Burma in December

Dear friends,

In the last weeks we have enjoyed excellent press about our paper finding flame retardants in 80% of baby products tested and another successful Himalayan Fair. This summer the Green Science Policy Institute is working with 18 enthusiastic summer research students on research and policy projects to protect our health and environment from toxic chemicals.

I’ll be speaking at meetings in Boston, Portland Oregon, DC, Brussels, and Rhodes Greece and leading a trek in the Alps. Please consider joining me to trek in magical Burma during the December holidays as described below

We are sad to report the delay for another year of Mark Leno’s California Senate Bill 147 to give consumers the choice to buy furniture and baby products without harmful and ineffective flame retardant chemicals. However with increasing public outrage at the toxics in their homes, we are optimistic it can pass next year, to the great benefit of global health.

We wish you a very enjoyable summer

Kind regards,


1. The NY Times, CBS Evening News And Other Press For Our Baby Product Paper
2. Are There Toxic Flame Retardants In Your Home?
3. Trekking, Temples, And Tribes Of Burma
4. Flame Retardants Found At High Levels In Cats And Dogs
5. Science And Policy Meeting On August 26, 2011 In Brussels Belgium
6. Annalise’s Updates
7. My TEDx Talk
8. Please Join us on Facebook
9. My recent Op-Ed: Sitting Safely and Comfortably in California

To date, there have been over 150 news stories about our baby product paper with Heather Stapleton and colleagues finding that 80% of baby products tested contained potentially toxic flame retardants.
“Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products”
Coverage included the front page of the SF Chronicle, the front page of the NY Times Business Section, and CBS evening news.

View the press coverage: http://www.greensciencepolicy.org/node/351

This extensive media is an example of the GSP model of bringing peer-reviewed scientific research to the public and decision makers. We believe such collaborations will help pass Senate Bill 147 next year for fire safety without toxicity.

To help us with this campaign, please make a tax-deductible donation at
or by check (please make check payable to SEE/GSP) and mail to:
Green Science Policy Institute
P.O. Box 5455, Berkeley, CA 94705
Please include the following information: Name, Address, City, State, Zip, Phone

GSP is a Project of Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs (SEE), a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
Contributions of $50 or more will receive an letter from SEE that can be used for tax purposes.

This summer we will be screening foam in couches, sleeper sofas, mattresses pads, insulation, and other home products for halogens which would indicate the presence of flame retardants. An energetic group of 18 students U.C. Berkeley and Duke are participating in our summer research program on the science and policy of flame retardants. They will use their research results to inform the public and decision makers.

If you would like to send foam sample from your couch and other products in your home for testing, please contact foamstudy@gmail.com for detailed instructions.

For suggestions on how to obtain toxic-free products for your family, go to http://greensciencepolicy.org/node/355

Please consider joining me next December.to trek and travel in Burma, a traditional Buddhist country rich in natural resources with a diversity of tribal peoples, ancient monasteries, pagodas, lively villages, and colorful markets. In Bagan, we will explore for three days by car, bike, foot, and boat among 2,000 well-preserved temples from the 10th to 12th centuries. We will trek for four days in the Kalaw region, sleeping in hospitable monasteries and long houses. After reaching lovely Inle Lake, we will be able to relax and visit floating gardens and markets before returning to Yangon. An optional extension will take us to the tranquil beach at Ngapali for snorkeling or relaxing.

Dates: December 14 -31, 2011 Please do get in touch if you might like to join us.


A new study published in Environmental Science & Technology by Venier and colleagues at Indiana University found PBDEs in the blood of pet dogs at concentrations 5-10 times concentrations in humans, but lower than concentrations in cats. They also detected in the dog serum newer flame retardants that have come onto the market as manufacturers have phased out the use of PBDEs.

A 2007 study by the same researches and several co-authors found PBDE concentrations in house cats that were 20-100 times the levels in humans.

It is likely that these high concentrations partially result from the flame retardant chemicals (which are volatile) leaking out from furniture and electronics into house dust. Cats and dogs ingest even more house dust than humans by licking their fur. Flame retardants were also found in both cat and dogs food.

We send out updates like above a few times a month. If you are not yet receiving them, and might like to be on the e-list, e-mail me or info@greensciencepolicy.org with your contact information.

Our next Flame Retardant Science and Policy Meeting will be on Friday, August 26, 2011 in Brussels following the Dioxin meeting.

Register for the Brussels Flame Retardant Science and Policy Meeting

The meeting will focus on these themes:
1. How can chemical policy reform in the EU be coordinated with reform in the US?
2. Science and policy regarding an EU flame retardant industry effort to establish a California-style furniture flammability standard in Europe
3. How can scientists, government and NGOs best work together so that good science can support good policy?
4. How can the public be educated, so that consumer choices and actions can encourage industry and decision makers to move to safer alternatives?

For a quick introduction to the flame retardant problem, check out my TEDx talk at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IDlb4N-_u4

We are just starting on Facebook, but please do go to one or more of our sites and become a friend

Green Science Policy
Arlene Blum (for friends I know)
Arlene Blum public figure (for friends I haven’t met yet)

Annalise writes about her adventures at annaliseblum.blogspot.com with photos at https://picasaweb.google.com/annaliseblum,

Here is an update from Annalise:

I’m back in the bay area after 3 months in Thailand and 2 weeks in Nepal. In Thailand, I surveyed Burmese migrant schools for a report on their water, sanitation and energy needs (with the NGO the Border Green Energy Team). I spent the rest of my time eating delicious Thai and Burmese food (noodle soup, pumpkin curry), listening to podcasts (This American Life), watching American TV on my computer (Friday Night Lights) and reading books on international development (the best was Half the Sky by Nick Kristof). Oh, and the less fun part was job searching.

