Avoid products made from polystyrene. Styrene, a suspected carcinogen, is primarily
used in the production of polystyrene, or Styrofoam, packaging, disposable cups, and other containers. Especially avoid storing acidic food and
drink--such as tea with lemon--in polystyrene containers, as they can hasten the
leaching of styrene into your food and drink.
Encourage your school
district to make choices that protect
the health of children.
Educate school administrators
about the importance of using natural, nontoxic solvents to clean school
buildings and following organic practices in tending playgrounds and playing
fields. Such steps can reduce children's exposure to compounds that mimic estrogen or otherwise disrupt hormones at a critical time in the children's
development. As a further precaution, ensure that your school district enforces
a policy of not allowing diesel-run school buses to stand idling. Diesel
exhaust emits polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have been
linked to cancers of the breast, lung, bladder, and skin.
Clear the Air
Replace your gasoline-powered lawnmower, leaf blower, and snow blower.
Gasoline-powered lawnmowers emit disproportionate amounts of pollution, as they tend to lack emissions control equipment. Choose an electric
lawnmower or, for an extra workout, use a push lawnmower. And replace gasoline-powered leaf blowers and snow blowers with electric ones. Better yet,
use human-powered tools--the rake and shovel.
offers information about precautionary steps people can take
to reduce exposure to suspect chemicals, whether in the home, community, nation, or world.
Airing Dirty Linen
Institute researchers have found elevated levels of a class of flame
retardants in the blood of California
residents, illustrating how toxins can creep into our homes even through
The scientists found double the amount of pentabromodiphenyl ethers, or penta-BDEs, in
Californians compared to the national average. They also found
these toxins in the dust of California homes
at four to ten times the levels found elsewhere in the United States and 200 times higher than in Europe. The most contaminated homes had levels
than ever before detected in household dust.
The study provides evidence that a flammability standard
unique to California--one that requires furniture to be fire resistant to an
open flame for 12 seconds--has led to an increased
exposure to penta-BDEs, which
manufacturers have added to polyurethane furniture foam to meet the standard.
Animal studies have linked polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, to thyroid
abnormalities, endocrine disruption, cancer, and learning disabilities.
"If you live in California, you are at far greater risk of exposure to toxic penta-BDE flame retardants than
if you live anywhere else in the country or the world," says lead author Dr. Ami Zota, a scientist at Silent Spring Institute. "These chemicals enter
the body when people breathe or ingest contaminated household dust. The health effects are particularly concerning for babies, children, and pregnant
These findings may have even broader implications for the
future, as state and federal governments consider imposing new fire safety
standards that would expand the use of flame retardants. The California legislature, for example, is now
considering extending flammability standards to bed linens, a change that would
encourage the use of potentially toxic flame retardants. In addition, the U.S.
Consumer Products Safety Commission is considering adopting fire standards for
furniture and bed linens.
In response to Silent Spring's findings, California
Assemblyman Mark Leno, a democrat from San Francisco,
sent a letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asking him to use his executive
power to ban the chemicals from furniture sold in California.
"We have a chemical and regulatory disaster on our hands," Leno wrote, "and
further studies under way now will only further document the grave error our
state has made."
"While we hate being the bearers
of bad news," says Julia Brody, PhD, executive director of the Institute,
"we're relieved that our research is being put to use as quickly as possible to
make homes safer in California."
Brody points to a range of
alternative strategies that can be adopted to address fire safety, such as
self-extinguishing cigarettes and smolder-resistant fabrics.
The peer-reviewed study was published in the October 1,
2008, online edition of Environmental
Science & Technology. To learn more, click here.
In Other News
A new analysis from Kaiser Permanente, a
major health care delivery system in California,
has found an increased risk of breast
cancer in women who used several common pharmaceuticals. The analysis was a
follow-up to earlier Silent Spring Institute research that had identified 47
pharmaceuticals as causes of mammary gland tumors in animal studies.
study estimated the breast cancer risk for eight pharmaceuticals among two
groups--women prescribed the drugs between
1969 and 1973 and women who took them
between 1994 and 2006. Three of the pharmaceuticals--furosemide, a diuretic;
griseofulvin, an antifungal; and metronidazole, an antibiotic--were associated
with small, yet statistically significant increases in breast cancer risk in one
or both groups. Results for indomethacin, an anti-inflammatory, and
nitrofurantoin, a treatment for urinary tract infection, showed small,
non-significant increased risks or no increased risk. The three remaining drugs
were prescribed too infrequently to allow conclusive results.
"We're delighted to see colleagues using our Mammary Carcinogens Database to generate and test
hypotheses that can inform medical practice and reduce breast cancer risk,"
says Julia Brody, PhD, executive director of Silent Spring Institute. "These
findings not only warrant further study of these drugs, but they also
underscore the importance of animal studies in identifying potential breast
carcinogens in humans."
To learn more, click here.
Bust, a new film that interweaves a fictional storyline with
documentary footage, explores the mounting
evidence linking breast cancer to chemical exposures. The film follows the
story of a woman with breast cancer who has none of the established risk
factors. As she questions what may have caused her cancer, the film focuses on
three areas with elevated rates of breast cancer: Cape Cod, the San Francisco
Bay Area, and Silicon Valley. Through stories
of communities in these areas, Toxic Bust
raises questions about the long-term health costs associated with early
childhood chemical exposure and reveals the disproportionate toxic burden that
low-income communities and workers carry. Dr. Julia Brody, executive director
of Silent Spring Institute, and Cheryl Osimo, the Institute's Cape Cod Coordinator, are both featured in the film. To learn more about the
film and to
watch a preview of it, click here.
- In October, cuts in the
budget eliminated $175,000 for continued work on Silent Spring Institute's
groundbreaking Household Exposure Study. This research, which explores how
women are exposed to endocrine disruptors from everyday sources, was launched
on Cape Cod and extended to California.
Silent Spring scientists had been planning to expand the number of homes
tested in Massachusetts next year.
is making a critical contribution nationally to the emerging field of
environmental health," says Ellen Parker, chair of the Institute's Board of
Directors. "Whether it focuses on toxins in plastic bottles or flame retardants
in furniture, Silent Spring's research is helping to identify and remove these
dangers to our health. The cut in state funding has struck at the core of the
the cuts, Silent Spring Institute had begun taking cost-saving measures, such
as suspending the search to fill vacant positions and cutting back on plans to
expand community outreach and communications programs. But these measures
cannot make up the difference.
"We recognize economic
uncertainties make this a difficult time for everyone," says Ellen Calmas, chair of Friends of Silent
Spring Institute. "But we're hoping our friends
will consider a
To help limit our exposure to suspect chemicals in our daily lives, we need to keep
this study alive."