Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences awarded to Bert Brunekreef

27 January 2011

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded the 2008 Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences (USD 150,000) to Professor Bert Brunekreef, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, for 'his environmental epidemiological research into air pollution and health'.

The topic

Environmental epidemiologist Bert Brunekreef began to question the health effects of home insulation during the oil crisis, when many home owners insulated their homes in an effort to reduce their energy bill. He demonstrated that children living in a damp home with mildew are much more likely to develop asthma. He also showed a close association between dust mite allergies and the quality of the air in the home. Brunekreef continues to track a group of people as part of his world-renowned PIAMA project (Prevention and Incidence of Asthma and Mite Allergy).

But Brunekreef is also a major influence when it comes to the outdoor environment. His name will forever be associated with the health standards for fine particle pollution. His studies led to the first Air Quality Standard in the United States. The European guidelines for fine particle pollution, which were incorporated into law in 2005, are based directly on his research.

Brunekreef was also the first to calculate the impact of living close to a busy motorway on child mortality and sickness.

The laureate

Bert Brunekreef (Utrecht, 1953) studied environmental science at Wageningen University, where he specialised in air pollution and environment and health. After receiving his PhD, he spent a year at the Harvard School of Public Health. He was appointed professor of Environmental Epidemiology at Wageningen University in 1993 and at Utrecht University in 2000. In 2005, Brunekreef founded the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences at Utrecht University. He is still the institute's director.

He is often asked to advise on health and environmental issues, both in the Netherlands and at international level. For example, he was a member of the WHO advisory committee for health and air pollution in Europe; he is currently a member of a committee set up by the Netherlands Health Council; and he has a seat on the Steering Committee of the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC). Brunekreef is highly committed to ensuring that steps are taken against air pollution.

His previous awards include the Goldsmith Award from the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology and the European Lung Foundation Award. Earlier this year he received an honorary PhD from Leuven University.

Examples of key publications

  • Brunekreef, B., Dockery, D.W., Speizer, F.E., Ware, J.H., Spengler, J.D. & Ferris, B.G. Home dampness and respiratory morbidity in children. In: Am Rev Respir Dis 1989; 140: 1363-1367
  • Brunekreef, B., Janssen, N.A., Hartog, J. de, Harssema, H., Knape, M,. & Vliet, P. van (1997). Air pollution from truck traffic and lung function in children living near motorways. In: Epidemiology 1997; 8:298-303
  • Hoek, G., Brunekreef, B., Goldbohm, S., Fischer, P.& Brandt, P.A. van den. (2002). Association between mortality and indicators of traffic-related air pollution in the Netherlands: a cohort study. In: The Lancet 2002; 3601203-1209
  • Brauer, M., Hoek, G., Van Vliet, P., Meliefste, K., Fischer, P.H., Wijga, A., et al. (2002). Air pollution from traffic and the development of respiratory infections and asthmatic and allergic symptoms in children. In: Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2002; 166: 1092-1098
  • Brunekreef, B., Holgate, S.T., Air Pollution and health. In: The Lancet 2002; 360: 1233-1242.

The prize

The Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences was established in 1990. Previous laureates include James Lovelock, Paul Ehrlich, Lonnie Thompson and Stuart Pimm. The jury was chaired by Gert-Jan van Heijst.

The presentation ceremony

The Heineken Prizes are presented every other year during an extraordinary meeting of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. This year the meeting will be held on Thursday 2 October at the Beurs van Berlage Building in Amsterdam.