Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD, MPH

Irva Hertz-Picciotto EHSC Headshot

Position Title
Director, Environmental Health Sciences Center


Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD, MPH, is an environmental epidemiologist committed to furthering our understanding of how both specific exposures and global climate or planetary changes harm health. Her work has tackled the effects of substances like metals, pesticides, air pollutants, organic compounds, and endocrine disruptors on cancer, pregnancy, perinatal outcomes, respiratory health, immune markers and neurodevelopment. Additional themes have included innovations in epidemiologic methods, and the interactions of environmental factors with nutrition, genetics, and social stressors.

Renowned for pioneering the field of environmental factors in etiology of autism, her research team has produced seminal papers covering an array of prenatal exposures. These studies demonstrated, and other investigations have replicated, associations of pesticides, traffic-related air pollution, low folic acid intake, maternal metabolic conditions such as obesity and diabetes, or untreated fever during pregnancy with the development of autism spectrum disorder or intellectual impairments in children.

Early in her career, Dr. Hertz-Picciotto authored what likely was the first report projecting health impacts from rising temperatures/climate change. More recently, she launched the WHAT-NOW study, which involves thousands of wildfire survivors across Northern California and examines the mental/emotional, physical, and social toll on health these disasters are taking.

Dr. Hertz-Picciotto has taught epidemiology on four continents, been elected President of two professional epidemiology organizations; served as Chair of five National Academy of Sciences and Medicine Panels on environmental threats to health; and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology. In 2018, Dr. Hertz-Picciotto was appointed to California's Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee.

Positions at UC Davis

Director, Environmental Health Sciences Center

Professor and Vice Chair for Research, Department of Public Health Sciences, School of Medicine

Director, Program on Environmental Epidemiology of Autism and Neurodevelopment, CHARGE (CHildhood Autism Risk from Genes and the Environment) and MARBLES (Markers of Autism Risk in Babies — Learning Early Signs) studies

Areas of expertise

  • Autism
  • Air pollution
  • Children’s health
  • Community health
  • Pesticides
  • Wildfires

Dr. Hertz-Picciotto sits on editorial boards of four major scientific journals in epidemiology, environmental health, and autism, has held appointments on state, national and international advisory panels including the US Environmental Protection Agency, National Toxicology Program, California Air Resources Board and National Institutes of Health Interagency Coordinating Committee on Autism Research, as well as the Food Safety in Europe Working Group.

She has served as President of two of the largest professional epidemiology societies and chaired the Expert Panel on the US Center for Disease Control’s Vaccine Safety Database for Studies of Autism and Thimerosal, and two National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine (IOM) panels, including on Agent Orange and Vietnam Veterans and in 2011 and the IOM Committee on Breast Cancer and the Environment. 

Major research papers

Hertz-Picciotto I, et al. 2022. Maternal tobacco smoking and offspring autism spectrum disorder or traits in ECHO cohorts. Autism Research, 15(3):551-569. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35199959/

Hamra GB, et al. 2021. Combining Effect Estimates Across Cohorts and Sufficient Adjustment Sets for Collaborative Research: A Simulation Study. Epidemiology, 32(3):421-424. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8012230/

Pham S, et al. 2020. Wearable Sensor System to Monitor Physical Activity and the Physiological Effects of Heat Exposure. Sensors (Basel), 20(3):855. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7039288/

Hertz-Picciotto I, et al. 2018. Organophosphate exposures during pregnancy and child neurodevelopment: Recommendations for essential policy reforms. PLoS Medicine, 15(10):e1002671. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6200179/

Hertz-Picciotto I, et al. 2018. Understanding environmental contributions to autism: Causal concepts and the state of science. Autism Research, 11(4):554-586. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29573218/

Kim D, et al. 2017. The joint effect of air pollution exposure and copy number variation on risk for autism. Autism Research, 10(9):1470-1480. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6364847/

Shelton JF,  et al. 2014. Neurodevelopmental disorders and prenatal residential proximity to agricultural pesticides: the CHARGE study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 122(10):1103-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4181917/

Lyall K, et al. 2014. Maternal lifestyle and environmental risk factors for autism spectrum disorders. International Journal of Epidemiology, 43(2):443-464. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997376/

Chaidez V, et al. 2012. Autism spectrum disorders in Hispanics and non-Hispanics. Autism, 16(4): 381–397. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4776658/ 

Howards PP, et al. 2012. Spontaneous abortion and a diet drug containing caffeine and ephedrine. PLoS ONE, 7(11): e50372. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23166844/ 

Krakowiak P, et al. 2012. Maternal metabolic conditions and risk for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Pediatrics, 129(5):e1121-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3340592/

Schmidt RJ, et al. 2012. Maternal periconceptional folic acid intake and risk for autism spectrum disorders in the CHARGE case-control study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(1):80-89. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374734/ 

Vogt R, et al. 2012. An assessment of exposures to toxins through diet among California residents. Environmental Health, 11:83. 

Tassone F, et al. 2011. MAOA, DBH and SLC6A4 variants in CHARGE: a case-control study of autism spectrum disorders. Autism Research, 4(4):250-261. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3151322/

Schmidt RJ, et al. 2011. The combined effects of maternal prenatal vitamin intake and common functional gene variants in folate and transmethylation pathways on risk for autism spectrum disorders in the CHARGE Study. Epidemiology, 22:476-485.

Zerbo O, et al. 2011. Month and season of conception as a risk factor for autism/autism spectrum disorders. Epidemiology, 22:469-475.

Education and Degree(s)
  • BA, Mathematics, University of California, Berkeley, 1970
  • MPH, Epidemiology, University of California, Berkeley, 1984
  • MA, Biostatistics, University of California, Berkeley, 1985
  • PhD, Epidemiology, University of California, Berkeley, 1989
Honors and Awards
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: John Goldsmith Award for Sustained and Outstanding Contributions to Environmental Epidemiology, bestowed by the ISEE (International Society for Environmental Epidemiology). Invitation to deliver the Keynote John Goldsmith Memor
  • Top Ten Papers of 2011 by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Autism Speaks for Schmidt et al. The combined effects of maternal prenatal vitamin intake and common functional gene variants in folate and transmethylation pathways on risk
Research Interests & Expertise
  • Autism
  • Air pollution
  • Children’s health
  • Community health
  • Pesticides
  • Wildfires