Staff

Julia G. Brody, PhD, Executive Director Jessica Helm, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Janet Ackerman, Research Assistant Amelia Jarvinen, Administrative Assistant
Kathleen Attfield, Staff Scientist Cheryl Osimo, Cape Cod Coordinator
Anna Claeys, Operations Coordinator Ruthann Rudel, MS, Director of Research
Cathy Cotton, Development and Communications Associate Kathryn M. Rodgers, MPH, Research Assistant
Diane Czwakiel, Administrative Manager Serena Ryan, Research Assistant
Rachel S. Danford, MS, Research Assistant Laurel Schaider, PhD, Research Scientist  
Robin E. Dodson, ScD, Research Scientist Oscar Zarate, Research Assistant
 
   

Julia G. Brody, PhD, Executive Director
Dr. Julia Brody, executive director of Silent Spring Institute, is a leader in research on breast cancer and the environment and in community-based research and public engagement in science. Brody’s current research focuses on methods for reporting to people on their own exposures to hormone disruptors and other emerging contaminants when the health effects are uncertain.

She also recently led a project connecting breast cancer advocacy and environmental justice in a study of household exposures to endocrine disruptors and air pollutants through a collaboration of Silent Spring Institute, Communities for a Better Environment (a California-based environmental justice organization), and researchers at Brown University and the University of California, Berkeley. Since 1996, Brody has been the principal investigator of the Cape Cod Breast Cancer and Environment Study, a case-control study of 2,100 women that includes testing for 89 endocrine disruptors in homes and historical exposure mapping. The study was the first to measure estrogenic activity in groundwater and drinking water. Results have been published in Environmental Health Perspectives and elsewhere.

Dr. Brody led a two-year review of scientific review of evidence on animal mammary gland carcinogens and epidemiologic studies of breast cancer and environmental pollutants, diet, body size, and physical activity, which was published in a special supplement to the American Cancer Society peer-reviewed journal, Cancer.

Brody’s research is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the New York Community Trust, and the Avon Foundation, among others. Her research collaborators include investigators at Harvard and Brown universities, the University of California, Berkeley, and elsewhere. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized her research with an Environmental Merit Award in 2000, and she has been honored by the Heroes Tribute of the Breast Cancer Fund. She presented one of the Distinguished Lectures at the National Cancer Institute in 2002 and the Keystone Science Lecture at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in 2009. She serves on the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council, appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and she is as an advisor to the California Breast Cancer Research Program and breast cancer activist organizations.

Dr. Brody is an adjunct assistant professor at the Brown University School of Medicine. She earned her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin and her AB at Harvard University.

Janet Ackerman, Research Assistant
Janet Ackerman has a background in biochemistry and biology. She is currently working with collaborators at UC Berkeley and EPA to develop chemical testing methods relevant to breast cancer. Since starting at Silent Spring Institute in 2010, she has also worked on projects related to measuring mammary carcinogens in people's bodies, understanding the impact of early life exposures on breast development and breast cancer risk, reducing exposures to endocrine disruptors from food packaging, and characterizing groundwater pollution from endocrine disruptors in wastewater.

Before starting at Silent Spring Institute, Ackerman contributed to research on pathogens in Boston-area waterways with the Mystic River Watershed Association. She has also investigated breakdown of dry-cleaning solvents in Florida groundwater and strategies for control of invasive plants in California.

Kathleen Attfield, Staff Scientist
Kathleen Attfield is a Staff Scientist with eleven years of experience in toxicology, biochemistry, urban ecology, and geographic information systems. She is currently researching methods for biological marker measurement of mammary carcinogens as a means to advance epidemiological research into environmental factors and breast cancer. This builds on the Institute’s review of environmental factors and breast cancer that appeared in the journal Cancer, for which Attfield reviewed toxicological literature and developed the online database of animal mammary gland carcinogens. Attfield also contributes to the ongoing development of the Massachusetts Health and Environment Information System, or MassHEIS, a web tool that delivers geographically based data to the public about the relationships between pollution and health outcomes.

Before joining Silent Spring Institute, Attfield gained experience in developing community methods for restoring urban natural resources, and conducted molecular biology laboratory research on early development gene expression control. Attfield earned her BSc with Honors in biochemistry from Brown University and is currently pursuing her doctorate in Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Anna Claeys, Operations Coordinator
Since joining Silent Spring Institute in 2000, Anna Claeys has supported its administrative and scientific staff. Currently she provides support in human resources, manages the Institute's website and donor database, and serves as the office’s information technology coordinator.

