Vision, Tenacity, Service Honored in 2016 Pearl Award

October 31, 2016
Ann Cornell

This post was authored by Ann Cornell, President of the Cornell Douglas Foundation.

The Jean and Leslie Douglas Pearl Award is given to organizations and to individuals who are dedicated to improving the lives of others and to providing a sustainable earth for future generations. Despite challenges which often confront the recipients, they are committed to act as catalysts for positive change, and determined to promote the rights of individuals to live in a world with clean water, air, and sustainable land.

The Cornell Douglas Foundation applauds its recipients’ unique vision, tenacity, and extraordinary accomplishments. The foundation created this award in honor of Jean Douglas and Leslie Douglas, whose lives exemplified these ideals.

The Cornell Douglas Foundation is very pleased to announce the recipients of the fourth annual Jean and Leslie Douglas Pearl Award of 2016.

Curt Ellis

Curt Ellis

After growing up in Oregon and finding his passion for food and agriculture at The Mountain School and Yale, Curt moved to Iowa to investigate the role of subsidized commodities in the American obesity epidemic. The film he co-created there, King Corn, produced with Ian Cheney and Aaron Woolf, received a national theatrical release and PBS broadcast, sparked policy discussion around the Farm Bill, and earned a George Foster Peabody Award.

While touring college campuses with the film, Curt was struck by the number of young people who shared his passion for food and agriculture, and who were eager to commit themselves to the work of creating a more equitable, healthful and sustainable food system.

 In 2009, Curt and five co-founders began developing FoodCorps, the national nonprofit he now leads to connect kids to healthy food in school. Rapid expansion has led FoodCorps to work across 18 states, where its 215 AmeriCorps members build school gardens, improve school lunches, and transform schools into healthy places for children to eat, learn and grow.  Ellis frequently speaks on college campuses, to the media, and others as an advocate for sustainable agriculture and healthy food.

Marc Edwards and the Flint Water Study Team

Marc Edwards

Marc Edwards, an environmental engineer, has devoted his scientific career to research that addresses real-world issues at the nexus of water infrastructure and public health. His research group aspires to pursue science as a public good, through laboratory work on practically important but underfunded topics such as corrosion in buildings and opportunistic premise plumbing pathogens.

Those efforts also provided groundwork for investigative science uncovering the depths of deceit associated with the 2001-2004 D.C. lead crisis and the 2014-2016 Flint water disaster. In Flint, Dr. Edwards and the “Flint Water Study” team launched an "open science" research collaboration with Flint residents that revealed high levels of lead, Legionella bacteria, and extensive damage to the city’s water infrastructure due to the failure to implement federal corrosion control laws. Undaunted by attempts to discredit their work, they fought against agencies which were failing to follow the law, and educated residents about the serious public health risks.

The team ultimately galvanized local, state and federal agencies into action, culminating in the declaration of a national “Public Health Emergency” by President Barack Obama, which has led to over $500 million in financial, health and infrastructure assistance for Flint residents. The work also prompted a long overdue debate on water infrastructure in America.

Raina Rippel and the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project

Raina Rippel

In 2011, Raina Rippel helped found the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (EHP) in response to growing concerns associated with gas drilling activity and health impacts in Washington County, PA.  Trained in community organizing, Rippel heads up a team of consultants and interns with expertise in healthcare, public health research, toxicology, air and water quality, strategic development, and community organizing, in developing a public health response to unconventional natural gas development.

EHP gathers data from residents of Southwest PA and beyond, on the most probable health impacts from oil and gas development, routes of exposures, best-practice air and water monitoring tools and guidance, and associated, accessible and effective interventions for individuals and households. EHP receives no state or national funding and is entirely funded by private foundations.

EHP partners with Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab to distribute monitoring technologies to residents. It has worked on community-based participatory research with academic partners from Yale’s School of Medicine, the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, and SUNY Albany, as well as with NGOs including Earthworks, the Clean Air Council, and the Heinz Air Collaborative. EHP is a member of the Protect Our Children coalition and the Protect PA coalition.

Laura N. Vandenberg, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Laura Vandenberg

Laura Vandenberg, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

Dr. Vandenberg does research on how low level exposures to endocrine disruptors—or chemicals that interfere with hormones in the body-- can induce diseases including infertility, metabolic syndrome, and breast cancer. Dr. Vandenberg has contributed to ongoing discussions in the scientific community about how to best evaluate endocrine disruptors for their potential to cause harm to humans and wildlife. She evaluates issues that affect risk and hazard assessments for these chemicals, including evidence of low dose effects and vulnerable periods of susceptibility, evaluating weight of evidence, and identifying the most sensitive endpoints that are predictive of disease.

Dr. Vandenberg earned her BS degree from Cornell University in 2003 and her PhD from Tufts University School of Medicine in 2008. She is an author on more than 55 peer reviewed papers and eight book chapters. She has served on a number of US and international expert panels to assess endocrine disrupting chemicals. She regularly contributes editorials and articles to newspapers and online publications as a means of communicating the science of endocrine disruption to the public.

Ann Cornell is the President of the Cornell Douglas Foundation, a private, non-operating foundation established in 2006. Its mission is to provide small grants to organizations promoting the vision of the foundation: advocating for environmental health and justice, encouraging stewardship of the environment, and furthering respect for sustainability of resources.

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