Dr. Susan D. Shaw is an American environmental health scientist, explorer, ocean conservationist, and author. She is the Founder and Executive Director of the Marine & Environmental Research Institute, and a professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the State University of New York, School of Public Health, in Albany. Dr. Shaw has worked extensively on issues related to toxic chemical exposure and its impacts on human health and wildlife.
Born in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Shaw received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas in 1967 with a major in Plan II, an interdisciplinary honors program modeled after the Harvard Society of Fellows Program. Selected for the UT-Chilean Exchange Program in 1964, she spent a year in Chile as a Fulbright Scholar. She earned an MFA degree in Film from Columbia University in 1970, and a doctorate in Public Health/Environmental Health Sciences (Dr.P.H.) from Columbia University’s School of Public Health in 1999.
In 1983, Dr. Shaw collaborated with landscape photographer Ansel Adams and published Overexposure, the first book to document the health hazards of photographic chemicals. Dr. Shaw is credited as the first scientist to show that brominated flame retardant chemicals used in consumer products have contaminated marine mammals and commercially important fish stocks in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.
For three decades, Dr. Shaw’s work has focused on the health effects of environmental chemical exposure in marine wildlife and humans. In 1990, she founded the Marine & Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill, Maine, following the deaths of 20,000 harbor seals inhabiting polluted waters of northwestern Europe.
Following the 2010 BP oil spill, Institute Dr. Shaw was called to assess the environmental consequences and recommend remedial policies. She was appointed to the Department of Interior’s Sciences Working Group and was the first scientist who dove into the polluted Gulf. Her investigation of Corexit revealed that the chemical dispersant was actually intensifying the spill’s toxicity and compounding, rather than remediating, the problem.
Dr. Shaw was the lead scientist on a pilot study of California firefighters that stands as the most extensive exposure assessment in fire fighters to date. The study revealed that fire fighters accumulate high levels of flame retardant chemicals and their cancer-causing combustion by-products during firefighting, placing them at risk for cancers and other health effects. Dr. Shaw is currently leading the National Firefighter Cancer Biomarker Study to advance understanding of the link between occupational exposure and cancer among firefighters across the country.
Dr. Shaw has received numerous awards and honors for her work. In 2011, she received the Society of Women Geographers’ Gold Medal Award, joining the ranks of Amelia Earhart, Margaret Mead, and Jane Goodall. She is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, an Explorers Club Fellow, and a Fulbright Scholar.