Claeys joined Silent Spring Institute because of her belief in the link between environmental pollutants and human health and her hope that knowledge about this link will lead to a cleaner environment. She graduated magna cum laude from Humboldt State University with a BA in religious studies and also earned a BFA in ceramics from MassArt where she graduated with distinction and departmental honors.

Cathy Cotton, Development and Communications Associate
Cathy Cotton joined the staff at Silent Spring in December 2012, and is focusing on broadening Silent Spring’s donor base and cultivating relationships with current donors and friends.

Cotton began her career in orchestra management, working for several years with the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras and later with Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA. She moved from concert production to event management , ultimately joining the Development department at Longy. In between were many years as a full-time parent, during which she served her community in numerous roles including president of the Parent-Teacher Organization. Cotton holds a bachelor of arts degree from Barnard College, Columbia University, and her interest in Silent Spring’s work stems from watching the incidence of breast cancer soar in her Newton neighborhood. She is an avid swimmer and would like to ensure that the lakes and beaches she frequents are not endangering the health of those who enjoy them.

Diane Czwakiel, Administrative Manager
Diane Czwakiel joined Silent Spring Institute as the administrative manager in 1998. Czwakiel oversees the financial management of the Institute. She manages human resources and oversees facilities.

Czwakiel graduated from Adelphi University with a BA in accounting, worked at Arthur Anderson CPAs for five years, and earned her Certified Public Accounting certification. After a variety of positions in New York, she moved to Massachusetts in 1994.

Rachel S. Danford, MS, Research Assistant
Rachel Danford is a Research Assistant with expertise in research on environmental attitudes and community involvement in environmental science.

Her current work focuses on ethical and effective ways of conducting community-based participatory research, including reporting individual exposure results to participants in studies that measure personal exposures.

Danford’s previous experience includes coordinating citizen science research in urban ecology, survey research in environmental attitudes and behavior, and work with the Urban Ecology Institute and the Franklin Park Zoo. She received her MS in environmental conservation and policy at UMass – Amherst and her ScB with honors in psychology from Brown University.

Robin E. Dodson, ScD, Research Scientist
Robin Dodson is a research scientist with expertise in exposure assessment and indoor air pollution. She is currently working on developing innovative exposure assessment methods for cohort studies and intervention studies aimed at reducing indoor pollution.

Dr. Dodson recently completed her doctorate in environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health. Working with Drs. Deborah Bennett, Jonathan Levy, James Shine, and Jack Spengler, she designed and conducted an exposure study in the Boston area focusing on residential and personal exposures to volatile organic compounds, such as chloroform from heated tap water, benzene from attached garages, and formaldehyde from home furnishings. She developed a model to evaluate the potential impacts of chemicals on residential exposure in secondary areas, such as basements, attached garages, and apartment hallways. She developed a personal exposure model based on time-weighted microenvironmental concentrations to determine how people are exposed to volatile organic compounds. In addition, she evaluated methods for leveraging existing residential concentration data to model residential concentrations for potential study populations. As a graduate student, she also contributed to two studies focusing on asthma in lower-socioeconomic-status urban residences in the Boston area.

Prior to her graduate work, Dr. Dodson worked at Menzie-Cura and Associates, where she contributed to both human and ecological risk assessments and the development of environmental health educational materials under a grant from the National Institutes of Health. In addition to her doctorate, Dr. Dodson holds a bachelor’s in environmental studies from Bates College, where she was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Academic Honor Society, and a master’s in environmental science and risk management from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Jessica Helm, Phd, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Jessica Helm joined Silent Spring Institute in 2014 for a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. Areas of focus include a smart-phone app to help people reduce their exposure to endocrine disruptors and other chemicals of concern, computational approaches to improve high-throughput screening of chemicals for breast cancer risk, and identifying sources of the highest exposures.

For her doctoral research, Dr. Helm studied cellular contributions to network function. She applied cluster analysis and electrophysiology to discover novel cortical interneuron subtypes. The subtypes use differing electrochemical signaling properties to diversify the processing capabilities of the cortical network. While a graduate student, she held leadership positions in the Sierra Club, where she led a team addressing hydraulic fracturing and created a citizen science watershed monitoring program. She currently serves on the Sierra Club Board of Directors.

