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Professor Honored for Environmental Leadership

Professor Honored for Environmental Leadership
Carmen A. Puliafito, John M. Peters, holding the Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award, and Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board

John M. Peters, the Hastings Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, has been honored for his leadership in environmental health research that has influenced California public policy.

At a luncheon held March 1 in the Edmondson Faculty Center, Peters received the 2009 Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award from the California Air Resources Board.

“Dr. Peters has been recognized for many years as one of the leading authorities about the effects of air pollution on health,” said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, in presenting the award.

In particular, she cited the Children’s Health Study, for which Peters was founding principal investigator. Started more than 16 years ago, this study of more than 11,000 children investigates the effects of air pollution on children’s respiratory health.

Nichols also credited Peters with leading development of a center of excellence at USC as founding director of the Division of Environmental Health in the Department of Preventive Medicine. “How pleased it makes me to present this award to a person who really exemplifies all of the qualities, the creativity and integrity in science, but also a person who has built and nurtured a program here that will stand in good stead for many years to come,” Nichols said.

Peters thanked the Air Resources Board for “this very high honor” and for support of his research over the years.

The research “has had a dramatic effect on public policy,” said Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School of Medicine. “I have tremendous respect for the great public policy leadership that the state of California has shown in the area of air quality. The academic partners in this leadership have been at USC, and the man we’re honoring has played an incredibly important role in environmental health.”

Peters also founded the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center and directed it for 10 years. Researchers at the center study how a wide variety of environmental and personal factors interact to produce human disease.

Peters’ research “has had broad impact within the state, nationally and internationally,” said Jonathan Samet, holder of the Flora L. Thornton Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine. His research on children’s health is “looked to as one of the world’s most important studies on how air pollution affects the lungs of children.” In addition, Samet noted, Peters has recruited “a spectacular group of faculty to USC and he continues to mentor them.”

Named for the first chairman of the California Air Resources Board, the Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award recognizes individuals who have made important contributions to air quality.

Nichols read a proclamation from the California State Senate recognizing Peters’ “expansive and groundbreaking research.” The proclamation said, “The state of California commends you on your contribution to the health of our nation’s children and communities.”

The John Peters Fund for Research and Education was established a year ago to sustain research and education in environmental health at USC. Individuals interested in making a donation to the fund may contact Susan Roberts at (323) 865-0805 or

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