now competes in 5K and 10K races and periodically challenges himself with longer distances. Just one week prior to starting his new position, Dr. Johns ran the Morgantown Half-Marathon—his first race at that distance—on Sept. 22 before hopping in the car to start his drive west.

Despite his complicated relationship with running, Dr. Johns says he continues to put on the miles because each one is worth it. In a way, he keeps running for the same reason he accepted the position as Director: “I love to learn and take on new challenges.”

Dr. Johns took on his new role as the Director of the Spokane Mining Research Division from Todd Ruff, who shifted his focus to become SMRD’s Associate Director for Science. Mr. Ruff will devote his time and expertise to further establish the emerging technologies research program.

Page last reviewed: September 27, 2019
Page last updated: September 27, 2019