Campus & Community

Spengler shares Heinz Award for the Environment:

3 min read

Recognized for groundbreaking contributions toward understanding impact of air pollution on human health

John D. Spengler, the Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation in the Faculty of the School of Public Health (SPH), has been named a co-recipient of the ninth annual Heinz Award for the Environment. Together with 1995 Nobel Prize-winner Mario J. Molina of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he is being recognized for his groundbreaking contributions toward understanding the impact of air pollution on human health.

Working independently though often on parallel paths, Molina and Spengler each pursued a range of scientific explorations related to global warming and air pollution, particularly indoor air pollution. Their collective careers, with a focus that integrated the study of the environment, health, and technology, have fostered greater global awareness of the effects of air pollution, ozone depletion, and fossil-fuel combustion. The two, who join four other Heinz Award recipients, will share the $250,000 award.

“Molina and Spengler are extraordinary men of science who have passionately advanced their scientific findings into the corridors of public policy, the lecture halls of academia, and living rooms around the world,” said Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation.

Spengler has played a pivotal role in raising public consciousness over health-related issues of indoor air quality. His initial work studying the exposures of commuters in Boston to air pollution led to his participation in the groundbreaking Six Cities Studies, which explored the environmental risks associated with sulfur dioxide and particle emissions from coal-burning power plants. The studies found a lethal relationship between particulate matter and cardiovascular mortality. Ultimately, Spengler and his colleagues found that indoor air pollution, such as cigarette smoke, nitrogen dioxide, and molds, had a tremendous impact on overall health. These findings contributed to outdoor air quality standards, and to the re-thinking about the sources of air pollution inside homes, schools, offices, and vehicles.

Selected as vice chairman of a National Research Council committee that ultimately recommended the 1986 airliner smoking ban, Spengler serves as an adviser to both the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization.

“The foundation behind my work has always been simple – creating a cleaner environment starts with cleaner air to breathe,” Spengler said. “To be honored by the Heinz Family Foundation, which has itself been a staunch supporter of efforts to improve environmental health, truly affirms that indoor air pollution is a serious issue affecting all of us.”

The Heinz Family Foundation of Pittsburgh, a charitable trust established by the late Sen. John Heinz in 1984, annually recognizes individuals whose perseverance and sacrifice represent “the best of the human spirit.”

Award winners will receive their prizes at a private ceremony in Washington, D.C.