Speaker Spotlight: Philip Landrigan
By: Kevin Ardon, Travel Scholar and Speaker Ambassador at the 2018 Planetary Health Annual Meeting
During the Planetary Health Annual Meeting I had the honor of being Dr. Philip Landrigan student ambassador. He is a pediatrician and a epidemiologist. Dr. Landrigan graduated from Boston College in 1963 and from Harvard Medical School in 1967. He completed a residency in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston. In 1977, he received a Diploma of Industrial Health from the University of London and a Master of Science in Occupational Medicine degree from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Dr. Landrigan’s landmark studies in the early 1970s of children exposed to lead were among the first to show that lead can cause brain damage to children at levels too low to cause clinically evident signs and symptoms. His work was critical to remove lead from gasoline and paint in the US and around the globe. Actions that have resulted in great health and economic benefits.
During his early career he served at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. He established the environmental epidemiology unit at CDC that has grown into the National Center for Environmental Health. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal of the U.S. Public Health Service. In the 1990s Landrigan’s Committee report, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, was the first to prove that children are uniquely susceptible to adverse effects of pesticides and other toxic chemical in the environment. This report provided the framework for the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, the major law governing pesticide use in the US. He is currently the Dean for Global Health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and from July 1, 2018 he will be the Director of the Global Public Health Program at Boston College.
Dr. Landrigan, et al., The Lancet commision on pollution and health, highlights the massive health problems associated with air, soil and chemical pollution. According to this report, pollution causes 9 million of premature deaths per year. During his presentation, Dr. Landrigan talked about the four pillars of this report, which can be summarised as (1) health effects; (2) economic costs; (3) the intersection between pollution and social justice; and (4) solutions. One of the most remarkable facts that came out of this commision is that pollution control is compatible with economic growth, and that the tools and technology needed to achieve this control are ready to be implemented around the world.
From the first day, Dr. Landrigan showed great willingness to be a mentor and a friend. During the time we shared, Phil told me about his beginnings at CDC and how his team began to notice the health problems that some communities near El Paso, Texas experienced due to chronic lead poisoning. It was inspiring hearing about the fight and victory against big companies that used lead in their productions in the 1970’s. We also explored Edinburgh together, discussing history and culture. In this regard it was a learning experience for both of us.
In the short but meaningful time we shared during the conference, he was a true mentor to me. One the most touching moments was when he said “I would not be here without the help of others”. This statement gave me a glimpse of the humbleness and gratitude of Phil’s personality. As a medical student, I took home a lot of knowledge on environmental issues, and thanks to Phil, I’m also inspired to share this knowledge and improve medical education in Honduras.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Planetary Health Alliance or its members.