Dr. Janette Sherman, 89, Early Force in Environmental Science, Dies

An athletic young woman, Janette planned to major in physical education when she went to Western Michigan College of Education in Kalamazoo, now Western Michigan University. But while there, she took a job in a chemistry lab to help pay for school and became interested in science. She ended up majoring in chemistry and biology and graduated in 1952.

That same year she entered into the first of her three marriages.

Dr. Sherman went on to Michigan State University in Lansing, where, from 1956 to 1960, she studied German and mathematics part time, though she did not obtain an advanced degree. She then enrolled in medical school at Wayne State University in Detroit, where she was one of only a handful of women studying for a medical degree. She had recently been divorced and was raising two children on her own at the time. She graduated in 1964 and later set up her own private practice just north of Detroit, where she first encountered the autoworkers.

Dr. Sherman, who was a professor of oncology and medicine at Wayne State from 1976 to 1988, consulted with or served on a number of advisory boards and government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Cancer Institute.

She wrote two books, “Chemical Exposure and Disease: Diagnostic and Investigative Techniques” (1988) and “Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer” (2000).

She also edited “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment” (2007), which analyzed thousands of articles in the scientific literature and concluded that the Chernobyl disaster had caused an estimated 985,000 premature deaths. That number far exceeded previous estimates, the highest of which was about 50,000, and led to criticism of the book in the academic press.

Dr. Sherman had studied the effects of radiation early in her career and later worked with Joseph Mangano, executive director of the nonprofit Radiation and Public Health Project. By analyzing the baby teeth of children who lived near nuclear reactors, they suggested in five peer-reviewed journal articles that even small doses of radiation had caused increases in childhood cancer. Some scientists were skeptical, saying no direct link could be proved.