Our groundbreaking studies produce new knowledge about the health risks associated with cancer-causing chemicals where we live, work, and play. We are also developing new technologies and methods for reducing exposures to hazardous chemicals and helping manufacturers create safer products. These solutions hold great promise for preventing breast cancer and other diseases.
Silent Spring’s pioneering community-based approach to research, in which communities partner with scientists to answer critical questions, has transformed the field of environmental health. The approach has shown to improve science and health literacy, and is an effective strategy for translating research into better public health.
Since the Institute’s founding, our science has played a pivotal role in strengthening numerous policies at both the state and federal level to protect consumers from dangerous chemicals, while our scientific leadership has made breast cancer prevention a national research priority.
Our Pathway to Prevention
In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel published a landmark report, which called for, “the removal of carcinogens … from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation's productivity, and devastate American lives." To achieve that, the panel challenged the research community to come up with a new environmental health paradigm for diseases like breast cancer that can take years to develop—a scientific approach that would support action without definitive proof that certain chemicals cause human harm.
In response to that challenge, Silent Spring developed the Pathway to Prevention, a model of prevention science that starts by asking three scientific research questions:
- How do we identify chemicals that cause breast cancer?
- How are we exposed to cancer-causing chemicals?
- What are the health risks associated with these exposures?
Central to the model is the translation of our science into action, whether it’s empowering consumers to make healthier choices or informing new policies that support healthier communities. As we learn the answers to these questions, we work with policymakers, lawyers, advocates, and health professionals to ensure our research has impact and ultimately improves people’s lives.
In 1993, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health published for the first time cancer rates by town. Alarmed by reports of elevated breast cancer rates in eleven of fifteen towns on Cape Cod, members of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition called for a scientific investigation.
Fueled by the realization that decades of clinical research had failed to stem the tide of rising incidence rates, these activists wanted a new kind of study—one that focused on environmental links to the disease.
They founded “a laboratory of their own” and named it Silent Spring Institute in tribute to Rachel Carson, whose landmark book, Silent Spring, launched the modern environmental movement. Carson died of breast cancer just two years after her book was published in 1962.
With funding from a special appropriation by the Massachusetts legislature, the Institute assembled a scientific team to lead the Cape Cod Breast Cancer and Environment Study. The study became a national model for environmental health studies, providing public health researchers with new tools for studying environmental risk factors and disease, while laying the groundwork for future investigations.
Silent Spring has since grown into a national environmental health research organization with unique and unparalleled expertise on everyday exposures to environmental chemicals and community-engaged research.