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Science Update


Obesogens Behind Obese Babies

For 20 years, MERI has been documenting the impacts of toxic chemicals on ocean life and human health. Recent research indicates a strong correlation between chemicals, obesity and diabetes, and the cause appears to be prenatal exposure to pollutants in the environment – chemicals that have been dubbed “obesogens.” Read More >

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Clean Up Chaos

This August, with funding from the Gulf Restoration Network, the nonprofit public interest law firm Earthjustice co-authored “The Chaos Of Clean Up: Analysis of Potential Health and Environmental Impacts of Chemicals in Dispersant Products”. This was in response to widespread concern about the safety of chemicals used to disperse oil during the Deepwater Horizon disaster April 2010. Read More >

“Halogenated Flame Retardants: Do the Fire Safety Benefits Justify the Risks?”

A breakthrough review article recently published in the international journal Reviews on Environmental Health questions whether many of the flame retardants added to consumer products actually save lives during fire events. Read More >

New Bill Would Let Federal Health Researchers Ban Certain Chemicals

A new bill could alter the landscape of chemical regulation in the United States by empowering researchers to take swift action against the most potentially harmful chemicals in use today. Among the chemicals that could be subject to a ban is bisphenol A, (BPA), a hormone-disrupting substance widely used in plastics and the target of controversy in recent months. Read More >



From the Director


The Big Fix Documents Consequences of Gulf Oil Spill on People and Wildlife

MERI Director Dr. Susan Shaw recently co-hosted a post-screening event for The Big Fix, a new and highly acclaimed documentary film by Josh and Rebecca Tickell (Green Planet Productions) about the human and ecological tragedy of the Gulf oil spill. The only Official Selection documentary at the Cannes Film Festival, the film featured Dr. Shaw who dove into the oil slick and was the first scientist to speak publicly about the dangers of the Corexit dispersant.

The New York film premier included a weeklong series of screenings called “7 Nights of Awareness.” Speaking at the event, Dr. Shaw expressed her grief at the damage and suffering caused by the oil spill. Audience response to the film was shock and outrage. The film will be distributed in 2012. Read the NY Times film review here. Watch the Official Trailer here.

Did Chemicals Contribute to Seal Deaths?

Yet another unexplained harbor seal die-off has occurred along the New England coast. Since September, 146 seal pups have washed ashore from Maine to Massachusetts. According to NOAA, this fatality rate is more than three times the average number that typically occurs this time of year. MERI strongly suspects that high levels of toxic chemicals in their tissues may be suppressing their immune system, making the seals susceptible to viruses and other pathogens. Read More >

Letter from Brussels: Sparks Fly in Over Expansion of Flame Retardants

Dear Friends,

It is Day 4 of the week-long Dioxin 2011 Symposium in stormy Brussels, where flame retardants triggered quite a heated debate between scientists and bromine industry lobbyists. With hurricane Irene approaching the Northeast, I must fly out tomorrow. But today in Brussels the sparks are flying! Read More >

Ocean Crisis Escalates Part I

Leading ocean scientists concur that we are coming to the end of the oceans unless human activities radically change – the combined effects of pollution, overfishing, and climate change are killing ocean life faster than predicted, and could lead to a globally significant marine extinction within one generation.
Read More >

Ocean Crisis Escalates Part II

Healing Our Toxic Seas

It is abundantly clear that the oceans cannot contain or dilute the billions of toxic substances we are releasing into them every year. With each generation, the toxicity is increasing, whether it is coming from flame retardants in consumer products or from oil spill dispersants. At MERI, we believe that this negative cycle must be broken during our lifetime. Read More >



Coastal Monitoring Report


Microplastics: Invisible Danger in the Sea

Microscopic plastic particles in the ocean pose an increasing threat to marine life. What’s in your bathroom cabinet – skin cleanser, body scrub, toothpaste and other items – is finding its way into coastal waters and ending up in the cells of marine animals. These microplastics, invisible to the naked eye, could ultimately be found in the seafood you eat. Read More >

State of the Bay, 2010 Report

Since 2004 MERI’s Coastal Monitoring Program has produced a set of data that is beginning to define the Blue Hill Bay ecosystem. With eight years of research to interpret, Dr. Shaw will be presenting the finings at the Blue Hill Bay Symposium in Blue Hill Town Hall on November 18th, and we will deliver the first State of Blue Hill Bay Report early next year. Read More >

It's not called "Red Tide" anymore...

This coastal phenomenon still occurs but Red Tide is now referred to as Harmful Algal Blooms or HABs. The new term may not be as dramatic but it is certainly more accurate. Read More >





MERI People: MVP Staff Award 2011

Dylan Post is a recent addition to the MERI family, joining us as Communications and Technology Associate this past June. Dylan grew up in Kennebunk and graduated from the University of Maine-Orono in 2010 with a bachelor's in Communications (Advertising) and a minor in Digital Art.

