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Silent Spring Institute

                                                   Friends of Silent Spring Institute Bulletin


                                                   July 2009
Forbidden Fruit

Learn the pesticide content of non-organic produce. According to the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides, the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide load tend to be peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, and strawberries, while those with the lowest pesticide load include onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, and sweet peas. If your budget for organic produce is limited, spend that money on organic alternatives to the fruits and vegetables that usually carry the highest pesticide load.


Something in the Air
Ensure your workspace is properly ventilated, both at home and at the office. Computers, monitors, printers, and copiers are all significant sources of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, which are flame retardants used in many commercial products. The chemicals are also endocrine disruptors that affect thyroid hormones. 
The Spray of the Land
Fight weeds without resorting to herbicides. Instead, prevent weeds by planting groundcover on open spaces and control weeds by pulling them out, spraying them with vinegar, or coating them with soapy water.
offers information about precautionary steps people can take to reduce exposure to suspect chemicals, whether in the home, community, nation, or world.
Chevron Oil Refinery

Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, California.

And Justice for All

Hollywood loves David-and-Goliath stories of communities holding corporations responsible for environmental callousness. Last month environmental activists were able to savor a victory that, though perhaps not dramatic enough for Tinseltown, is powerful nonetheless.


In a classic story of disadvantaged community pitted against powerful corporation, Chevron was forced to halt plans to expand its refinery in Richmond, California, which would have allowed the company to process heavier, dirtier crude oil. A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge ruled the company's environmental impact report inadequate, in a case brought by environmental, community, and public health groups.


One of those plaintiffs, Communities for a Better Environment, or CBE, a research partner of Silent Spring Institute, had been targeting Chevron's expansion plans for two years. To bolster its case, CBE used research from the Household Exposure Study in California -- a collaborative study of CBE, Silent Spring Institute, Brown University, and the University of California, Berkeley. This ongoing study places special focus on Richmond, whose community members experience disproportionately high disease rates from industrial pollution.


"The people of Richmond have long struggled with a series of toxic assaults on their neighborhoods," says Julia Brody, PhD, executive director of Silent Spring Institute. "This victory represents the power of collaboration between activists and scientists, and we are gratified that the Household Exposure Study has been able to play a significant role."


The Richmond Health Survey Report, released in June, is now available on the Silent Spring Institute website.

Advance Guard

Smallmouth bass, alligators, and even baby boys play roles in an early warning system of the dangers of pollution to endocrine development in animals and humans, columnist Nicholas Kristof recently observed in The New York Times. "Some of the first eerie signs of a potential health catastrophe," he wrote, "came as bizarre deformities in water animals, often in their sexual organs."

Kristof cited frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians that have begun to sprout extra legs; male alligators in a heavily polluted lake in Florida that have stunted genitals; and male smallmouth bass in the Potomac River watershed that now display female characteristics and can even produce eggs.

Kristof's message is not new to Silent Spring Institute, of course; the Institute has been reporting on hormonal pollutants in Cape Cod water since 1998.  What is new -- and welcome -- is the spotlight that Kristof has been able to shine on the problem through the popular press. His appearance earlier this month on The Colbert Report, for example, brought focus to the issues raised in the Endocrine Society's June 2009 report, which presents evidence that endocrine disruptors affect male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, the thyroid, metabolism, obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology.

To learn more, read Kristof's column on pollution and endocrine development, watch his interview on The Colbert Report, read his more recent column on phthalates, or access a summary of the Endocrine Society report.

Institute Briefs


A Healthier Future, a short video about the role Silent Spring Institute has played in helping to launch the green chemistry movement, is now available on the homepage of the Institute's website. "We need to really look systematically at pollution that's coming from everyday activities, and start to make sensible choices to bring exposures down," Julia Brody, PhD, executive director of Silent Spring Institute, states in the video. "You shouldn't have to go to the store with a magnifying glass and read the labels...You should be able to go to the store and know that that product has been assessed for whether it's going to affect your health."


The Green Decade Coalition/Newton recently recognized Silent Spring Institute with a 2009 Environmental Leadership Award for its work in fostering environmental awareness and activism. Julia Brody accepted the award on behalf of Silent Spring.


Silent Spring Institute researchers recently weighed in on the debate of whether it's better to avoid telling breastfeeding women the levels of environmental chemicals in their milk, for fear the women would discontinue breastfeeding. In the June 2009 issue of Breastfeeding Medicine, researchers Julia Brody and Ruthann Rudel, along with collaborators Rachel Morello-Frosch and Phil Brown, point out that women who were told their biomonitoring data in a Silent Spring Institute study were not overly alarmed when allowed the chance to assimilate the information, to understand the full context, and to interact with researchers. The Silent Spring study, "Pollution Comes Home and Gets Personal: Women's Experience of Household Chemical Exposure," is available on the Institute's website.

Accepting the Avon Foundation Award on behalf of Silent Spring Institute was Robin Dodson, ScD, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute (center).

In May, at the conclusion of  the seventh annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Boston, the Avon Foundation awarded Silent Spring Institute $200,000 to update breast cancer data in MassHEIS, an environmental information system that enables explorations into the health and environmental status of communities across Massachusetts. The grant will also fund research into strategies for incorporating environmental investigations into existing breast cancer cohort studies.


Take Action


Join Silent Spring Institute researchers in urging Massachusetts legislators to restore critical funding to the Toxics Use Reduction Institute, or TURI, at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. TURI protects public health and the environment by helping Massachusetts companies and communities reduce or eliminate their use of toxic chemicals. To send a message of support to your legislators, visit Help Save the Toxics Use Reduction Institute.

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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