Senator John Heinz


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The Heinz Awards


John Spengler

Mario Molina and John Spengler, groundbreaking pioneers in the way air pollution affects human health, share this year's Heinz Award for the Environment.

John Spengler, director of the Environmental Science and Engineering program at Harvard's School of Public Health, has devoted his career to studying and understanding the effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution on human health. He pioneered the development of personal monitors to measure how air pollution affects individuals as they go about their daily activities. This breakthrough helped researchers gather data critical to understanding the link between pollution and human health.

He has shown that exposure to indoor pollution can be even more harmful to human beings and their health than outdoor exposure. His work led to recommendation of the airline smoking ban in 1986. He has not been satisfied with merely showing that fungi, molds, radon, mildew, asbestos, lead and tobacco smoke indoors can adversely affect health, but has taken the next step to improve air quality through sustainable development strategies and the design of healthier living conditions, taking into account energy efficiency, comfort and indoor air quality. Dr. Spengler has connected the dots and identified the environmental health triggers in the air that cause illness and other adverse health reactions.

The individual work of Doctors Molina and Spengler has been extraordinary. But their combined work covers the full range of human health issues related to air pollution, from indoor and ambient air pollution to the global problems of stratospheric ozone depletion and the consequences of fossil fuel combustion. These scientists have used their brilliance to heighten public awareness of the risks of air pollution and 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.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


June 2006 - Spengler is a member of a university consortium developing an onboard sensing system of airborne contaminants for airline cabins. - Air Safety Week

March 2006 - Spengler is hired by the Trane division of American Standard to test its latest product, a new whole home air cleaning system that is reported to work five times better than portable units in clearing small particles from the air. - Associated Press Online

October 2003 - Long-banned toxic substances such as PCBs and DDT were found among the contaminants in 120 houses on Cape Cod according to a report co-authored by Spengler. The four-year study tested the houses for 89 organic chemicals identified as endocrine-disrupting compounds. - Environmental Science & Technology


3/3/2003 - Acceptance Speech

I'm deeply grateful for this honor. So many people wished me well and said what a wonderful honor this was. And I stopped and thought about this and said, what makes it an honor? And I think we heard the wonderful life of John Heinz, and the force of his character, and the influence he had. And clearly your sharing his memory with us today at lunch and this evening, it really reflects on ... that's part of why it's such an honor to be included as one of the awards recipients. I think the money is a wonderful thing. It opens up possibilities and I think that, that certainly brings prestige. But to me, I really thought deeply about this. And I think it's the fraternity that I've been elected into - my colleagues here now - and the fraternity that you were introduced to. It's a wonderful group of people. To feel that if we are part of that set, that truly is the honor.

And I really am appreciative that this award for the environment does include indoor air. I think it recognizes a vast body of work that in a way touches all of us. I mean think about this ... that we live in homes. We travel in vehicles. We go to churches. We go to schools. And the indoor environments of these places make a great deal of difference to the lives of people that are ... that use those spaces. So in a way, indoor air connects all of us, connects all of humanity. So in the United States and the developing world we might be concerned about things like radon, or electromagnetic fields, or asbestos, or plasticizers, fire retardants ... those things that modern life brings. And of course, today we're all worried about toxic molds and the concerns that they might have for our homes and schools and offices. But I think you really have to give pause to reflect on the fact that we share this world with six billion other people. Two billion live in conditions where their indoor environment is truly determined by the fuels that they use to heat their homes and cook their food. And that fuel is not the high-end, high quality fuel. It's the low-end fuels. It's the animal dung. It's the crop residues. It's the charcoal. It's the wood.

My daughter, Sara Spengler, and Seth Cohen, 10 years ago, were in Nepal and told me the stories about living in the village huts. And standing up, and being filled full of smoke, and hearing every morning people "hack" to clear their lungs. So the price that this pays, that we pay for this inequality, in the richness of Earth's resources, is staggering when you look at the world's population that's suffering from indoor air pollution.

So I think my first 25 years of my life can be characterized as finding the problems. And I think the last few years, and maybe the next half of my career, is working towards solutions. And so, we're engaged in efforts with public housing authorities to try to look at those things that trigger asthma. And it's not that we don't know them, but it's the difficulty of implementing those things in a complex society. And it's ever more tragic when we see the plight that people have in public housing. Some wonderful children and young mothers trying to struggle under the conditions that we have given to them, because we don't put the resources in to solve those problems. And it's a million children in the United States. Its 300,000 veterans in the United States are living in public housing. So it's truly part of our national population that we must pay attention to.

In returning for the last few seconds to the issues of homes because homes really have to be more than just free of indoor contaminates. Homes are the places where we nurture our selves and our families. And they are so much part of our formative development so I want to thank so deeply my mother, Peg Spengler, and my father, Ken Spengler, for creating that nurturing home along with my four brothers. These were really formative years and it did provide a healthy, safe, and nurturing home. And that tradition carried on with my wife Carolyn, who did that for me ... created that safe haven, that nurturing place to raise two wonderful children, Sara and Matthew. So the tradition goes on. And I thank you very much for making me part of this.

John Spengler
John Spengler