Silent Spring Institute

                                                   Friends of Silent Spring Institute Bulletin


                                                   December 2008
You Are What
You Eat

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.

Idle Threats
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.
Woman on couch reading

Airing Dirty Linen

Silent Spring 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 well-intentioned regulations.


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 higher 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 women."


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.



white pills

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.
    The Kaiser 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.
  • Toxic 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 Massachusetts state 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.

    "This research 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 Institute's research."

    Even before 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 special contribution now. To help limit our exposure to suspect chemicals in our daily lives, we need to keep this study alive."
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