Dr. James Craner in his Nevada office and common images from Nevada’s mining industry: cyanide tanks and a crusher plant.
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For Dr. James Craner, growing up in northern New Jersey influenced his choice at an early age to become an occupational and environmental medicine physician. “I count myself as one of the few people who chose this specialty as the reason to enter medicine as a profession,” says Craner, an assistant clinical professor in the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine since 1995.

He encountered urban environmental pollution at a time when it was just becoming a prominent social issue, in particular, hazardous chemical waste. As a teenager growing up in densely populated Union County, NJ, Craner became actively involved in solid waste recycling. He successfully built a profitable recycling program through his high school Key Club and later rallied his town to start one of the first curb side recycling programs in the state. In April 1980, as a high school senior, Craner vividly recalls the massive explosion and fire that erupted at the Chemical Control site in nearby Elizabeth, New Jersey, where over 35,000 drums of unlabeled chemical waste were stored. The plumes of black smoke that spread over a 15 mile radius led to school closures and quickly became a national news event that fomented what would eventually become the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program.

While an undergraduate at Princeton University, Craner continued his environmental activism, which sparked his academic interest in chemistry and the burgeoning field of environmental studies. At age 19, he became the youngest member of the Board of Directors of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby, a non-profit citizen’s organization. Through his role with the Board and other grass-roots citizens and labor organizations, he became involved in the “Right to Know” movement, which resulted in the passage of the New Jersey Worker and Community Right to Know Act in 1983—the first law of its kind, and the enactment of which Craner witnessed in person at the state house in Trenton, NJ. This state law was the precursor to the corresponding Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Environmental Protection Agency laws that mandated the creation and distribution of material safety data sheets—a right that today is utilized in workplaces and communities throughout the United States and other industrialized nations.

While at Princeton, Craner’s senior thesis, under the guidance of professors who were blazing new trails in the science of environmental risk assessment, entailed developing technology to measure solvent vapor exposures emanating from a nearby Superfund hazard waste site in southern New Jersey. He brought Lois Gibbs, the citizen leader of the Love Canal community and bellwether of the modern urban environmental movement to his campus to address the student body. “Through Lois Gibbs and others, I became immersed in environmental health. Their inspiration and the challenges I saw they faced propelled me to where I am today.”

After completing his medical school training at Harvard, followed by a residency in Internal Medicine at Brown University, and then occupational medicine residency and public health degree at Rutgers, Craner moved to the Reno, Nevada, area where he has lived and practiced for twenty years. “Nevada is the third largest gold mining jurisdiction in the world, and most of the commercial assay laboratories in the United States that service minerals exploration and mining are located in Reno and Sparks,” adds Craner. These industries have grown significantly over the past ten years in response to rising gold demand. They rely heavily on lead oxide-based flux for their assays, and the two largest manufacturers of this flux are located nearby. “These industries have struggled with effectively complying with performance-based health regulations such as those for lead, silica, and noise,” observes Craner, who has focused his career on clinical services to protect and monitor their employees’ health, and consultation for compliance program development, training, exposure controls, and hazard assessment.

Major Nevada refineries and gold mining companies extract precious metals by fire assay.

In the past few years, Dr. Craner has parlayed his insight from his clinical and consultative experience into technology by creating and developing webOSCAR™ (http://www.verditechnology.com), a web-based health and safety compliance system now used by companies around the world to automate and streamline the management of their health and safety requirements and data. His first customers were—and continue to be—the highly regulated local industries with the biggest compliance challenges.

Dr. Craner collaborates with COEH and the UCSF Occupational Medicine residency program by educating students and faculty about the diagnosis and prevention of occupational diseases like silicosis and lead poisoning that Craner says “most occupational medicine physicians have never seen because they were supposed to be outlawed” by the health and safety laws passed over 30 years ago. He has hosted four UCSF site visits to northern and southern Nevada, giving faculty and residents a first-hand glimpse into the complex world of mining, fire assaying and flux production, lead shot production, casinos, and other Nevada-based industries.

In 2012, Dr. Craner was invited to serve as the Nevada representative to the COEH Advisory Committee. He developed and chaired a COEH Continuing Education webinar series on Mining Health and Safety that was offered in the spring of 2013. Recently, Craner authored the new “Medical Surveillance” chapter for the fifth edition of Occupational and Environmental Medicine edited by UCSF authors Dr. Joseph LaDou, professor emeritus and Dr. Robert Harrison, clinical professor of medicine. With these projects, Craner wants to foster COEH’s connection as a resource for technical expertise to mining industries to help them effectively address their complex occupational health and safety needs.

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