Environmental Factor, October 2009, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Heinz Awards Go to Two NIEHS Grantees
By Eddy Ball
On September 15, Teresa Heinz and the Heinz Family Foundation announced the recipients of the 15th annual Heinz Awards, which this year honor ten individuals whose achievements have helped bring about a cleaner, greener and more sustainable planet. Two of the awards, which bestow $100,000 on each winner, were given to long-time NIEHS grantees - Beverly Wright, Ph.D., executive director of the Dillard University Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ) in New Orleans; and Kirk Smith, Ph.D., professor of Global Environmental Health at the University of California, Berkeley.
"At this unique time in history, when the environment is more important than ever to our lives, our economy, our national security and our future, it is only fitting that we focus exclusively on this critical topic," said Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation (http://www.heinzfamily.org/aboutus/philanthropies_02.html). The 2009 Heinz Awards, established in 1993 to honor her late husband, U.S. Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania, commemorate the senator's long-standing commitment to the environment.
According to the foundation, Wright (http://www.dscej.org/Staff.html) was honored for "her work as an environmental justice advocate" on behalf of communities, especially those in Louisiana's "Cancer Alley." As head of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University in New Orleans, the Foundation's press release said, "She has been tackling issues of environmental racism and working to raise the profile of environmental issues in poor and minority communities nationwide."
For more than two decades, Wright has directed numerous grassroots, community-initiated programs, including ones funded by NIEHS grants. (http://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/sc/detail.cfm?appl_id=7670385) These programs have provided opportunities for communities, scientific researchers and decision makers to collaborate on programs and projects that promote the rights of everyone to be free from environmental harm.
The foundation recognized Smith (http://ehs.sph.berkeley.edu/people/smithk.htm) for "exposing the relationships among household air pollution, fuel use, climate and health." In its press release, the foundation observed, "Smith was the first to recognize and quantify the magnitude of the pollution exposure received by the poorest women and children in developing countries as a result of cooking indoors with solid (wood, coal or other biomass) fuels."
Aided by support from NIEHS grants, (http://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/sc/detail.cfm?appl_id=7681694) Smith has pioneered ways to measure and compare the effects, showing both the tremendous costs of ignoring the problems of indoor air pollution and pointing the way to inexpensive solutions for protecting health and climate. Throughout his career, Smith has advised major international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, and is routinely cited by other scientists who use his work as a standard.
With their awards, Wright and Smith join an elite group of individuals recognized for their exceptional leadership and accomplishments in areas of special interest to Senator Heinz, who once said, "The most important investments - and the most profitable - are investments in people."