Blue Hill, ME

Shaw Institute speaker to address how toxins in salmon and seals threaten human health

Dianne Price

Susan Shaw was a force of nature. Her oceanic adventures are the stuff legends are made of. From diving into an oil spill in Mexico to sounding the alarm of the plight of child waste pickers in India, there was no boundary this eco-warrior wouldn’t break in her quest to make life better for future generations. For two decades, Kurunthachalam Kannan, PhD., was her enthusiastic accomplice.
Kurunthachalam Kannan, Ph.D., will visit the Shaw Institute August 7 to discuss how toxins in salmon and seals threaten human health.NYU Langone Health

On Sunday, August 7, Kannan, a professor in the departments of environmental medicine and pediatrics at NYU’s Langone Health, will visit the Shaw Institute to share stories about his exploits and accomplishments with Shaw, along with his ongoing work.

In his talk, Environmental Chemicals in Salmon, Seals and Humans: Dr. Susan Shaw’s Legacy Remembered, Kannan will recount their many moments of questions, conflicts and conquests.

“When Dr. Shaw saw a problem that needed to be solved, she couldn’t be stopped,” said Kannan. “The work she led has resulted in protecting the health of humans and marine life – across the world. She leaves a strong, inspirational and enduring imprint.” Shaw died January 27, 2022.

Perhaps one of the duo's most enduring legacies involved a study of how chemical exposure affected firefighters. Together, they identified and documented elevated levels of brominated chemical dioxins and furans (flammable highly toxic compounds) in those exposed to the chemicals. Their landmark study, published in 2013, revealed the threat of cancer for firefighters. Their work led to urgently needed protections for firefighters in the U.S., Canada and Europe. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called Shaw the "godmother of firefighter research." Their findings provide a solid baseline for earning more about the human health effects of the out-of-control fires that plague the world today.

Kannan will talk about how he and Shaw were challenged by the aquaculture industry when they revealed how contaminants were threatening farmed and wild salmon. He will share how their research on brominated flame retardants threatened harbor seals and fish in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. Their discoveries ultimately led to the state of Maine banning the chemical from household products in 2010. (

Kannan’s continuing research revolves around understanding sources, pathways and locations of persistent organic pollutants in the environment. He is a leader in the emerging science of exposomics – the understanding and calculation of the how internal and external elements like food, drugs, air, water and chemicals affect the health of humans.

A marine toxicologist, environmental health scientist, professor, author and ocean conservationist, Susan Shaw, Ph.D., founded the nonprofit Shaw Institute in Blue Hill, Maine in 1990 following the deaths of 20,000 harbor seals in polluted waters of northwestern Europe. She termed the institute’s work “environmental impact science,” explaining that its researchers would pursue answers in response to real-world problems.

A zoom link will be available for those unable to attend in person but wishing to watch the lecture live and participate in the Q&A. After the event, the lecture video, along with past lectures, can be found Shaw Institute Environmental Speaker Series events page.

The event is free and open to the public. It begins at 5 pm with light refreshments, followed by Kannan’s talk at 6 pm. Shaw Institute is located at 55 Main St., Blue Hill, ME 04614. Masks are recommended. Families are welcome and encouraged to attend.

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Dianne Price has a professional passion for bringing stories about health, medicine, science, and mental health to life. Her personal passion focuses on how the arts can elicit creativity, curiosity and joy.

Fountain Hills, AZ

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