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December / 2016

Silent Spring Institute

 “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.