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Columbia researcher wins Heinz Award for environmental work

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 | 6:18 p.m. CDT; updated 10:42 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 22, 2010

PITTSBURGH — A Columbia man is one of 10 people  named Heinz Award winners Tuesday.

This year's awards recognized environmental challenges. The awards each come with a $100,000 prize.

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Frederick vom Saal was recognized for discovering that exposure to common chemicals such as bishphenol A, known widely as BPA, can cause health problems. Vom Saal's work resulted in most stores removing items containing BPA, such as baby bottles, from shelves.

"Fred has done more than anyone to alert policymakers, industry and the public to the serious and growing list of health problems associated with BPA," said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook in a press release. "Without his research, it's hard to imagine we'd be where we are today with a growing number of states restricting the use of BPA, the federal government poised to act and companies moving to remove the chemical from products. BPA is on the run because of his groundbreaking work."

The Pittsburgh-based Heinz Family Foundation has presented the awards since 1994 in memory of former senator John Heinz III, heir to the Heinz food fortune, who died in a 1991 plane crash. The awards will be presented at a private ceremony in November in Washington, D.C.

Other recipients include:

  • Cary Fowler, of Rome, Italy. Fowler was recognized for creating the Global Seed Vault, where one-third of the world's seed varieties are being preserved. Fowler believes his work has shown that it's important to preserve the seeds because a lack of plant population diversity weakens food security.
  • Terrence Collins, of Pittsburgh, Pa. Collins was recognized for discovering ways to mitigate toxic waste and biological agents, and for teaching a new generation of scientists as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Institute for Green Science.
  • Gretchen Daily, of Stanford, Calif. Daily was recognized for her work to protect natural ecosystems. Daily co-developed InVEST, a software program that identifies ecological assets and their financial value, which is helping decision-makers invest more wisely in environmental programs.
  • Daniel Sperling, of Davis, Calif. Sperling was recognized for his work in advancing transportation and energy research as a founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California-Davis. He also worked on the passage of California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which measures greenhouse gases.
  • Elizabeth Kolbert, of Williamstown, Mass. A staff writer for The New Yorker, Kolbert was recognized for her environmental journalism, which has included reporting on the disappearance of bees, Arctic ice caps and others threatened with extinction.
  • Michael Oppenheimer, of Princeton, N.J., and New York, N.Y. Oppenheimer, director of the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at Princeton University, was recognized for his work on the effects of global warming and air pollution, and in promoting policies to prevent future harm.
  • Richard Feely, of Seattle, Wash. Feely, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, was recognized for studying ocean acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide. Feely has gone on more than 50 expeditions to prove that rising acidity poses a huge threat to the ocean.
  • Lynn Goldman, of Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring, Md. Goldman, dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services at George Washington University, was honored for her work on the dangers posed by toxic chemicals. Goldman is a pediatrician and epidemiologist who has studied how chemicals affect newborns and has developed programs to protect people from chemical contaminants.
  • James Balog, of Boulder, Colo. Balog was recognized for his photographs called Extreme Ice Survey, in which he traveled the world taking hundreds of thousands of pictures of glaciers at each hour of daylight. He used 39 cameras, which he adapted with materials from a local hardware store.

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