Helm received her PhD in Neuroscience from Stony Brook University. She also studied neuronal calcium channels and synaptic mitochondria as a Research Assistant at the Yale University School of Medicine. She earned a BS in biology (cum laude) at Washington and Lee University.

Amelia Jarvinen, Administrative Assistant
Originally from Pennsylvania, Amelia Jarvinen moved to Boston after graduating from Oberlin College with a BA in History. Before joining Silent Spring Institute in 2013 as Administrative Assistant, Jarvinen worked with the Agriculture Research Department at Pennsylvania State University where she participated in research and published articles in the local Gettysburg Times. She developed a passion for non-profit work while serving as part of the administration team for the Fair Share Alliance, a national organization that fights for economic justice; and as a Research Volunteer for Nourish Boston, an organization that provides nutrition education to underserved families. Jarvinen was drawn to Silent Spring Institute because she shares the organization’s passion for probing the links between health and the environment.

Cheryl Osimo, Cape Cod Coordinator
As Cape coordinator, Cheryl Osimo organizes Silent Spring Institute’s education and outreach efforts, including conducting information sessions for Cape residents and organizations, convening public advisory committee meetings and other public forums, serving as liaison to media and local officials, and organizing programs and activities that support the Institute’s research agenda.

Osimo is an active member of several community-based health advocacy organizations, including the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, for which she serves as the coordinator of events and community outreach, and the Breast Cancer Advisory Committee for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Osimo’s community outreach to Cape residents has been honored by a number of civic and community groups and institutions, including Boston University, the Massachusetts Federation of Business and Professional Women, the National Women’s Health Network, and the State Senate of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She has received the Arthur H. Wilde Award for Distinguished Service to Community, an Official Citation in Recognition for being named Woman of the Year and for Commitment to Women’s Health, and the Community Service Award–Local Community. In 2009 she was appointed to a two-year term on the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, an independent state agency to advance women's equality statewide. In addition, Osimo was selected to participate as a presenter and mentor for first-time advocate reviewers participating in the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program. She earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Boston University.

Kathryn M. Rodgers, MPH, Research Assistant
Kathryn Rodgers is a research assistant with expertise in toxicology and risk assessment for public health. She is currently working on a comprehensive and critical review of primary epidemiological research articles to update Silent Spring Institute’s database of scientific research on environmental factors that may increase breast cancer risk. Additionally, she is examining uses, production, and health effects of a broad range of compounds as part of a flame retardant study.

Rodgers graduated from Boston University School of Public Health with a Masters in Public Health in environmental health as a merit scholar. She most recently worked with scientists at Boston University on an EPA-funded study to assess cumulative effects of interactions between chemical and non-chemical stressors in an environmental justice community. As her culminating experience at Boston University, she conducted a critical review of exposure, epidemiological, and toxicological data on an alternative phthalate, DINP, within the context of current regulations. She also worked with the Chelsea Board of Health on a noise sampling plan to inform development of a proposed noise ordinance from a public health standpoint. Working with Massachusetts General Hospital, she developed spatial representations of food availability using GIS for an intervention project to bring more healthy foods into an environmental justice neighborhood.

Rodgers’ previous research experience includes research on antioxidant mediation of MPTP-induced Parkinsonism as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Scholar. She also developed and taught a science curriculum for young children. Kathryn received her BS in Neuroscience with a minor in Marine Studies from Trinity College in Hartford, CT.

Ruthann Rudel, MS, Director of Research
Ruthann Rudel leads exposure and toxicology research programs focusing on endocrine active chemicals and on mechanisms by which chemicals may influence breast cancer risk. Her work in toxicology includes a review of early life exposure to chemicals that alter mammary gland development and implications for testing protocols and risk assessment, published in Environmental Health Perspectives. She also directed a major review of animal mammary gland carcinogens—published in Cancer in 2007—that compiled existing research on these carcinogens, reviewed key issues in study design and animal models, and synthesized information on exposure opportunities. She has published on toxicology and risk assessment for metals, indoor air pollutants, and endocrine disruptors. Her current research includes a project funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Program to transfer EPA's ToxCast cell culture assays into mammary tissue models and identify the assays that predict rodent mammary gland carcinogens.

