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Dr. Jean S. Felton, 92; Occupational Health Expert, Teacher, Author

August 29, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

Dr. Jean S. Felton, internationally known expert in occupational health who studied such issues as alcoholism, psychosomatic illness and the effects of asbestos in the workplace during his long Southern California tenure, has died. He was 92.

Felton died in his Mendocino home June 12 of causes associated with aging, said his wife, Suzanne.

A native of Oakland, Felton was educated at Stanford and its medical school. He lived in the Southland from 1958 on, teaching at UCLA, USC and UC Irvine, and working as medical director of the Long Beach Naval Shipyard and director of occupational health for Los Angeles County.

Earlier in his career, he had served as a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps during World War II, and then as medical director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. He also taught at the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine, and served as industrial hygiene consultant for the Oklahoma Department of Health.

At UCLA in the 1950s, Felton conducted studies on such wide-ranging issues as why Alcoholics Anonymous helps some alcoholics but not others; whether employment helps or hinders problem drinkers in avoiding alcoholism; why psycho- therapy helps some mentally ill patients but not others; and how stress leads to illness among scientists.

At Long Beach in the 1970s, a period in which many civil suits were filed against employers and makers of asbestos over the lung-scarring disease asbestosis, Felton made a study of veteran employees who had inhaled asbestos fibers from ship insulation. He concluded that one-third of shipyard workers employed for 17 years or longer contracted asbestosis and that even those with shorter tenure had become susceptible to cancer.

Felton served as consultant for NASA, the Navy, the Veterans Administration and the U.S. Public Health Service and was on the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities from 1950 until 1994, earning its Physician of the Year award in 1979.

Among his books have been "Health and Community" and "Man, Medicine and Work," both in 1965, and "Occupational Medical Management" in 1990.

In addition to his wife, Felton , who retired to Mendocino in 1988, is survived by a daughter, Robin Spanton; two sons, Keith and Gary; and six grandchildren.

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