Friends of Silent Spring Institute Bulletin
May 2008



Kernels of Truth: It may be time to resurrect that old-fashioned popcorn popper. Microwave popcorn tends to be sold in bags coated with perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a carcinogen often used to make food packaging resistant to grease. Microwave popcorn bags are among the worst applications of this coating, as the sudden burst of high heat helps the chemical leach into the food.

Coming Clean: New research suggests that hand washing can help protect people—especially children—from ingesting polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, from such everyday objects as remote controls and cell phones. PBDEs have been shown to affect hormone systems, to cause reproductive harm, and to affect learning and behavior in animal studies.

Silent Spring Institute offers information about precautionary steps to reduce exposure to suspect chemicals so more people can make informed decisions in their daily lives.

On Dangerous Ground

Our homes are our havens. Yet indoor environments tend to be three tobaby
ten times more toxic than outdoor environments. Chemicals build up indoors from a range of sources, from building materials to household cleaning supplies to personal care products. And those chemicals often stay: ventilation tends to be limited and chemicals degrade only slowly indoors, where they’re sheltered from sun, water, and temperature extremes.

Silent Spring Institute recently found that wood floor finishes used in some homes during the 1950s and 1960s may be a persistent, important, and overlooked source of exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Until they were banned in the 1970s because of their high toxicity, PCBs were widely used in industry, in construction, and in such domestic products as varnishes and caulks. PCBs have been associated with thyroid toxicity; effects on immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems; and a number of cancers, including breast cancer.

The researchers point out that many structures, including schools and public buildings, may still harbor PCB-containing floor finishes. The investigators found that current exposure to these floor finishes can be even more critical for some people than their diet.

“Our findings suggest that the exposure potential posed by historic use of PCBs in building materials may be significantly underestimated,” says Ruthann Rudel, senior scientist at Silent Spring Institute. “These results underscore the need for caution when using chemicals that haven’t been thoroughly tested. Even after they’re banned, carcinogens can persist in indoor environments for decades.” Silent Spring Institute published its findings in the January 17, 2008 issue of Environmental Health. Click for article





Kelley Tuthill
(Photo: Jim Walker/Courtesy of WCVB-TV5)

Save the Date

Annual Dinner to Benefit the Susan S. Bailis Breast Cancer Research Fund
Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pre-Event Research Briefing—5:45 p.m.; Reception—6:30 p.m.; Dinner and Program—7:15 p.m.; Dessert Buffet—9:00 p.m.
InterContinental Hotel, Boston
Honorees: Roberta Chafetz, owner of Arlene & Roberta jewelers, and Fredi Shonkoff, senior vice president of corporate relations at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts
Honorary Chairs: Joan and Ted Cutler, philanthropists and community leaders
Dinner Chairs: Paul Levy, president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Lynn Wiatrowski, executive vice president of Bank of America
Host: Kelley Tuthill, an investigative reporter with WCVB-TV5 in Boston. Tuthill has received acclaim for allowing television cameras to follow her through her own experience with breast cancer in an effort to raise awareness about the disease.
Click for photos of the kickoff event

Action Replay

  • Growing consumer concern over whether bisphenol A (BPA) poses a health risk has led Nalge Nunc International to announce that it will substitute its popular line of Nalgene water bottles—made from hard, clear, and nearly unbreakable polycarbonate—with BPA-free alternatives. In other news about the known hormone disruptor, major retailers in Canada have begun removing BPA-based food-related products such as baby bottles and sipping cups from store shelves, and Canada may be looking at banning BPA from its products altogether. And the U.S. National Toxicology Program recently released a draft report that noted “some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures.” Ruthann Rudel, senior scientist at Silent Spring Institute, was invited as an ad hoc member of the program’s Board of Scientific Counselors to review the report in June 2008. To read a related New York Times article, click here.
  • The Breast Cancer Fund recently released State of the Evidence 2008: The Connection between Breast Cancer and the Environment, which includes multiple references to the work of Silent Spring Institute. This fifth edition not only includes an analysis of 400 scientific studies on chemicals and radiation linked to increased breast cancer risk, but also details recommendations for research and policy changes aimed at reducing exposures and preventing breast cancer. To learn more, click here. To download a podcast about the report that includes comments by Julia Brody, executive director of Silent Spring Institute, click here.
  • Diesel emissions contain more than 40 air toxins, including carcinogens and fine particulate matter. A number of environmental organizations in Massachusetts recently launched the Diesel Pollution Campaign, whose goal is to reduce diesel emissions by 75 percent over the next decade. The groups are working to promote diesel legislation that would require all diesel vehicles owned, leased, or contracted by the state to be retrofitted with pollution control technology. For a video about diesel pollution in Massachusetts, click here.


Ellen Parker has been
named an Unsung Heroine.


Ali Criscitiello will climb Denali.

In Other News

  • The Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women has named Ellen Parker, chair of Silent Spring Institute’s Board of Directors, an Unsung Heroine. “Our Unsung Heroines,” says Linda Brantley, executive director of the commission, “are the women who quietly, without fanfare or recognition and usually behind the scenes, use their time, talent, spirit, and enthusiasm to enrich the lives of others.” Parker, a social worker in private practice in Newton, Massachusetts, is one of the founders of Silent Spring Institute.
  • This spring Boston resident Ali Criscitiello will climb Denali, the highest mountain in North America, to raise funds for Silent Spring Institute. Denali, meaning “The High One” in Athabaskan, rises 20,320 feet above sea level in the heart of Alaska. Criscitiello has chosen to climb Denali to challenge herself and to challenge others to support the Institute’s research. For more information, click here.
  • Silent Spring Institute has received a number of recent mentions in the news. The ABC affiliate in San Francisco, for example, reported on the Institute’s finding that nearly half the homes tested in Richmond, California, had indoor levels of particulate matter from oil refining that exceeded California’s air quality standards. And the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel included statements by Ruthann Rudel in a recent article on the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to evaluate household products for safety to children.