Rudel has made major contributions to understanding exposures to semivolatile indoor pollutants, especially endocrine active chemicals. She directs Silent Spring Institute’s Household Exposure Study, which was described by Environmental Science & Technology as the “most comprehensive analysis to date” of exposures in homes and is widely cited. Rudel has expanded the initial study to include indoor and outdoor air, house dust, urine, blood, and self-reported exposure data from 170 participants in California and Massachusetts, leading to at least 16 peer-reviewed, exposure-related papers with more than 400 citations to date. Major contributions include identifying previously unrecognized sources of ongoing PCB exposures in homes and discovery that PBDE exposures are higher in California due to unique furniture flammability standards. Her current research seeks to identify biological and environmental measures of chemical exposure suitable for integration into existing breast cancer cohort studies, with target chemicals selected based on cancer bioassays and other experimental data.

Rudel’s research has been conducted in collaboration with co-investigators at Harvard, Brown, Tufts, UC-Berkeley, USGS, and the US Centers for Disease Control. She has an appointment as a Research Associate in the Brown University Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and has served on the US National Toxicology Program Board of Scientific Counselors and the Regulatory Affairs and Legislative Assistance Committee of the Society of Toxicology. Rudel is active in the area of regulatory toxicology and has participated in numerous environmental regulatory reviews for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Canada, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, and others and serves as an ad hoc manuscript reviewer for such journals as Environmental Science & Technology and Environmental Health Perspectives. Rudel earned her B.A. in chemistry and neuroscience from Oberlin College, and an M.S. in environmental management and policy from Tufts University. Ruthann has been co-leading Silent Spring Institute’s research program for 16 years, and prior to that worked as a consultant at Gradient Corporation.

Serena Ryan, Research Assistant
Serena Ryan is a Research Assistant with expertise in environmental science, chemistry, and community research. Her current work focuses on coordinating research on the ethics of reporting individual exposure results to study participants. She is also involved in research on environmental exposure data-sharing and privacy protection for study participants.

Ryan has prior experience working in the private, non-profit, and government sectors. Most recently, she provided technical support on environmental investigation and remediation projects throughout the country for a private consulting firm. Earlier, she worked with an environmental non-profit based in the northwest region of Cameroon, working with local volunteers to promote sustainable resource use, reduce poverty, and protect water supplies. She spent a summer at the US Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, where she conducted independent research and published a paper on the feasibility of remediating Superfund sites impacted by dense nonaqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) contamination.

Ryan graduated summa cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Environmental Studies. She is an alumnae of the College's prestigious Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute of Global Affairs where she gave a presentation to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on solutions to the Millennium Project's Water Challenge.

Laurel Schaider, PhD, Research Scientist
Laurel Schaider is a staff scientist with expertise in environmental contaminant fate and transport. She is responsible for Silent Spring Institute’s Cape Cod groundwater and drinking water research. Prior to joining Silent Spring, she worked as a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health in the Center for Children’s Environmental Health project at the Tar Creek Superfund Site in Oklahoma, an abandoned mining area heavily contaminated by mixtures of metals near a community with many residents of Native American descent. As part of this research, she investigated sources of heavy metals into Tar Creek and subsequent fate and transport of these metals. She also studied concentrations and chemical forms of metals in mine waste material that is stored in large piles throughout the site, focusing on size fractions most relevant for transport and exposure. She worked with several Native American tribes to measure metal accumulation in plants associated with subsistence practices. In addition, Dr. Schaider participated in a study of mercury biogeochemical cycling in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.

Dr. Schaider earned her PhD in Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied with David Sedlak, and an SB in Environmental Engineering Science from MIT. She has taught ecology and environmental engineering courses at MIT and Northeastern University.

Oscar Zarate, Research Assistant
Oscar Zarate is a research assistant with expertise in environmental policy and geographic information systems. His current work focuses on finding the best ways to share environmental exposure data online, so scientists can make fast, cost-effective progress while also protecting the privacy of people who participate in environmental studies.

Zarate graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor's in Environmental Science and Public Policy and a minor in Government. While at Harvard, Zarate led calculus workshops and completed a data mapping project exploring links between political factors and environmental progress in over 120 countries. He was also a member of the Harvard Council on Business and the Environment, where he researched market trends to help expand green companies in the Boston area.

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