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Etzel Ruth Ann


Ruth A. Etzel, M.D., Ph.D. is Senior Officer for Environmental Health Research in the Department of Public Health and Environment at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. She completed medical school at the University of Wisconsin and residencies in Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA. After completing a pediatric residency, Dr. Etzel was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar in Chapel Hill, and received her PhD in Epidemiology from the University of North Carolina School of Public Health in 1985. While there, she became very interested in studying the health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke among infants. With Dr. Robert Greenberg, she co-authored the first study to use cotinine as a biological marker of exposure to tobacco smoke in children. In the twenty five years since that study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, she has been influential in working to make cotinine a standard method for assessing tobacco exposure in epidemiological studies. She has also been a strong leader in national and international efforts to reduce children´s exposure to tobacco smoke, serving as chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Julius B. Richmond Center of Excellence at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), dedicated to improving child health by eliminating children's exposure to tobacco and secondhand smoke.

As a Commissioned Officer in the United States Public Health Service, Dr. Etzel served in numerous public-sector leadership positions including: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Founding Chief of the Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Branch), Department of Agriculture (Director of the Division of Epidemiology and Risk Assessment) and Indian Health Service (Research Director at the Alaska Native Medical Center). She is a courageous leader in bringing environmental risks to children to public attention and working collaboratively towards solutions. In 1989, after a single case of acrodynia was identified in a US child who was exposed to mercury vapor inside a newly-painted house, she coordinated a study to assess the extent of the mercury exposure and then made a compelling case to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the removal of mercury from latex paints. In response, the EPA quickly reached an agreement with the US paint companies to stop the addition of mercury compounds to interior latex paints.

Dr. Etzel is the founding editor of the popular AAP manual Pediatric Environmental Health, of which a 3rd edition will be published in 2011. This influential book has helped to train hundreds of clinicians who care for children about how to recognize, diagnose, treat and prevent illness in children from hazards in the environment. She serves on the adjunct faculty at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. In addition to being board-certified in Pediatrics, Dr. Etzel is also board-certified in Preventive Medicine and served for 9 years on the American Board of Preventive Medicine. She was a member of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s First Expert Panel on the Management of Asthma and the Department of Defense Science Board Task Force on Gulf War Heath Effects. Dr. Etzel has received numerous awards, including the 2007 Children’s Environmental Health Champion Award from US Environmental Protection Agency, the Distinguished Service Award from the US Public Health Service, the Don C. Mackel Memorial Award from CDC, the Arthur S. Flemming Award, and the Clinical Society Award from the US Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Association for her discovery of the association between infant pulmonary hemorrhage and exposure to toxigenic molds. Her epidemiologic research interests include identifying the environmental precipitants of asthma attacks and studying the health effects of exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollutants.

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