Doctors Who Go the Extra Mile: Environmentally speaking...and doing

August 9, 1999

Louis A. Grecco

Doctors Who Go The Extra Mile

Louis A. Grecco, MD: Environmentally speaking . . . and doing

Many of the babies that ob/gyn Louis A. Grecco delivered in Staten Island,NY, in the 1970s had high Apgar scores. But as they moved through toddlerhood,an unusual number developed cognitive, hearing, and speech disorders. Greccowanted to know why.

The culprit, Grecco's research persuaded him, was the lead paint in theold houses his patients lived in. Thus began a concern about environmentalhazards that has shaped Grecco's practice and personal life ever since.

He established pre-conception counseling in which he warns his pa-tientsto avoid second-hand smoke, pesticides, dry-cleaning fluids, and excessiveconsumption of fish from unknown waters.

And he began a tireless campaign to remove pollutants from Staten Island'sair and water.

The toll booths at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge are a case in point.After the bridge linking Staten Island and Brooklyn was built, says JuneSkinnider, Grecco's office manager, "people waiting in their cars topay the tolls turned Staten Island into one big parking lot." The reportedincidence of miscarriage increased. "We tell women to stop smokingwhen they're pregnant," says Grecco, noting that carbon monoxide fromcar exhaust is similarly dangerous. Determined to banish the two-way tollsystem, he wrote reams of letters to newspaper editors, enlisted the supportof community groups, and testified at numerous government hearings.

"He's animated when he speaks and impassioned about the issues,so he motivates the public to get involved," says Camille Carbonaro,executive director of the Richmond County (Staten Island) Medical Society."And when he testifies, he doesn't speak off the top of his head; he'sspent a lot of time reading health-related environmental studies."

Grecco's efforts were rewarded in 1986 with the installation of a one-waysystem for tolls.

He's also spearheaded a decade-long series of health investigations ofStaten Island's Fresh Kills Landfill. "We still have work to do there,"Grecco says. "It's supposed to close in 2001, and we have to see thatit does."

Grecco chairs the Richmond County Medical Society's Public Health Committeeand the Medical Society of the State of New York's Environmental QualityCommittee. For his research on the health effects of air pollution and landfilltoxins, he was selected in 1992 to receive the federal government's TheodoreRoosevelt Conservation Award.

There have been many awards, but Grecco minimizes their importance. He'sprouder of the 350 babies he's delivered every year for the past 30. Accordingto Skinnider, he's a "conscientious, compassionate physician,"adept at soothing patients who have received problematic test results. "They'reupset when they go in, but they're calm when they come out," she says,adding that he explains everything thoroughly. "And if they don't understand,they can ask him more than once, and he won't make them feel stupid."

With a busy full-time practice, how can Grecco handle all those extracurricularlectures, testimonies, committee meetings, and letters to the editor? He'sdriven by three sources of inspiration: his grandchildren. "We haveto make sure," he says, "that the little ones who follow us getthe very best we have to offer."

By Anne L. Finger, Senior Editor



. Doctors Who Go the Extra Mile: Environmentally speaking...and doing.

Medical Economics

1999;15:91.