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David Allen Otto

In Remembrance
May 16, 1941 – December 4, 2023


David Allen Otto, a distinguished environmental scientist and a passionate community advocate, passed away on December 4th due to lung cancer. Otto’s legacy spans a 35-year career at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and significant contributions to the Carrboro community.

After completing his graduate studies, Otto joined the EPA to study the neurobehavioral effects of exposure to air pollutants. His work at the EPA’s Human Studies Facility in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, included pivotal research on the health effects of various environmental chemicals such as carbon monoxide, lead, organophosphorus pesticides, volatile organic compounds, and arsenic in drinking water. His efforts resulted in over 100 publications in the scientific literature, cementing his reputation as a leading researcher in neurotoxicology.

Otto’s commitment to improving human health was matched by his dedication to his community. He was co-chair of the Indochinese Refugee Resettlement Coalition, sponsoring over 200 Vietnamese refugees in North Carolina between 1975-1980. In Carrboro, he made significant contributions as a founder of Friends of Bolin Creek, advocating for the preservation and accessibility of the Bolin Creek corridor. His vision for a paved greenway along Bolin Creek in Carrboro and Chapel Hill was a testament to his belief in inclusive public spaces.

A respected member of several committees, including the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Committee and the Carolina North Advisory Committee, Otto also actively participated in the Moral Mondays protests. His commitment to environmental and social causes was unwavering, often documented through his photography, which he pursued with zeal after retiring from the EPA.

In addition to his scientific and advocacy work, Otto co-authored a book on the history of Carrboro and contributed photographs to local publications. His love for music and his church choir was a significant part of his life, and he is remembered for his contributions to the community’s cultural life.

Otto is survived by his wife Apolonia San Juan, stepsons Rafael and Rodolfo, and was predeceased by his first wife Priscilla Otto and daughters Meghan and Eileen.  His life was a blend of scientific rigor, community service, and a deep commitment to environmental and social causes. Otto’s legacy will continue to inspire and influence future generations.

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