Queens College renamed its public health center to honor its founder, the late environmentalist, Barry Commoner. The former Center for the Biology of Natural Systems is now the Barry Commoner Center of Health and the Environment.
Widely recognized as the father of the environmental movement, scientist, teacher, and public advocate, Commoner influenced a generation through his speeches, books, and articles, beginning in the 1950s. He took on seminal environmental issues and proposed their solutions: energy in the 1970s, solid waste and recycling in the 1980s, global pollution in the 1990s, and the use of genetic knowledge in the 2000s. The biologist, who taught at Queens College in 1941, strongly believed in citizen participation and helped empower the public to form grass roots environmental groups.
After establishing the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems (CBNS) at Washington University, Commoner returned to Queens College in 1981, bringing the center with him. To honor this visionary man who died in 2012, the college has renamed CBNS the Barry Commoner Center of Health and the Environment. Steven Markowitz, M.D., an occupational medicine physician and epidemiologist, continues as its director.
The Center engages in many activities that support its mission to identify and help rectify environmental and occupational threats to human health. The Worker Health Protection Program, begun in 1998, has provided free medical screenings to detect occupational diseases to more than 30,000 nuclear weapons workers in seven states.
This includes the largest occupational lung cancer screening program in the world.
For nearly a decade following 9/11, the Center offered post-disaster health screenings and treatment to first-responders and those engaged in the cleanup.
Another priority is the health and safety of immigrant and low-wage workers. Said Markowitz: “Given what we learned from the illnesses related to Ground Zero exposure, it is critical to prevent post-disaster workers from becoming ill when we are uncertain about the hazards. We do this by educating them and providing them with proper protective equipment.”
These services were offered to post- Superstorm Sandy workers in Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Brentwood, Long Island in a partnership with the nonprofit immigrant-focused organization Make the Road NY (MRNY).
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