About the Institute


About the Institute

“Through science, we are discovering and exposing the realities of toxic exposure and its effect on people, wildlife, our oceans, and the planet. With over 30 years of experience addressing the health effects of toxic chemicals, we are prepared to lead breakthrough research in the years to come.”

—    Dr. Susan Shaw, Founder

The Shaw Institute is a 501(c)3 nonprofit scientific research organization based in Maine that was founded in 1990 by environmental health scientist Dr. Susan Shaw, who passed away in early 2022. The mission of the Shaw Institute is to discover and expose environmental threats to people and wildlife through innovative science and to engage in local and global partnerships to improve human and ecological health.

Over three decades, our research on plastics, ocean pollution, flame retardants, and climate change has informed public opinion and fueled policy, impacting millions of people in the U.S. and around the world.

The Institute’s focus areas include:

  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Plastic Pollution 
  • Marine Mammal Response 
  • Human Health Impact 

From flame retardants to plastics, our discoveries have informed public opinion and fueled key legislation, which impacts millions of people in Maine and across the country.

In 1990, Dr. Susan Shaw established the Marine & Environmental Research Institute (MERI) a nonprofit charitable organization with an environmental health research mission and began long-term marine sentinels research on contaminants and endocrine-disrupting effects in marine mammals that became the Institute’s central focus over the next two decades.  In 2018, the Trustees of the Marine & Environmental Research Institute announced a name change to the Shaw Institute to acknowledge the founder Dr. Shaw and honor her legacy of 30 years of environmental impact research. The new name also accommodates Dr. Shaw’s vision and the organization’s expanded research portfolio. The Center for Environmental Studies was renamed the Blue Hill Research Center in recognition of the Maine community that has served as the organization’s home since 1990.

Our science continues to focus on understanding exposure levels, sources, and pathways, and the associations between chemical exposures and health outcomes. We collaborate with environmental chemists, epidemiologists, biologists, and toxicologists to develop multidisciplinary studies with the aim of finding solutions to current environmental health problems. We have expertise in the assessment of diverse classes of chemicals in marine mammal and human tissues, including the halogenated flame retardants and perfluorinated chemicals and our pioneering studies on these topics are highly cited in the literature. The Institute has contributed significantly to understanding the impact of organohalogen pollutants and plasticizer chemicals on highly exposed wildlife and human populations. Our recent research includes a biomonitoring study of San Francisco fire fighters, which is the most extensive assessment of chemical exposure in fire fighters to date.

Today, the foundation of the Institute’s work remains rigorous and independent scientific research, conducted in collaboration with scientists and institutions from across the country and around the world. Together, we have produced a wealth of data on chemical exposure and its impact on wildlife and people. Our determination to inform the public about issues that affect all of us and to advocate on behalf of a clean environment, wildlife protection and human health, drives us to make the results of the work widely available through publications, education programs, the environmental media, and public testimony. The Shaw Institute’s quarter-century journey has led its scientists from studying the sudden die-off of thousands of European harbor seals to examining contaminants in the marine food web, understanding the entry and pathways of chemical pollutants into coastal waters, and analyzing the impact of those pollutants on subjects ranging from marine mammals to the nation’s fire fighters. Our research into PCBs, flame retardants, oil dispersants, and other pervasive toxic chemicals continues the tradition of Rachel Carson and other scientists who insist that their results become part of an informed public conversation and who actively promote policies that will improve environmental protection and human health.

We are deeply thankful to all those who have helped make our first 30 years possible and productive, and we invite all who believe in the importance of our work to join us for the continuing journey.