John Balmes

John R. Balmes, MD

Professor of Medicine
Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine
San Francisco, CA 94143-0843

Professor of Environmental Health Sciences
University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health
Berkeley, CA 94720-7360

UCSF: 415-206-8953
UCB: 510-643-4702
Creative Achievements
Demonstrated that:

  • People with asthma have increased airway inflammation after exposure to ozone compared to those without asthma;
  • Wildland firefighters have decreased lung function after a fire season as compared to their pre-season baseline values;
  • Air pollution in California’s San Joaquin Valley is associated exacerbations of asthma and decreased lung function in children;
  • Occupational exposures to vapors, gases, dusts, and fumes increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease;
  • Short-term exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke causes acute cardiovascular effects;
  • A chimney stove intervention (compared to a traditional open fire) can reduce risk of early childhood pneumonia in rural Guatemala.

Current Research Interests

  • Acute cardiovascular effects of ozone in older persons (controlled human exposure study)
  • Chronic effects of traffic-related air pollution on lung function, immune function, obesity and diabetes (epidemiologic study)
  • Acute respiratory and cardiovascular effects of secondhand tobacco smoke (controlled human exposure studies)
  • Effects of arsenic in drinking water on lung function (epidemiologic study)
  • Association between fine particulate pollution and risk of hospitalization for cardiovascular disease (epidemiologic study)
  • Interventions to reduce exposure to biomass smoke from domestic cooking in developing countries (randomized controlled trials)

Dr. Balmes received his M.D. degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in 1976. After internal medicine training at Mount Sinai and pulmonary subspecialty, occupational medicine, and research training at Yale, he joined the faculty of USC in 1982. He joined the faculty at UCSF in 1986 and is currently Professor and Division Chief of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH). He joined the faculty at the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley in 2002. His major academic activities include his research laboratory, several collaborative epidemiological research projects, various advisory and editorial committees, and direction of the COEH since 2000.

Dr. Balmes' laboratory, the Human Exposure Laboratory (HEL), has been studying the respiratory and cardiovascular health effects of various air pollutants for over 25 years. Recently, the HEL has been focusing on the acute effects of ozone, secondhand tobacco smoke, and wood smoke. The HEL was the first group to demonstrate a) histological evidence of ozone-induced airway injury and inflammation in human subjects, b) that asthmatic subjects have greater inflammatory responses to ozone than normal subjects, c) that asthmatic subjects recruit macrophages to the airways with consecutive day exposures, and d) exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke causes endothelial dysfunction. The lab is currently studying the impact of a genetic polymorphism of the antioxidant enzyme, Glutathione-S-transferase M1, on the susceptibility of asthmatic subjects to the combined effects of an allergen and ozone. We are also studying the relationship of acute airway inflammatory responses to acute cardiovascular responses after both ozone and secondhand tobacco smoke.

Dr. Balmes is also collaborating on several epidemiological projects. One such project is called the Children's Health Air Pollution Study (CHAPS). The overall specific aim of CHAPS is to determine relationships between air pollution and children’s health, including birth defects, pre-term birth, asthma, immune function, obesity, and glucose dysregulation. A second project Chronic Respiratory Effects of Early Childhood Exposure to Respirable Particulate Matter (CRECER) involves longitudinal study of the effects of biomass smoke exposure on chronic respiratory health of ~500 young children in rural Guatemala. A third line of research involves the effects of arsenic in drinking water on lung health Chile. Yet another project, involves the effect of chronic exposure to hydrogen sulfide on asthma and lung function in Rotorua, New Zealand (

Occupational and Environmental Lung Disease, Interdepartmental Studies 102b (UCSF)

Introduction to Environmental Health Sciences, PH 150b (undergraduate) and PH 270 (graduate) (UC Berkeley)

  • Environmental/Occupational Medicine Academic Award, NIEHS, 1991-1996
  • Clean Air Research Award, American Lung Association of San Francisco and San Mateo, 1997
  • Clean Air Award, American Lung Association of California, 1999
  • Jean Spencer Felton Award for Excellence in Scientific Writing, Western Occupational and Environmental Medicine Association, 2002
  • Robert A. Kehoe Award of Merit, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2006
  • Carl Moyer Award for Scientific Leadership and Technical Excellence, Coalition for Clean Air, 2006
  • Rutherford T. Johnstone Award for Exemplary Contributions to the Field of Occupational Medicine,
  • Western Occupational and Environmental Medical Association, 2010
  • Robert M. Zweig Memorial Clean Air Hero Award, South Coast Air Quality Management District, 2012

Recent Publications

  • Chen C, Arjomandi M, Tager IB, Holland N, Balmes J.  Effects of antioxidant enzyme polymorphisms on ozone-induced lung function changes.  Eur Respir J 2007; 30:677-683.
  • Chen C, Arjomandi M, Balmes J, Tager I, Holland N.  Effects of chronic and acute ozone exposure on lipid peroxidation and antioxidant capacity in healthy young adults.  Environ Health Perspect 2007;115:1732-1737.
  • Heiss C, Amabile N, Lee AC, Real WM, Schick SF, Lao D, Wong ML, Sarah Jahn S, Angeli FS, Minasi P, Springer ML, Hammond SK, Glantz SA, Grossman W, Balmes JR, Yeghiazarians Y.  Brief secondhand smoke exposure depresses EPC activity and endothelial function: sustained vascular injury and blunted NO production.  J Am Coll Cardiol 2008;51:1760-1771.
  • Blanc P, Iribarren C, Trupin L, Earnest G, Katz P, Balmes J, Sidney S, Eisner M,.  Occupational exposures and the risk of COPD: dusty trades revisited.  Thorax 2009;64:6-12.
  • Balmes JR, Earnest G, Katz PP, Yelin EH, Eisner MD, Chen H, Trupin L, Lurmann F, Blanc PD.  Exposure to traffic: lung function and health status in adults with asthma.  J Allergy Clin Immunol 2009;123:626-631.
  • Arjomandi M, Seward J, Gotway MB, Nishimura S, Fulton GP, Thundiyil J, King TE, Harber P, Balmes J. Low prevalence of chronic beryllium disease among workers at a nuclear weapons research and development facility.  J Occup Environ Med 2010;52:647-652.
  • Mann JK, Balmes JR, Bruckner TA, Mortimer KM, Margolis HG, Pratt B, Hammond SK, Lurmann F, Tager IB.  Short-term effects of air pollution on wheeze in asthmatic children in Fresno, California.  Environ Health Perspect 2010;118:1497-502.
  • Nadeau K, McDonald-Hyman C, Noth EM, Pratt B, Hammond SK, Balmes J, Tager I. Ambient air pollution impairs regulatory T-cell function in asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2010;126:845-852.
  • Dauphiné DC, Ferreccio C, Guntur S, Yuan Y, Hammond SK, Balmes J, Smith AH, Steinmaus C. Lung function in adults following in utero and childhood exposure to arsenic in drinking water: preliminary findings. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 2011.
  • Smith KR, McCracken JP, Weber MW, Hubbard A, Jenny A, Thompson L, Balmes J, Diaz A, Arana B, Bruce N.  RESPIRE: A Randomised Controlled Trial of the impact of reducing household air pollution on childhood pneumonia in Guatemala.  The Lancet 2011.

Public and University Service

  • Director, Center for Occupational and Environmental Health
  • Member, California Air Resources Board