Richard Joseph Jackson is Professor and former Chair of Environmental Health Sciences at the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles. Early in his career, this New Jersey-born former Jesuit seminarian became deeply engaged in the environmental and ethical issues of pollution impacts on children. During his pediatric residency at the University of California, San Francisco, and while working in the intensive care nursery there, he noted “clusters” of children who were transferred there from nearby agriculture areas known for large scale pesticide use. This led to his seeking further training at CDC and at UC Berkeley in epidemiology and his work for ten years on pesticides and human health. He trained as an epidemiologist at UC Berkeley and also learned in depth pesticide toxicology at the California Department of Public Health. Early in his work, he started the Environmental Hazards committee of the California Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) -- eventually joining and then chairing the national committee. His work was instrumental in creating the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program, as well as instigating laws on “right to know” regarding where and how much toxic chemicals were contaminating air, water, food and the workplace—notably, there was precious little information on actual toxic chemical exposures. As children can be more sensitive to toxic chemicals, and are generally more exposed to them than are adults, he advocated that the “safe” limits of these chemicals be set more stringently, first for children, then for pregnant women, and finally for the entire populations. He actively served on a related National Research Council committee that in 1993 issued the report Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, which became the policy structure for the national Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996.
In 1994 Jackson was invited to the CDC to become Director of the National Center for Environmental Health. While in this position, one he held for nine years, he had broad responsibilities and started the Environmental Health Tracking Program, the Asthma Epidemiology Program, and the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile for pandemics. A keystone in his work was his developing the policy and financial support for CDC’s Biomonitoring Program. This grew out of his understanding that: “to get robust studies, to know what people are actually exposed to, to find new threats and to celebrate successes; society needs real measurements, usually blood and urine levels, in actual people: young and old, rich and poor, sick and well.” Without these data, knowledge of human exposures is limited by the fragility of human memory and by the stridency of legal adversaries. As an example, without the CDC biomonitoring data, the concerns about population exposures to phthalates, bisphenyl A, even of low levels of tobacco smoke or of the metal lead, would still be a matter of speculation and opinion. And, CDC’s data offers information on Americans’ exposures to many pesticides, including those used in industrial agriculture in the fields of California. For this and other work, he received the Breast Cancer Fund’s Hero Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Public Health Law Association. Jackson’s work has also includes infectious disease control: he worked on smallpox eradication in India, and in California was head of Communicable Disease Control. He has been a longstanding advocate for reductions in the widespread use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in agriculture. He ultimately served as the California State Health Officer. In October of 2011, he was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
In recent years, Jackson has lectured and spoken on a variety of issues, with a particular focus on those related to the connections between the built environment and public health. He co-authored two Island Press Books: Urban Sprawl and Public Health published in 2004, and Making Healthy Places published in 2011. In 2012, he hosted a public television series, Designing Healthy Communities, and authored a book by the same name which focuses on the impact of the built environment on health, especially of children. He has served on numerous environmental and health boards, as well as the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects. In 2012 the AIA by election conferred on him an Honorary AIA, and also in that year he received the John Heinz Prize for Leadership in the Environment. Jackson has also received the highest honor of the American Public Health Association, the Sedgwick Memorial Medal. He and his wife Joan have 3 children: one a CDC physician, one a middle school teacher, and one a film-maker, and they have one grandchild.
Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being and Sustainability. Dannenberg, Frumkin, Jackson; Island Press www.makinghealthyplaces.org Aug 2011
Designing Healthy Communities Richard Jackson with Stacy Sinclair.
Designing Healthy Communities 4hr public television series www.designinghealthycommunities.org Feb 2012