Dylan is MERI's in-house information technology guru while also bringing considerable experience in graphic design and branding to bear on strengthening our branding and media presence through the MERI website, MERI Insider, MERI eNEWS, and external communications.
Read More >

MERI Staff Profile

This summer the MERI coastal monitoring intern position was filled by Erin Soucy working alongside Coastal Monitoring Coordinator Meggan Dwyer. Erin grew up in New Hampshire and graduated from St. Andrew’s University Scotland with a Master’s of Research in Marine Mammal Science following a BA in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic where she volunteered with the Allied Whale marine mammal research group. Read More >

Advisory Board Member Honored

Kudos to MERI Advisory Board member Dr. Nancy Knowlton on receiving the prestigious Heinz Award honoring environmental champions. Read More >

Leading ocean conservationists Knowlton and Jackson join MERI’s Scientific Advisory Board

Leading marine ecologist and paleontologist Dr. Jeremy Jackson and coral reef scientist Dr. Nancy Knowlton, were recently appointed to the MERI Scientific Advisory Board by Dr. Susan Shaw. Speaking at MERI in June, Dr. Jeremy Jackson voiced passionate concern about the scale and speed of human activities “transforming once productive and complex ecosystems into oxygen-starved dead zones.” Read More >





MERI Teen researchers Contribute to the Census on Marine Life

Along with more than 2,000 scientists over 80 nations, a group of enthusiastic high school students is helping MERI’s Education Department to play a role in providing research for a database started by the Census of Marine Life project. This was a ten-year international effort to study marine life in the global ocean by assessing its diversity, distribution and abundance. Read More >

MERI Immerses Ocean-Loving High School Students in the World of Marine Science

Lucky high school students selected to be MERI Junior Interns survey intertidal species diversity, contribute field-collected data to an international marine life census, monitor and analyze water quality, seed a clam flat, investigate invasive species, and talk informally about careers with MERI scientists, college interns and invited guests. Read More >



Policy Matters


Safe Chemicals Act: Momentum for Reform

The EPA has been able to require testing for only 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in in the United States, and to ban only five dangerous substances. Passage of the proposed Safe Chemicals Act 2011 could change this. Introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), the new legislation would give the EPA broad new authority to target chemicals of concern and to regulate new and existing chemicals. Read More >

Environmental Scorecard for Maine's 125th Legislature

Many bills became law this year in Maine without Governor LePage agreeing to sign them, as is allowed by the state constitution. But the governor sent clear signals about his environmental policy priorities by not signing several energy and environmental bills. Read More >

Scientists to Address Policy on Flame Retardants at Brussels Meeting in August 2011

A panel of prominent scientists including MERI Director Dr. Susan Shaw will meet in Brussels, Belgium on August 26 to discuss ways to improve policies regulating flame retardants. The meeting will immediately follow Dioxin 2011 - the 31st International Symposium on Halogenated Persistent Organic Pollutants in Brussels August 21-25. Read More >

MERI Testifies in Augusta on Flame Retardants

Update: Another hearing on a bill which would weaken the Kid-Safe Product Act took place in Augusta on March 29th. MERI's testimony from this hearing is available here.

Dr. Susan Shaw asks Maine to keep health protections in place

Augusta—In a March 25th legislative hearing on chemical flame retardants, Dr. Susan Shaw, marine toxicologist and director of the Marine Environmental Institute (MERI), testified that scientific evidence increasingly shows that certain replacements for banned flame retardants are hazardous to the environment and human health.

Legislation to cut key provisions of a law restricting toxic flame retardant chemicals is currently being considered by the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, but faces strong opposition from environmental and public health advocates. The bill, LD 930, would re-allow the use of toxic halogenated (brominated and chlorinated) flame retardants as substitutes for the banned Deca-BDE in plastic shipping pallets and consumer products covered by our flame retardant laws – consumer electronics, mattresses and home furnishings. Maine law currently requires that manufacturers use safer (non-halogenated) alternatives to Deca-BDE when replacing them in products.

Shaw expressed concern that the bill would roll back that requirement. “That law is based on an extensive review of sound science demonstrating that this family of organic halogenated compounds are environmentally persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to animals and humans. Scientists are now widely challenging the introduction of brominated and chlorinated substitute chemicals with similar structures and properties as the banned flame retardants.”


She added, “It is important that states like Maine continue to take leadership in addressing the issue of toxic chemicals and attempting to keep them out of our homes, our offices, our food chain, and our children’s bodies.”

