Earth Log

Air-quality scientist David Lighthall, 61, dies

David Lighthall
David Lighthall Special to The Bee

Scientist David Lighthall investigated damaging effects of wood smoke on humans and detailed health risks among farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley. He was known among researchers, air quality leaders and the medical community for his curiosity and gentle spirit.

Mr. Lighthall, 61, died this week of cancer.

As a staff scientist for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, he helped develop an online system that now provides hourly pollution readings for more than 1,000 schools in the region.

His work on the effects of wood-burning fireplaces in 2008 was influential in tightening of wood-burning rules in the San Joaquin Valley, one of the country’s most polluted places. At the time, Mr. Lighthall was senior scientist at the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State University.

Mr. Lighthall became a staff science adviser to the air district in 2009. He was instrumental in starting ground-breaking research on the health impacts of air quality on children living in the Valley.

Recently, he had led the effort to characterize the amount of air pollution coming into the Valley from outside of the region, including pollution created in China.

“We are all saddened at his passing,” said air district executive director Seyed Sadredin. “He will be greatly missed.”

Mr. Lighthall was known in medical research circles, especially for a study he led on farmworker health issues while he was executive director of the California Institute for Rural Studies.

Tim Tyner, director of the Clinical Research Center at the Fresno office of the University of California, San Francisco, said he had tremendous respect for his thoughtful and often blunt insights over the last 10 years.

“He was a wonderful colleague and friend and will be missed terribly,” Tyner said.

Mr. Lighthall, a native of Iowa, earned a doctorate in geography at the University of Iowa. Among his other work experience, he researched toxic exposures and health outcomes in rural communities while he taught at Colgate University in New York.

He is survived by his wife, Mina Lighthall, and her four children.

A funeral service is planned at 4 p.m. Saturday at St. George Greek Orthodox Church, 2219 N. Orchard St., in Fresno.

Mark Grossi: 559-441-6316, @markgrossi