December 11, 2015 – Reproductive Health and the Environment Symposium

This event brought together scholars, advocacy leaders, government agency representatives and community-based organizations working to understand the environment’s role in reproductive health, and advocating for the women, men and children affected by environmental contamination. The symposium featured invited speakers, a discussion panel, meditation and music.


Brandeis Environmental Justice Community Field Semester Students
In order to gain a deeper understanding of exposures in Black women’s hair salons, faculty-guided Brandeis students in collaboration with EPA Region 1, the Resilient Sisterhood Project, Black Women for Wellness, MA OTA, with other partners including BPHC, Silent Spring Institute, Clean Water Action, Healthy Cosmetology Committee, and ACE conducted a study to assess hair salon workers’ exposure to specific volatile organic compounds and fine particulate matter. Students will present their findings and recommendations. Listen to the Brandeis students’ presentation on our YouTube page.

Julia Brody, Ph.D., is executive director and senior scientist at Silent Spring Institute. Founded 20 years ago by the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, Silent Spring Institute is dedicated to understanding the links between everyday chemicals and women’s health, with a particular focus on breast cancer prevention. Committed to community-based science, Silent Spring works as a partnership of scientists, clinicians, policymakers, and activists, governed by a public interest board of directors. Because many breast cancers are hormone-driven, Brody and her colleague Ruthann Rudel began Silent Spring Institute’s Household Exposure Study (HES) to identify the major sources of women’s exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), synthetic chemicals that mimic or disrupt hormones. The study includes over 100 target compounds and was the first to comprehensively show that consumer products used at home are a major source of exposure to EDCs. The HES was also the first to show high levels of flame retardants in California and led to changes in the state’s flammability standard for furniture foam. Brody’s current research focuses on ethical and effective methods for community-engaged biomonitoring and personal exposure studies like the HES. She is investigating methods for data sharing that still protects privacy and methods to report to people on their own exposures when the health effects are uncertain. To provide an overview of evidence and roadmap for future research, Brody led a scientific review on environmental factors and breast cancer, published in Cancer, which has been referenced hundreds of times and cited as foundational by the President’s Cancer Panel, the Institute of Medicine and the federal interagency (IBCERCC) reports. Brody’s research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and private philanthropy. In addition to peer-reviewed publications, her research has appeared on the front page of the LA Times and in Consumer Reports, The New York Times, O-The Oprah Magazine, and Time Magazine, on ABC News and National Public Radio, and in many other outlets. Her Cape Cod Breast Cancer and Environment Study was recognized by a US Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Merit Award. She is an advisor to the California Breast Cancer Research Program and breast cancer activist organizations. Listen to the panel discussion on our YouTube page.

Deborah Brown is presently on a detail as the special assistant to EPA New England’s director of Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. Prior to her detail, she managed the Region’s Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA), and Emergency Planning Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), Clean Air Act 112r (CAA 112r), tribal and federal facility enforcement and compliance programs. She has served in numerous capacities during her 24-year tenure at EPA. In addition to the programs above, she has managed its Enforcement Office, the Regional Laboratory, and the Region’s Toxics and Pesticides Enforcement Program. In addition to managing the programs described above, Ms. Brown was Vice President for Brownfields Pilots and Counsel, with the Institute for Responsible Management (IRM) while on leave from EPA for two years. While at IRM, she also co-authored a book on Brownfields. Prior to her EPA employment, Ms. Brown was director of Equal Employment Opportunity for the New York Transit Authority, counsel for the Texas Department of Agriculture, and an assistant to the Governor of Texas. Ms. Brown received her JD from the University of Texas School of Law, and a BA from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Listen to the panel discussion on our YouTube page.

Phil Brown is University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences, and director of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University. He began working on environmental health in the mid-1980s when he wrote No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Community Action, about the Woburn childhood leukemia cluster. His other books are Toxic Exposures: Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement; Perspectives in Medical Sociology, Illness and the Environment; Social Movements in Health; and Contested Illnesses: Citizens, Science and Health Social Movements. His current research includes social policy and regulation of flame retardant chemicals and perfluorinated compounds, and techniques and ethics of reporting data to study participants in biomonitoring and household exposure studies. He co-directs the Community Engagement Core and directs the Research Translation Core of Northeastern University’s Superfund Research Program, PROTECT. He co-directs the Community Outreach and Translation Core of Northeastern University’s Children’s Environmental Health Center, CRECE. He directs an NSF training grant, “New Directions in Environmental Ethics: Emerging Contaminants, Emerging Technologies, and Beyond,” and an NIEHS training grant “Transdisciplinary Training at the Intersection of Environmental Health Science and Social Science,” both of which support doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

