UCSF School of Medicine Debuts Expansive Program to Educate Communities and Medical Professionals on Health Impacts of Environmental Chemicals

Three-year, $435,000 grant from Jonas Family Fund to Imbue Environmental Health Awareness and Action among Families, Community Programs and Health Care Systems

NEW YORK, October 17, 2016 – The Jonas Family Fund today announced the Jonas Environmental Health Education Project at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), a comprehensive plan to explore risks of environment and toxic chemicals on individual and public health and the role of prevention. The undertaking will also advance awareness among medical professionals of their role in addressing these issues in their clinics and in policy arenas.

The three-year, $435,000 grant will run through 2019 and support initiatives led by the UCSF School of Medicine, including the creation of a new environmental health course; advancing technologies to help families understand the environment’s influence on health; and integrating environmental health into regular health care.

“Our health – particularly that of our children – is under assault from myriad environmental contaminants,” said Lendri Purcell, granddaughter of Jonas Fund co-founders Barbara and Donald Jonas, and the Fund’s vice president of environmental health and youth development programming. “This project will considerably advance efforts to embed the various elements of environmental health into every aspect of the health care system, which will in turn support actions underway to prevent our exposure to toxic chemicals.”

Exposure to toxic environmental chemicals is a pressing issue the population faces:

  • 5 trillion pounds of industrial chemicals were produced in the U.S. in 2012 – more than 30,000 pounds for every American.[1]
  • Prime examples of chemicals in our everyday environment that are toxic to human brain development include pesticides, lead, flame retardants, mercury, phthalates, and air pollution.[2]
  • Research published by the NIH and others show that pesticides and toxins may lead to lower IQs, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.[3]
  • More than 80,000 chemicals found in everyday items – furniture, cosmetics, household cleaners, toys and even food – have not been adequately tested for effects on human health.[4]

“Our partnership with UCSF will serve as a ‘best practice’ model for how environmental health can be integrated into individual and community health care education and health care systems, on all levels,” said Purcell, a longtime advocate for eliminating environmental pollutants, who has worked to address the issue among individuals, including parents and families and the general public.

The grant supports four distinct but interconnected projects led by the UCSF School of Medicine:

  • New environmental health course designed as a model for health care institutions across the country.
  • The Environmental Health Initiative (EHI), a university-wide undertaking to integrate efforts of all UCSF schools and departments to incorporate environmental health into medical professional education, research and clinical care (e.g., a recent project of the EHI links UCSF pediatric and environmental health researchers to explore the link between asthma and formaldehyde, a widely used chemical in commerce).
  • Advancing technological tools, such as the SafetyNest app, that puts in people’s hands evidence-based, accessible information on how to reduce toxic chemical exposure.
  • Supporting UCSF engagement with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other government agencies to integrate environmental health into health care.

“This visionary partnership with the Jonas Family Fund deepens our institution’s longstanding commitment to safeguarding the public’s health,” said Daniel Lowenstein, M.D., the Robert B. and Ellinor Aird Professor of Neurology and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at UCSF. “We look forward to sharing all we know now – and all we will learn – with community members and medical professionals so one day soon – maybe in our children’s lifetimes, exposure to toxic environmental chemicals and related illnesses will barely be discernable.”

The Jonas Environmental Health Education Project expands on the recently launched Jonas Toxins Scholars Program which supports nursing students pursuing doctoral degrees with a focus or clinical expertise on the elimination of toxins in the environment or education and awareness about toxins. These doctoral-level scholars, representing top universities, will receive a $10,000 scholarship over two years (2016-2018), to be matched by their university.


About the Barbara and Donald Jonas Family Fund
The Barbara and Donald Jonas Family Fund was established in 2005 with monies raised through an auction at Christie’s of a portion of the family’s noted contemporary art collection. The Fund’s lead initiative is the Jonas Center for Nursing and Veterans Healthcare, a first-of-its-kind philanthropic program dedicated to advancing nursing scholarship, leadership and innovation. Other areas of focus include environmental health and low vision and blindness. To date, the Jonas Family Fund has awarded $25 million in grants.

[1] US Environmental Protection Agency.

[2] Project TENDR.

[3] The Atlantic, “The Toxins That Threaten Our Brains,” 3/18/14.

[4] Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).