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Environmental Factor, May 2012

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Veteran grantee wins Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement

By Eddy Ball

Kirk Smith, Ph.D.

“Most people recognize that smoking is the worst thing you can do for your health,” Smith was quoted as saying in the Tyler Prize press release. “The next worst thing you can do is be around smoke, and indoor fires are like being around a thousand burning cigarettes per hour. Babies may not smoke, but they are in these homes.” (Photo courtesy of Kirk Smith)

NIEHS grantee Kirk Smith, Ph.D., is one of two winners of this year’s coveted Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, the organization announced March 20 in a press release.

The prize brings Smith a professor in the University of California (UC) Berkeley School of Public Health, and co-winner John Seinfeld, Ph.D., a professor of chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology, each a $100,000 prize and a gold medallion, which were presented at an awards ceremony April 27 in Los Angeles. On April 26, they delivered public lectures at the Davidson Conference Center at the University of Southern California, which administers the award.

In its press release, the organization explained, “Since its inception in 1973 as one of the world’s first international environmental awards, the Tyler Prize has been the premier award for environmental science, environmental health, and energy, given to those who confer great benefit upon humankind through environmental restoration and achievement.”

Videos of interviews with Smith and Seinfeld, as well as their lectures, are posted at

Indoor air pollution in the developing world

The Tyler Prize is Smith’s second major award for his seminal work establishing that household air pollution in developing nations is responsible for nearly two million premature deaths per year, disproportionately among women and children. In 2009, Smith was recognized by the Heinz Foundation, which also presented him with a $100,000 prize for his efforts to bring about a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable planet (see story).

Since the early 1980s, Smith has championed research to understand the health threat posed by particulate matter (PM) indoor air pollution, and to reduce exposures for people who heat and cook by burning biomass indoors, through development of affordable and more efficient stove technology (see story on his 2011 study in Guatemala).

Smith has received NIEHS support during his more than 30 years of research and currently holds two NIEHS grants, Investigation of Indoor Solid Fuel and Kerosene Use as Tuberculosis Risk Factors and Estimating Dioxin Exposure from Indoor Woodsmoke and the Burning of Plastics.

A premier award in the environmental health sciences

Established through an endowment by John and Alice Tyler to recognize individuals who have contributed in an outstanding manner to the scientific knowledge and public leadership to preserve and enhance the environment of the world, the name of the award has changed over the years, but not its purpose. Smith and Seinfeld join a list of 64 distinguished scientists and four organizations who have received the award over its nearly 40-year history.

Past winners include the following distinguished environmental scientists:

• Edward Wilson, Ph.D., recognized for his early work on the theory of island biogeography

• Jane Goodall, Ph.D., selected for her seminal studies on the behavior and ecology of chimpanzees and her impact on wildlife awareness and environmental conservation

• Jared Diamond, Ph.D., a renowned author who gave birth to the discipline of conservation biology

• Thomas Lovejoy, Ph.D., a central figure in alerting the world to the critical problem of dwindling tropical forests

• Bruce Ames, Ph.D., developer of the Ames Test for the rapid screening of environmental carcinogens

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