Environmental toxicologist Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani will be awarded the 2015 Rachel Carson Prize for her work highlighting the impact of war on the environment and public health.
Savabieasfahani, who was born in Iran and is now based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, researches the link between the chemicals and metals left behind by the U.S. military after the 2003 Iraq invasion and the rise in birth defects in Iraqi cities. U.S. forces burned much of their military waste for years, exposing both soldiers and citizens.
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The Norway-based award committee credits Savabieasfahani with bringing public attention to this matter. The Rachel Carson Prize, which was announced on March 4, is given out every two years to a woman who has made significant contributions to the environment.
In an interview with Environmental Health News published on Wednesday, Savabieasfahani describes how her research teams, beginning in 2009, began to survey incidents of birth defects in the Iraqi cities of Hawijah, Basra, and Fallujah.
She said: “We collected hair samples from children and parents of children affected with birth defects. We used nail samples, hair samples and teeth of children. We found very high levels of mercury, lead, titanium and various toxic metals in hair of children and parents of children with disorders or birth defects, showing metal contamination has happened since 2003—with increased disorders and defects.”
The team’s findings matched samples of titanium and magnesium found in the lungs of U.S. veterans who had been exposed to burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Savabieasfahani says she is hoping to expand her research in Iraq, now that people “are more aware of the situation.”
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