Senator John Heinz

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The Heinz Awards

2009

Kirk Smith

Kirk Smith is honored with a Heinz Award for his research on an environmental health problem of global significance - the dangers of indoor fuel use to human health.

Dr. 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 fuels (wood, coal or other biomass). He 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, Dr. 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 estimates that one half of the world's population uses such fuels, the health impacts of this exposure are believed to be larger than any other environmental risk with the exception of contaminated water supplies. He was also the first to point out the important global climate implications of cook stove emissions.

According to the World Health Organization, toxic emissions from cooking stoves are responsible for causing 1.6 million premature deaths a year. To provide the highest quality of medical evidence on these effects, Dr. Smith, a professor of Global Environmental Health at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, and his colleagues and students conducted the first randomized trial of air pollution in history in Guatemala to demonstrate how improved stoves can reduce child pneumonia, the chief cause of death among children worldwide. He discovered that women using solid fuels indoors were consistently exposed to pollution in concentrations 50 times greater than would be permitted in the United States.

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


UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD

March 2012 - Kirk R. Smith, whose groundbreaking work demonstrated the debilitating risk of air pollution in developing nations, shares the 2012 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement from the University of Southern California, receiving a $100,000 cash prize and a gold medallion. - Los Angeles Times

Speech

Thank you Teresa and to the Board of the Foundation

It is times like this, I think you've heard from all of my fellow recipients, that remind us that we each stand within a web of relationships extending across family, friends, colleagues, and students, both forward and backward in time.  And in my case including thousands of women and their children in villages across three continents for the last three decades.  Whatever each of us is able to do comes from combining and amplifying in a small way the positive influences that come to us along that web.   I would not be here tonight without the direct support of a dozen or so mentors from undergraduate days onwards in as many fields.  Among the most important has been the long-term support of an early Heinz awardee, John Holdren and his wife Cheri. Too many of these mentors have passed on now and cannot share this award as they should.  Important among them for me were giants in their own fields, Harrison Brown and David Rose, who each provided critical support at crucial moments in my career.

My wife, Joan who is here, notes that throughout human history hundreds of millions of men have spent time standing around the kitchen watching women cook but that I am perhaps the only one who has made a career out of it.  I certainly would not be standing here now without her strong and insightful support over the decades and now that of our daughter, Nadia, who is also here and who has embarked on her own career in international health.  To them, I owe everything. 

Finally, of course, we should all be grateful that a foundation such as that set up to honor of John Heinz has had the foresight and breadth of vision to make it possible for such diverse set of contributors to global environmental causes be standing before you.  We 10 may be honored tonight but all of us in this audience and outwards benefit.

In ending, I'd like to remind you, remind us all, that climate change is making us aware that we're all very vulnerable to the environment.  Let's not forget that half of humanity has already been very vulnerable and already is suffering from environmental problems in serious ways.  And that no definition of a sustainable planet, what we all would like to move toward, no definition of a sustainable planet includes 9 million children dying and half a million women dying in childbirth.  So this is an unfinished agenda, that is directly related to some of the environmental issues of our times, including climate change that we need to finish as we move toward finding a sustainable planet.
Thank you very much

Kirk Smith
Kirk Smith