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Noted environmental scientist Linda Birnbaum to receive prestigious Winslow Medal

April 04, 2022
by Fran Fried

Former National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Director Linda Birnbaum will soon add one more prestigious award to the lengthy list of honors she has received during her career.

Birnbaum, Ph.D., professor adjunct of epidemiology (environmental health sciences) at the Yale School of Public Health, will be presented with YSPH’s highest honor — the C.-E. A. Winslow Medal — in a ceremony starting at noon Monday, April 11, in the Winslow Auditorium.

Registration is required for the event, as are masks for those attending in person. Interested individuals can also attend via Zoom. Birnbaum will deliver her Winslow Seminar, entitled “Environmental Health: Past, Present and Future,” as part of the traditional ceremony.

“This is really special,” said Birnbaum, who joined the YSPH faculty last September. “It’s a big one. It’s exciting because Yale is such a marvelous institution. That makes it even more so [rewarding]. YSPH is one of the best in the country.

“I was thrilled to start (at YSPH) as an adjunct,” she continued. “I’m having fun. I’m looking forward to meeting some of the students I’ve been lecturing virtually.”

A scientist emerita at the National Institutes of Health who also once served as director of the National Toxicology Program, Birnbaum is currently scholar-in-residence in Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“Named after YSPH’s founder, Charles-Edward Amory Winslow, the Winslow Medal is the highest honor YSPH awards to a world-renowned leader who has made exceptional contributions to the field of public health through research, education and/or practice,” said Winslow Medal Committee Chair Melinda Irwin, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate dean of research and Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology (Chronic Diseases). “We are delighted to award Dr. Linda Birnbaum with the Winslow Medal in recognition of her significant contributions related to environmental toxins and health outcomes.”

YSPH Dean Sten H. Vermund, M.D., Ph.D., also praised Birnbaum’s contributions to science and public health.

“Dr. Birnbaum has been among the leading scientists in the vital field of environmental health,” Vermund said. “We are deeply proud both of her receipt of the Winslow Medal, our school’s highest honor, and most appreciative of her joining our voluntary faculty to engage our teaching and research enterprise.”

Birnbaum’s work has been foundational in multiple fields: health hazards of persistent organic pollutants, mechanisms of action of toxic environmental contaminants, endocrine disruption, and linking real-world exposures to human health problems.

She was the first toxicologist and first woman to head the NIEHS and led the paradigm that all health is an integration of both genes and environment. She was among the first to demonstrate that early-life contaminant exposure was associated with adverse health effects in children.

As a board-certified toxicologist, Birnbaum spent 19 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where she directed the largest division focusing on environmental health research. She continues to provide national and international leadership in the investigation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, which are potentially toxic manufactured chemicals found in many consumer products such as cookware and food packaging. She has also developed a vigorous program in community engagement and involvement in environmental health studies.

During her lengthy career in science, Birnbaum has, at various times, led the Toxicology Division of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, the American Aging Association, the Society of Toxicology and the International Union of Toxicology.

She has received many awards and recognitions. In 2016, she was awarded the North Carolina Award in Science. She also was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, one of the highest honors in the fields of medicine and health, as well as to the Collegium Ramazzini, an independent international academy comprised of internationally renowned experts in the fields of occupational and environmental health. She received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Rochester and a Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of Illinois. She has also received honorary doctorates from Ben Gurion University in Israel, Amity University in India, and the University of Rhode Island.

The C.-E. A. Winslow Medal is named in honor of Dr. Charles-Edward Amory Winslow, a seminal figure in public health who founded the Yale Department of Public Health in 1915 and served as its director for 30 years. Winslow defined public health as “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health …” His definition, even today, is considered by many as embodying and guiding public health research, practice and education.

Past recipients of the Winslow Medal include Sir Richard Doll, Dr. Judith Rodin, and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Submitted by Sabrina Lacerda Naia dos Santos on April 04, 2022