MERI’s own research in the Gulf of Maine has shown widespread contamination by brominated flame retardants, including Deca-BDE, of Maine’s commercially important fish stocks (hake, flounder, mackerel, herring, plaice) and marine mammals. MERI's testimony can be read here.



MERI in the News


Round Up of Recent Events and Stories

MERI reaches a wide audience through a variety of media outlets. Dr. Shaw contributed to the following stories:

  • A radio interview with Maine radio personality Don Cookson on offshore oil drilling and ocean impacts for an episode related to the University of Maine’s George Mitchell Sustainability Lecture Series. The Pulse, WZON AM620 and 103.1.

  • Read the article on the unexplained mass seal die-off along the New England coast. Seacoastonline, “Seal Deaths Rise to 128: Scientist Cites Toxins.” 10.19.11. Read it here.

  • Feature story on the urgent action needed to address the problem of toxic cruise ship waste. International Cruise & Ferry Review, “A Delicate Balance: Managing Waste.” Autumn/Winter 2011 edition.

  • Read coverage of the dangers of Cypermethrin, a sea-lice drug banned in Canada and used in Maine, and known to kill lobsters. Bangor Daily News, “Cooke Aquaculture Charged with Killing Lobsters in Canada.” 11.03.11. Read it here.

  • Read the story on the need for regulation of aquaculture chemicals in Maine. Working Waterfront, “Pesticide Charges in Canada Raise Concerns About Aquaculture.” Vol. 24. Dec. 2011. Read it here.


The Toxic Truth

MERI was featured in a lead Bangor Daily News story last week: "More man-made contaminants discovered in Maine's harbor seals." MERI scientists were the first to report that levels of toxic flame retardant chemicals in Maine's harbor seals and their prey fish are among the highest in the world. Now they are finding "novel" flame retardants – chemical replacements for toxic flame retardants that were banned – in seal tissues, meaning they are in the food chain. "These seals are eating the same fish we eat – herring, hake, flounder, mackerel," said Dr. Shaw. Read the full Bangor Daily News article here.


MERI Director Honored with Academic Appointments in Maine and New York

Dr. Susan Shaw, Director of the Marine & Environmental Research Institute (MERI) has received two academic appointments in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the fields of marine toxicology and public health. Read More >


MERI Director Receives Gold Medal Award of 2011

Toxics research in Gulf of Mexio and Gulf of Maine garners highest award

On May 21, MERI Director Dr. Susan Shaw received the Society of Women Geographers' Gold Medal Award for her pioneering research on the toxic legacy of man-made chemicals in the ocean. The Society noted that her work "continues to influence health and ocean policy in the US and abroad." Joining the ranks of Amelia Earhart, Margaret Mead, Jane Goodall, and Sylvia Earle, she is the 19th woman to receive the Society's highest award in 78 years.
Also in May, Dr. Shaw was honored as a Woman of the Gulf at the National Audubon Society's Rachel Carson Awards in New York City.
Click here to view a press release, and here to view an article in the Bangor Daily News.


MERI Returns to the Gulf of Mexico

Dr. Susan Shaw continues research on toxic effects of oil spill

On the eve of the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, marine toxicologist Dr. Susan Shaw returned to the Gulf of Mexico – to collect marine samples for toxicology analysis and to assess the impact of the damage on people’s health. A camera crew followed her journey for an upcoming Animal Planet TV documentary.

MERI's director/founder is credited with focusing national attention on the dangers of oil- dispersants used in the Gulf of Mexico. On this visit, she collected tissue samples for Gulf EcoTox, an independent investigation into the effects of oil and chemical dispersants on marine life. She discusses her experience in an interview with Animal Wise Radio available here, and in a March 30th article from a Louisiana reporter from Courthouse News, available here.

Dr. Shaw launched the Gulf EcoTox study after her initial Gulf trip one month after the catastrophe. It was last May that she dove into the oil slick and observed fish and crustaceans bathed in a mixture of oil and dispersant. She returned from the Gulf with an urgent national message and is credited with alerting the public to the dangers of the chemical dispersants used to break up the oil. As Dr. Shaw predicted, the high-volume use of dispersants has created a huge reservoir of toxic oil in the Gulf and the oil has permeated the food web – from larval crabs to fish.

Dr. Shaw’s advocacy led to an appointment to the U.S. Department of Interior’s Strategic Sciences Working Group (SSWG), She is one of 14 scientists charged with developing a science-based assessment of the oil spill’s consequences and recommending policy actions in the Gulf. In coming months, she will test fish and other marine samples for toxic components of oil and dispersants such as the PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and toxic metals. Several PAHs can damage DNA and cause cancer in animals and people long after the exposure, and for certain compounds, there is no safe level of exposure.


An op-ed on the oil spill by Dr. Shaw ran in The Times. Read it here.

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