“When people think of air pollution, they tend to think of smokestacks spewing nasty stuff into the air. Our research has shown that the indoor environment is an important, if not more important, source of exposure to harmful chemicals.” –Robin Dodson, Silent Spring Institute
Did you ever wonder what’s in all that dust accumulating under your couch? Silent Spring Institute has discovered that there is more lurking in it than pet hair and food crumbs. This past September, Silent Spring teamed up with fellow JMF grantee the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as George Washington University, to release the first comprehensive analysis of consumer product chemicals found in dust in American homes.
The dust study compiled data from more than two dozen previous studies and identified 45 potentially toxic chemicals in indoor dust, ten of which were found to be present in more than 90 percent of samples. Chemicals called phthalates that are used in food wrapping and fragrances were found at the highest levels, followed by phenols and flame retardants. The researchers then estimated how much of the chemicals from dust get into children’s bodies and summarized the health hazard information. The study was well covered by major news outlets such as the Washington Post and Newsweek.
Besides publishing groundbreaking articles such as this one, Silent Spring also spearheads the Healthy Green Campus Project, which works to integrate chemicals and health into sustainability programs in higher education. In its first two years, the project has focused on flame retardant chemicals in colleges in New England, evaluating the impact that different flammability standards are having on student exposure and supporting campuses in both transitioning to better standards and procuring less toxic products. This year, thanks to scientific information provided by Silent Spring and its other partners, the City of Boston decided to update its fire code to move away from toxic flame retardants in upholstered furniture. Now public spaces in the city, including its 30 higher education institutions, can be furnished with flame retardant-free furniture.
Three colleagues near and dear to The John Merck Fund – Dr. Philip Landrigan, Dr. Pete Myers, and Jeanne Rizzo – were recognized as Champions of Environmental Health Research by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) for their significant contributions to understanding how our environment influences the health of communities, families, and individuals worldwide. This is the first time in its history that the National Institutes of Health has bestowed this award.
Dr. Philip Landrigan is a pediatrician known for decades of work protecting children against environmental threats. Dr. Pete Myers is a founder of Environmental Health Sciences, and has been instrumental in creating the field of endocrine disruption science. Jeanne Rizzo is President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund, the only organization solely dedicated to the environmental causes of breast cancer.
“It’s a complex research field that needs the attention of top scientists, and I congratulate these awardees for their outstanding contributions,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
The champions were honored during an NIEHS 50th anniversary program on November 1 in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
JMF previously funded both Environmental Health Sciences and the Breast Cancer Fund, and in 2013 Myers was awarded JMF’s Frank Hatch Award for Enlightened Public Service, or “Sparkplug” Award.