June 2015 Newsletter

Photo credit: Susan E. Aach

Recent months have seen both great tragedy and success. Following the devastating earthquakes in Nepal, this year’s Himalayan Fair raised considerable funds for relief and rebuilding. In case you might like to contribute, here is a suggested list of small, on-the-ground charities. The Fair has brought the music, food, arts, and crafts of the Himalayan region to Berkeley since I founded it in 1982 after enjoying many such festivals during my ten-month walk across the Himalaya. (More in my memoir Breaking Trail.)

We at the Green Science Policy Institute recently enjoyed another successful Six Classes Toxics Reduction Retreat. The  Six Classes concept provides a framework for purchasers – large organizations, retailers, manufacturers, designers, and consumers – to take action for safer and healthier products.

Our objective is to reduce the use of some or all the Six Classes containing chemicals of concern in consumer products by 50% in the next five years. I’m so happy that a large U.S. retail chain is stopping the use of flame retardants and stain repellant chemicals on July 1, 2015 – two of the Six Classes of concern. A major international retailer was first, this U.S. chain is second, and others should follow – a big step towards a healthier population and planet.

For a concise telling of the flame retardant saga, take a look at the New York Times Retro Report – well worth watching. And Nick Kristof’s NY Times column, “Chemicals in Your Popcorn?”, is about the class of highly fluorinated chemicals.

The Green Science Policy Institute is hiring a Science and Policy Associate. Please consider applying here if you might like to join our team to reduce toxics and protect human health and the environment.

Our philosophy that scientists should use their research for the public good got a boost from an ES&T editorial about our work and the need for scientists to engage in policy, which said, “It is an effort that is not recognized in tenure, promotion…but sometimes it pays off in the form of a safer, more sustainable world.”

On a more personal note, my downstairs studio is available for rent on August 15. I’d like to rent to a friend of a friend if possible.

Also, I am considering a trip in 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. Get in touch if a Burma adventure might interest you.

Have a fun summer,

Arlene and the Green Science Policy team

Photo credit: Flickr CC Bradley Gordon

Chemicals in Car Seats: Do We Need Them?

Car seats are important for protecting children in cars. Due to a federal motor vehicle flammability standard, many materials in automobiles, including car seats, contain harmful flame retardants. There is no evidence showing this standard increases fire safety for children, but the standard results in exposure to chemicals that have been associated with cancer, endocrine disruption, and neurological and reproductive impairment. In a study by the Ecology Center, a Michigan nonprofit, three quarters of car seats tested were found to contain hazardous flame retardants. (This small study analyzed 2014 model car seats from a number of manufacturers.) Based on their findings, the Ecology Center urges regulators to consider exempting child car seats from regulations that do not increase safety but do lead to the use of harmful chemicals. Read more on our blog.

Stain Proof Chemicals Last for Geologic Time.
Are they worth it?

The extreme persistence and potential for harm of the entire class of highly fluorinated chemicals was validated by more than 220 scientists in The Madrid Statement, published May 1 in Environmental Health Perspectives. This class of chemicals is used for stain- and waterproofing treatments for products such as outdoor clothing, carpets, frying pans, and food contact paper. These chemicals are often toxic and they last for geologic time. Our webpage with more information about avoiding exposure is here.
Close to 100 news media outlets covered the Madrid Statement, including The New York TimesHuffington Post, and National Geographic.
The large retailer COOP Denmark recently announced that it will no longer sell microwave popcorn in any of its 1200 stores because the packaging contains fluorinated chemicals. Will US retailers follow this lead? Read more on our blog.

A Toxic Tale

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the major trade group for the chemical industry, long claimed it did not lobby in state legislatures and that it had no affiliation with the Citizens For Fire Safety Institute. Now Grant Gillham, former Executive Director of the latter group, said, “[the ACC] flat out lied about it. They denied that they ever did anything with us.” In truth, as reported by the Center for Public Integrity and summarized on our blog, the ACC and three flame retardant manufacturing companies created and supervised Citizens For Fire Safety Institutefrom 2007-2012.

Home is Where the Harm Can Be – The Big Idea Can Change That!

In collaboration with Earthjustice and a coalition of colleagues, we presented our Big Idea petition to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on April 1. This groundbreaking petition calls for a ban on four categories of household products containing the chemical class of halogenated flame retardants. For three years, we have worked with outstanding researchers on the scientific basis for regulating these harmful chemicals as a class rather than one by one. Our joint petition could provide a model for protecting our health from the most harmful classes of chemicals.

Calendar of Upcoming Events

July 12, 2015, 9am – 5pm:
Symposium – Science and Policy of Highly Fluorinated Chemicals
Green Science Policy Institute will host a day-long symposium on the Science and Policy of Highly Fluorinated Chemicals in Golden, Colorado, prior to the FLUOROS 2015conference. This meeting is full.
Arlene Blum, Plenary Talk: “Flame Retardants and the ‘Six Classes’ of Harmful Chemicals: How Science Can Impact Policy and Purchasing”.
Workshop on July 20: “Healthy Buildings: Reducing the Use of ‘Six Classes’ of Harmful Chemicals Workshop”.
University of Colorado, Boulder. More details here.
September 16-18, 2015: Living Products UnExpo15
Keynote speech by Arlene on September 16 at 7 PM, at Hall C, Main Stage, David L. Lawrence Convention Center. 
November 12-13, 2015: A scientific conference in Washington D.C. for developing technologies for the safe disposal of foam and plastic mixed with flame retardants. Contact Don@GreenSciencePolicy.org for more information.