Underscoring the critical importance of the intersection of human health and an increasingly toxic environment, the third Women’s Health & the Environment Conference convened in Pittsburgh April 21 to empower women to make life healthier for themselves and their families.
The event, held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, was sponsored by Teresa Heinz along with the foundation she chairs, The Heinz Endowments, and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.
The full-day program highlighted problems and solutions from a nationally renowned group of experts, including two Obama administration leaders on health and environmental policy, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson.
These government leaders and two panels of experts representing a range of professions and points of view, offered the latest information on the effects of environmental toxins on human health.
They also translated the latest research findings and policy actions for women, who conference organizers believe are uniquely positioned to make changes to improve the health of themselves and their families.
“The more good information we get and the more questions we ask, the more we can make informed choices and live healthier lives,” said Teresa Heinz in explaining why she began the series of annual conferences directed to women 13 years ago in Boston and why a third was held in Pittsburgh. “Ignorance and indecision kill; knowledge and responsible action save lives.”
That conviction, from years of philanthropic and political work as one of the country’s most dedicated leaders on environmental issues, helped her navigate a personal health crisis last year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and began treatment.
She went public with her condition in December, believing her situation would draw more attention to the importance of medical research directed toward prevention and early detection.
“It has been part of my personal mission to persuade everyone from policymakers to individual women to study and to try to remove causes of disease and catch illness in its earliest stages,” Heinz wrote.
The conference was especially popular this year because it leads the region into a season of prominent environment-centered events, including a six-week celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and the culmination of World Environment Day, for which Pittsburgh has been designated the host city, June 5. More than 2,000—mostly women drawn from 13 states—have registered, filling it to capacity.
Recognizing the growing demand and the need to share conference information with as wide an audience as possible, the event was streamed live online for computer-screen viewing.