I’ve just taken a year-long job as a research assistant at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for International Development. I’ll be working for two professors, Ryan Sheely and David Yanagizawa-Drott, who do research on economic development, health and governance in East Africa. I’m moving to Boston June 2nd, but then I’ll spend 6 weeks of the summer in Kenya helping with research there. Let me know if you have any recommendations of stuff to do, things to eat, or people to meet while I’m in Boston!

Sitting safely and comfortably in California
By Arlene Blum
Capitol Weekly
Published: May 5, 2011

As a chemist, mother, and Californian, I was dismayed when an East Coast scientific colleague said,”I try to avoid furniture and other products with a California tag because they’re full of toxic chemicals”.

The tag he was concerned about is found on furniture and baby products containing polyurethane foam sold in our state and indicates compliance with a unique California flammability standard called Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117). Products with such a label are likely to contain toxic or untested flame retardant chemicals.

I know this only too well as three years ago I reluctantly discarded my own very comfy blue couch and chair after learning the foam inside contained high levels of a chemical associated with reduced IQ in children, reduced fertility, thyroid problems, endocrine disruption and cancer. Since then I have not had the choice to buy new furniture that is both comfortable and non-toxic for use in California.

Such flame retardants leak out from our furniture, settle in dust, and are ingested into our bodies. A recent UC Berkeley study found that California children have seven times higher amounts of these chemicals in their bodies than do children in Mexico.

To protect our children, state Sen. Mark Leno is sponsoring SB 147, the Consumer Choice Fire Safety Act, which calls for an alternative furniture standard that maintains fire safety and can be met without flame retardants. This would mean that I and other consumers could choose to buy furniture that is both fire-safe and non-toxic.

However, at April 25 and May 2 Senate Business and Professions Committee hearings, Curren Price, Bill Emmerson, Lou Correa, Ed Hernandez, Gloria Negrete McLeod, Juan Vargas, Mimi Walters, and Mark Wyland, eight Senators charged with protecting consumers and supporting business, voted “No” to the Leno bill. They appeared to ignore the statement in the Leno bill that fire safety cannot be compromised with an alternative standard and to be heavily influenced by descriptions of burned childen from the sole three opposition witnesses, all brought in by the flame retardant chemical industry. The main opposition argument was that current flame retardants are safe. However the most common one in furniture today is the same one that Tris removed from kids pajamas in the 1970s after it was shown to cause mutations and be likely to cause cancer.

On the Leno side, the support and testimony from California fire fighters, physicians, UC scientists, furniture and foam manufacturers, health officers, the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and citizens groups representing many thousands of Californiansdid not appear to have influence with these eight Senators.

And, outrageously, the fire safety benefits of adding flame retardants to meet the 1975 flammability standard we follow, are questionable. According to Vyto Babrauskas, the author of the only textbook ever written on furniture flammability, TB117 is “so weak that it does not achieve any useful fire safety purpose. A changed standard should be more effective, as it could not possibly be any less effective.”

TB117 tests bare foam’s resistance to a small flame. But the foam in furniture lies beneath a layer of fabric. The fabric will ignite first and by the time the flame reaches the foam, it is too large for the chemicals that meet TB117 to have an effect.

According to the furniture industry, the TB117 flammability standard is a financial burden for manufacturers who must make special lines for California. This furniture cannot be sold in some European countries due to its toxicity. Moreover, the flame retardant chemicals add to the cost of the furniture while decreasing its durability.

So why can’t this antiquated flammability standard be updated? The three flame-retardant producers: Albermarle, Chemtura, and Israeli Chemicals Limited, have a history of responding to California legislation for fire safety without toxicity with multi-million dollar lobbying campaigns.

“Opposition to SB147 was created by the same political operative who once worked at the Tobacco Institute.” said Andrew McGuire, a McArthur awardees who was badly burned as a child and is Executive Director of the Trauma Foundation at San Francisco General Hospital. “Our legislators need to do a better job of watching out for the interests of their real constituents.”

My good news is that since I got rid of my furniture, the level of toxic flame retardant in my dust has decreased by a factor of thirty. My bad news is there is no comfortable place to sit in my house as I cannot replace my discarded couch and chair with non-toxic ones. This will continue for yet another year due to the choice of eight California senators to listen to the flame retardant industry over the interests of California business and consumers.

Fortunately SB147 is a now two-year bill. Given Californian’s increasing anger and concern at being forced to be exposed to toxic chemicals in their furniture, I am optimistic that next year SB147 will pass and manufacturers will no longer be forced to put dangerous and ineffective flame retardant chemicals into their products. “Made for California” will not be a euphemism for “Warning! Toxic Product!” And we will all be able to sit both safely and comfortably on our couches.

The URL for the oped above is here


Please consider contributing to our work or protecting our health and environment from toxic chemicals by making a donation at:

Thank you!

Please contact us at info@greensciencepolicy.org if you would like your name to be taken off this e-mail list or would like more information about the Green Science Policy Institute or Arlene Blum’s leadership and sustainability lectures or workshops.

Arlene Blum PhD
Visiting Scholar, Chemistry
University of California, Berkeley
Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute
Telephone: 510 644-3164 Mobile: 510 919-6363
Web: www.greensciencepolicy.org, www.arleneblum.com