Phil Didlake is a multi-instrumentalist currently studying percussion and music therapy at Berklee College of Music. Phil is the founder of A Rhythmical Movement meet-up group at Berklee and teaches students the art of facilitation in improvisatory environments. He is also a team member of a new innovative project called Drummassage. Phil continues to advocate the therapeutic and health benefits of drum circles by facilitating and teaching workshops at schools, corporate events, retirement centers, and cultural celebrations. Phil is currently acting as president of the American Music Therapy Association for Students in the New England Region and hopes to advance the research in drum therapy.

Elizabeth Hoover is Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies at Brown University where she teaches courses on environmental health and justice in Native communities, indigenous food movements, Native American museum curation, and community engaged research. Elizabeth received her MA and PhD in Anthropology at Brown University, with a focus on environmental and medical Anthropology as it applies to Native American communities responding to environmental contamination. She is currently working on a book manuscript “’The River is In Us;’ Fighting Toxins in a Mohawk Community,” which is an ethnographic exploration of Akwesasne Mohawks’ response to Superfund contamination and environmental health research. Her second book project “From ‘Garden Warriors’ to ‘Good Seeds;’ Indigenizing the Local Food Movement” explores Native American farming and gardening projects around the country: the successes and challenges faced by these organizations, the ways in which participants define and envision concepts like food sovereignty, and importance of heritage seeds. Elizabeth has published articles about environmental reproductive justice in Native American communities, the cultural impact of fish advisories on Native communities, tribal citizen science, and health social movements. Listen to the panel discussion on our YouTube page.

Lilly Marcelin is a community activist and organizer who has dedicated her career to advocate for and work in partnership with underserved women and families in need of quality and compassionate health care & social services. Lilly has worked on a broad range of issues from gender based violence, human trafficking, health and socioeconomic disparities, women’s reproductive health to racial and social justice. She is the Founding Director of an emerging nonprofit organization in Boston: the Resilient Sisterhood Project (RSP), dedicated to inform and empower women of African descent regarding common but rarely discussed diseases of the reproductive system that disproportionately affect them.
Lilly holds a B.A. from Wellesley College, a Master’s degree in public policy from Tufts University and a certificate from B.U. School of Management through the Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership (INML).

Judy Norsigian is the former Executive Director and also co-founder of Our Bodies Ourselves (formerly called the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective). She is a co-author of Our Bodies, Ourselves and a member of the editorial teams for Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause (2006) and Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth (2008). Judy has been speaking and writing about a wide range of women’s health concerns for close to 45 years and has appeared on numerous national television and radio programs, including NBC Nightly News, Al Jazeera, The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Early Show, Oprah, Fox News, and The Current. She served on the board of the National Women’s Health Network for more than 14 years and on the board of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R) for 24 years. Personal recognitions include: the Public Service Award from the Massachusetts Public Health Association (1989); Radcliffe College Alumnae Association Annual Recognition Award (1995); the Massachusetts Health Council Award (2002); being named one of “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s eNews; and an honorary doctorate from Boston University (2007). Listen to Judy’s talk on our YouTube page.

Dr. Laura Vandenberg is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences. She earned her BS degree from Cornell University in 2003 and her PhD from Tufts University School of Medicine in 2008. Dr. Vandenberg’s work focuses on how low level exposures to environmental chemicals can lead to diseases including breast cancer. She is specifically interested in a group of chemicals termed ‘endocrine disruptors.’ Her work also critically evaluates issues that affect risk and hazard assessments for endocrine disruptors including low dose effects, non-monotonic dose responses, critical windows of susceptibility, and routes of exposure. Dr. Vandenberg is an author on more than 50 peer reviewed papers and five book chapters and has served on a number of US and international expert panels to assess endocrine disrupting chemicals. Listen to Laura’s talk on our YouTube page.

Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa is an ordained Unitarian Universalist Minister serving First Parish in Brookline. She received her Masters of Divinity Degree from Harvard Divinity School where she is currently finishing her Doctoral dissertation in the Religion, Gender, and Culture Program. Rev. Vlassidis Burgoa holds a Law Degree from the City University of New York School of Law, where she completed her clinical practice in Immigrants’ Rights. She received her calling to the ministry while working in an AIDS hospice. Her professional work experience has always been connected to Human Rights and social justice advocacy including mothers in prison, people living with HIV/AIDS, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and survivors of domestic violence.