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Silent Spring Institute

                                                   Friends of Silent Spring Institute Bulletin


                                                   February 2009
Sweet Smell of Excess

Avoid wearing perfume and using other products with fragrance. Phthalates -- endocrine disrupting compounds that have been associated with cancer, impaired fertility, and male birth defects -- often appear as an ingredient in fragrance. In one ironic example, the perfume Poison contains ingredients that have been linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and immunotoxicity, according to Skin Deep, the online cosmetic safety database.


The Big Seep
Don't store gas-powered engines, gasoline, or solvents in your basement or attached garage, as the fumes may escape into your home. If you have no choice but to keep such hazards in a space adjoining your living area, store them in airtight containers, ventilate the area, and open the space to outdoor air when possible. 
Mind the Gap
To remain healthy, adopt a healthy skepticism about industry assurances of product safety. Remember that the statement that there's no evidence a chemical causes harm doesn't mean the chemical has been tested. Of the 3,000 high-production chemicals used in the United States, only 7 percent have been tested using a standard battery of toxicity tests.
offers information about precautionary steps people can take to reduce exposure to suspect chemicals, whether in the home, community, nation, or world.

Home Truths

Despite information campaigns that warn consumers about chemical risks from household and personal care products, women still fail to make the connection between those products and their personal exposure to harmful chemicals, according to research based on Silent Spring Institute's Household Exposure Study.


"People more readily equate pollution with large-scale contamination and environmental disasters," says sociologist Rebecca Gasior Altman, the study's lead author. "Yet the products and activities that form the backdrop to our everyday lives -- electronics, cleaners, beauty products, food packaging -- are a significant source of daily personal chemical exposure that accumulates over time."


The Silent Spring Institute team examined how women in the Household Exposure Study responded when they learned specific information about chemical contamination in their homes and bodies. After the researchers reviewed the personal chemical exposure data with the women in an effort to educate them, most of the women expressed surprise at the number of contaminants detected -- an average of 20 per home. The women also had difficulty at first relating the chemical results for their homes with their images of environmental pollution.


"Pollution from household and personal care products remains a blind spot for society, " says Julia Brody, PhD, executive director of Silent Spring Institute and one of the study coauthors. "This study highlights the critical need for more effective communication of the risk from everyday products."


The study, "Pollution Come Home and Gets Personal: Women's Experience of Household Chemical Exposure," appeared in the December 2008 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

auto exhaust

Watching the Detectives

"How do we know the gunshot killed the victim?" Julia Brody asked in her December testimony to the President's Cancer Panel on environmental factors in cancer. "The evidence is observational, not experimental, but we may see the entire causal pathway. The gun was raised and fired, the bullet entered a vital organ, and the victim fell to the ground. Or perhaps no witness saw the gun, but the bullet was found and matches the wound."

Brody went on to provide a parallel with exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs -- products of combustion that have been linked to breast cancer development. PAHs are found in vehicle exhaust, air pollution, tobacco smoke, and grilled food.

"We can't see this gunshot, though we can detect it with expensive laboratory tests," said Brody, executive director of Silent Spring Institute. "The gun may have been fired 20 to 60 years before a breast cancer is apparent. The bullet didn't enter the body through the breast. It occurs in conjunction with a lifetime of other contaminants. This gunshot doesn't always kill -- only a fraction of exposed women are affected. And the cause-and-effect picture is harder to discern because many breast cancers occur for other reasons. With this kind of gun, we have a difficult detective job indeed."

Brody suggested that we stop allowing medical research paradigms -- those based on human clinical trials and epidemiological studies -- to impede progress in environmental health. "Instead," she said, "we must build an environmental health paradigm for long-latency disease in which we rely on animal and cell studies of biological mechanisms coupled with human exposure studies, using these types of evidence as a basis for public health intervention to reduce exposure."

To read Brody's full testimony, which teases out the challenges of research into environmental causes of breast cancer, click here.


Search and Rescue


Nearly everyone is feeling a pinch -- or even a squeeze -- from the economic downturn. So Silent Spring Institute is delighted to be able to suggest two easy ways its friends can support its research and educational programs. The first is though GoodSearch, a Yahoo-powered search engine that donates a penny every time you search the Internet from its site. Simply make GoodSearch your homepage, select Silent Spring Institute as your favorite charity, and use the site whenever you search the Internet. Visit www.GoodSearch.com.


The Institute has also registered with two free online shopping sites that will donate a portion of your purchase to Silent Spring Institute. The iGive online mall, which has more than 680 brand-name stores, will donate up to 26 percent of your purchase; simply register at www.iGive.com/SilentSpring. The other site, GoodShop, partners with hundreds of merchants to provide donations of up to 20 percent to registered nonprofits. Visit www.GoodShop.com, type in Silent Spring Institute, and click through to your favorite merchant's site.



Leading Light


The Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition recently honored Amy Present, a member of Silent Spring Institute's Board of Directors, with the Marla J. Frazin Award for her work with the coalition as well as for her role in founding Silent Spring Institute.


Pictured, from left, are Ellen Parker, chair of Silent Spring's Board of Directors; Deborah Shields, executive director of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition; Amy Present; Cheryl Osimo, Cape Cod coordinator for Silent Spring Institute; and Lisa Blacher, Amy's sister.


Save the Date


Annual Dinner to Benefit the

Susan S. Bailis Breast Cancer Research Fund

Thursday, May 14, 2009

InterContinental Hotel, Boston



  • Tammy Kumin - Cofounder of Concierge Services for Students
  • Phil Brown, PhD - Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at Brown University

Dinner Chairs:

  • Joan Alfond
  • Belinda Termeer
29 Crafts Street, Newton, MA 02458
  We welcome your feedback. Please send your comments to info@silentspring.org.

To make a tax-deductible contribution to Silent Spring Institute,
call 617-332-4288, ext. 222, or visit www.silentspring.org/support-our-work.


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