Two scientists share Heinz Award for the Environment

Professors Molina and Spengler honored for their research and environmental activism related to global warming, indoor air pollution

provided by Heinz Family Foundation


wo scientists and university professors, whose mutual but independent interest in the adverse health effects of air pollution thrust them toward a common goal, share the Heinz Award for the Environment. Mario J. Molina and John D. Spengler, joint recipients of the ninth annual award, are being recognized for groundbreaking contributions – both as scientists and activists – toward understanding the impact of global warming and air pollution on human health.

    Working independently though often on parallel paths, Drs. Molina of MIT and Spengler of Harvard University each pursued a range of scientific exploration 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 along with a healthy dose of outspoken advocacy 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.

    “Drs. 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. “Through their breakthrough discoveries related to the depletion of the earth's ozone and the unrealized dangers of indoor air pollution, they have helped to open our eyes to the impact of our own actions and championed new thinking about our stewardship of the earth's resources. We are most proud to honor these distinguished scientists with the Heinz Award for the Environment.”

Dr. Mario J. Molina


    Long considered one of the world's leading authorities on ozone depletion, Dr. Molina shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995 for his research on the effects of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on the earth's stratosphere. His findings, the first published on the subject, connected ozone depletion to the dispersion of CFCs in the atmosphere. While critics rallied against the study's conclusions in the hope of protecting their own interests, his work was validated when the FDA completely banned CFCs in 1979.

    Winning the CFC ban was a long and often uphill battle, but the fight never dimmed Dr. Molina's convictions. He has served as a spokesman and lightening rod on the issue of atmospheric contamination for many years. When scientists discovered a huge hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica in the mid 1980s, some cast doubts that CFCs had actually caused it – skepticism that sent Dr. Molina back to his lab to find additional proof. More recently, he led a joint program studying the sources of air pollution in his native Mexico City, the city many consider to have the world's dirtiest air.

    Beyond his direct contributions as a scientist, Dr. Molina has long espoused his belief that scientists and the entire scientific community have a responsibility to take action if their research and support can impact public policy. And he has practiced what he's preached. He has called attention to a host of environmental problems and expressed his staunch opposition to the alternative proposal that the Bush Administration offered to the Kyoto Protocols, stressing that voluntary cuts would be insufficient to curb global warming.

    Dr. Molina has encouraged the involvement of the business community in adopting measures to address the issue, and he has used his own financial resources. He dedicated a portion of his Nobel Prize monies to establish an endowed fellowship that brings students from developing countries to MIT to study atmospheric science and related areas. The goal is to educate foreign students so they can address complex environmental concerns in their own countries.

    “Dr. Molina stands out not only for his groundbreaking work on the impact of CFCs on the environment, but also for the energy, courage and leadership which he has displayed in communicating his conclusions,” Mrs. Heinz said. “His vigilance and steadfastness in the face of formidable opposition reflects the level of commitment that is so often needed to protect our fragile environment, and his success motivates all who share a common hope for a healthier world. His passion for discovery and his refusal to be silenced make him a deserving recipient of the Heinz Award for the Environment.”

    “I am particularly honored to receive the Heinz Award in this category, especially given all that the Heinz Family Foundation has done to help protect the environment,” Dr. Molina said. “My deep hope is that this year's award will help bring greater attention to this issue a global sword of Damocles so that we can continue to sensitize public policy makers to the threat that deteriorating air quality poses on health and vitality in many regions around the world.”

Dr. John D. Spengler

    Dr. John D. Spengler of Harvard University's School of Public Health 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 lead 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, Dr. Spengler and his colleagues found that indoor air pollution, such as cigarette smoke, nitrogen dioxide and molds, had a tremendous impact on overall health. Their findings contributed not only to outdoor air quality standards but to the rethinking about the many sources of air pollution inside our homes, schools, offices and vehicles.

    Dr. Spengler's career has focused on understanding the health consequences of indoor and outdoor air pollution. His work with asthmatics living in Boston's Public Housing Projects helped to reduce environmental triggers for asthma attacks triggers that included cigarette smoke, dust mites, pets and cockroaches. He and a colleague also investigated indoor ice skating rinks, first throughout New England and later internationally. The team discovered that the use of gasoline and propane-powered equipment, such as zambonis, raised the levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide within the ice arena to 10 times beyond federal guidelines.

    Selected as vice chairman of a National Research Council committee that ultimately recommended the 1986 airliner smoking ban, Dr. Spengler serves as an advisor to both the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization. He is considered a giant in his field, and his vigilance and scientific discovery have resulted in guidelines and laws that have significantly reduced environmental health risks to all.

    “Dr. Spengler is a true scientific explorer, having charted, virtually by himself, an undiscovered environmental scourge indoor air pollution,” Mrs. Heinz said. “He has succeeded in focusing the nation's attention on a new insidious, invisible threat, one that had been silently and adversely affecting the nation's health. The technology that scientists rely on today for critical air pollution measurements would not have been possible without Dr. Spengler's pioneering work. His career has had a direct and lasting impact on the air we breathe and the collective health of people around the world.”

    “The foundation behind my work has always been simple creating a cleaner environment starts with cleaner air to breathe,” Dr. 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. Populations in developed countries worry about radon, pesticide residues and chemical emissions from building materials and furnishings. But in developing countries, the problem is even more acute. Nearly two billion people, mostly women and children, are exposed every day to very high levels of indoor air pollution arising from the poor quality fuels burned from cooking and heating.”

    The Heinz Family Foundation of Pittsburgh annually recognizes individuals whose perseverance and sacrifice represent the best of the human spirit – qualities that Senator Heinz himself held so dear.

    By category, the other recipients of the Heinz Awards are:

Arts and Humanities: Bernice Johnson Reagon, PhD, civil rights activist, performer and educator.

Human Condition: Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, physician and medical anthropologist, Harvard University, and founder, Partners In Health.

Public Policy: Geraldine Jensen, founder and president, the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support (ACES).

Technology, the Economy, and Employment: Paul B. MacCready, PhD.