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BPA grantee honored with Heinz Award

By Eddy Ball
October 2010

Fred vom Saal, Ph.D.
When his award was announced, vom Saal, shown above in his lab, was attending a BPA grantees meeting at NIEHS. He readily acknowledges the importance of the funding he has received from NIEHS to pursue his groundbreaking investigations. (Photo courtesy of the Heinz Family Foundation)

Veteran NIEHS grantee ( Fred vom Saal, Ph.D., received one of the nation's most prestigious public service awards Sept. 21 when Teresa Heinz and the Heinz Family Foundation announced the recipients of the 16th annual Heinz Awards.

As one of this year's ten winners, vom Saal( Exit NIEHS is being recognized by the foundation for his contributions to addressing global change in unique, innovative, and powerful ways. Heinz Award winners receive a gold medal with an image of the late Senator John Heinz and a $100,000 cash award.

Since 1997, vom Saal has been investigating the health effects of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) and is credited with uncovering health concerns about exposure to the chemical in consumer products at levels previously considered safe. In its press release ( Exit NIEHS, the foundation praised vom Saal's “groundbreaking research findings [that] have significantly impacted approaches used to study the health effects of environmental chemicals and public health policy” (see text box).

The announcement also pointed to how his research and testimony about BPA have impacted banning or regulating BPA in Canada, Europe, Japan, and some parts of the U.S. Foundation chairman Teresa Heinz was quoted as saying, “His research has prompted policymakers and corporations to evaluate the toll BPA is having on our health.”

vom Saal is the Curators Professor of Biological Sciences and head of the Endocrine Disruptors Group at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The Heinz is the latest in a series of awards and recognition for vom Saal's research into the effects on fetal development of endogenous sex hormones, naturally occurring estrogenic chemicals in food, and estrogenic manmade chemicals in consumer products.

He is an elected member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and honorary member of the Italian Academy of Sciences. His scientific discoveries also won him the Upstream Award from the Jennifer Altman Foundation and the Millennium Award from the Indian Institute for a Sustainable Future.

This year's winners will receive their awards Nov. 15 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. Two other scientists honored this year also have ties to NIEHS - Terrence Collins, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University, honored for using green chemistry to detoxify hazardous chemicals and training the next generation of scientists; and Lynn Goldman, M.D., of George Washington University, recognized for promoting regulation of dangerous chemicals and expanding citizens' right to know about pollution in their communities. Goldman has served as an advisor to the National Toxicology Program and participated in many NIEHS-sponsored meetings and seminars.

A tribute from the Heinz Family Foundation

In its announcement of the award, the Heinz Family Foundation praised vom Saal for his science and his tireless advocacy of measures to limit exposures to endocrine-disrupting compounds:

“Building upon an already distinguished career in basic reproductive biology, Dr. vom Saal discovered unexpected health problems linked to exposure to common chemicals in every day products such as bisphenol A (BPA), a widely-used ingredient in consumer products. Dr. vom Saal's work has been crucial to opening new questions about the safety of many chemicals in widespread use, which had been thought safe based on traditional methods used in toxicology.

His research challenges health agencies around the world to use 21st century biomedical science in assessing the risks posed by environmental chemicals. While some regulatory agencies have taken action, others have been slow to respond. The market, however, has moved quickly due to consumers demanding alternatives to materials that science reveals may be harmful.”

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