Kirk Smith honored with California’s premier air quality award

July 1, 2015

Kirk R. Smith, professor of global environmental health at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, is one of three recipients of the 2014 Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award. He was recognized for his leadership in research and international efforts in the area of household air pollution from solid-fuel burning traditional cookstoves.

Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award winners and ARB membersHaagen-Smit Clean Air Awards, the "Nobel Prize" in air quality achievement, are given annually by the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to individuals who have made significant lifetime contributions toward improving air quality and climate change science, technology and policy, furthering the protection of public health.

"These three individuals have championed public health with extraordinary contributions to air pollution science, research and technology," says ARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols. "The Haagen-Smit Award is our way of honoring these individuals who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to protecting public health throughout their long and distinguished careers."

Smith’s research on the complexity of household air pollution exposure was critical in the development of global burden of disease estimates by the World Health Organization, which now ascribes more than four million premature deaths to household smoke from solid fuels. He has documented the associated risk for pneumonia and adverse birth outcomes in children, and for cataracts, tuberculosis, heart disease, and chronic lung disease in women. 

He holds visiting professorships in India and China where he has worked since the early 1980s collecting field measurements, pursuing quantitative research, and working closely with medical and engineering professionals to bring clean air to residents of developing countries, particularly those who, by virtue of their household circumstances, suffer extremely high exposures to smoke from solid-fuel burning in traditional cookstoves.

Smith’s research and influence also extend to energy and climate. He was a key participant in the Global Energy Assessment and lead author of the health chapter in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group on Impacts. He serves on a number of national and international scientific advisory committees, including the National Research Council’s Board on Atmospheric Science and Climate, the Executive Committee for the World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guidelines, and the International Comparative Risk Assessment of the Global Burden of Disease Project. 

He was elected as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1997. In 2009, he received the Heinz Prize in Environment and was awarded the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 2012.

Smith was honored with the Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award on June 25 in Sacramento. He also gave a Clean Air Leadership Talk on June 24. The two other recipients of the award are Donald R. Blake, professor of chemistry at UC Irvine, and John C. Wall, vice president and chief technical officer for diesel engine manufacturer Cummins Inc.

The award is named for the late Dr. Arie Haagen-Smit, known as the "father" of air pollution science and control. The award recognizes those who continue his legacy through perseverance, leadership, and innovation in the areas of research, environmental policy, science and technology, public education, and community service. The selection committee is comprised of past award winners.

By Jasmin M. Huynh

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