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14 December 2018

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Heart + Lung Health FEST 2016

2016 David Bates Lecture Recipient

2742 F Perera 3_medDr. Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD
Professor, Environmental Sciences
Director, Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health
Columbia University

Dr. Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD, is Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and since 1998 has served as Director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. Dr. Perera is internationally recognized for pioneering the field of molecular epidemiology, utilizing biomarkers to understand links between environmental exposures and disease. Currently, she and her colleagues are applying advanced molecular and imaging techniques within longitudinal cohort studies of pregnant women and their children, with the goal of identifying preventable environmental risk factors for developmental disorders, asthma, obesity and cancer in childhood. These include toxic chemicals, pesticides, and air pollution, with particular focus on adverse effects of prenatal and early childhood exposures. Her areas of specialization include prevention of environmentally related developmental disorders and disease in children, cancer prevention through the use of novel biomarkers, environment-susceptibility interactions, and risk assessment. Her recent research is also addressing the multiple impacts on children’s health and development of fossil fuel combustion—both from the toxic pollutants emitted and climate change related to CO2 emissions. She is the author of over 350 publications, including 300 peer-reviewed articles. She has received numerous honors including, most recently, the Pearl Award and the Heinz Award for her lifetime achievement in research for the protection of children’s health.

Lecture: “Multiple Benefits to Children’s Health of Reducing Dependence on Fossil Fuels”


Fossil fuel combustion inflicts a multitude of serious health and developmental harms in children through its emissions of toxic particles and gases and carbon dioxide (CO2), a co-pollutant that is a major driver of climate change. The developing fetus and young child are more biologically and psychologically vulnerable than adults to the many adverse effects of toxic air pollutants and climate change. Therefore, the young, and especially the poor, bear a disproportionate burden of disease from fossil fuel combustion. Available scientific evidence regarding the multiple health impacts of fossil fuel combustion shows that by sharply reducing our dependence on fossil fuel we would achieve highly significant health and economic benefits for our children and their future. These benefits would include fewer cases of preterm births, low birth weight, cognitive and behavioral disorders, asthma and other respiratory illness—all of which have been linked to toxic air pollutants—as well as less heat-related disease, malnutrition, infectious disease, physical trauma, mental ill health, and respiratory illness related to climate change. These benefits would occur immediately and also play out over the life-course and potentially across generations. The scientific evidence, coupled with the moral imperative to protect our most vulnerable individuals, calls for a holistic, child-centered energy and climate policy. Here, for illustration, we present the multiple impacts of prenatal exposure to combustion-related air pollution, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), on child health and development, as well as examples of the benefits of interventions to reduce or eliminate or reduce combustion sources.


Many thanks to Genome British Columbia for their support of this talk!

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