March 2015 Newsletter

Tanya and Arlene with their shirts

I hope you all had a good winter. I just celebrated a big birthday with a week of back country skiing near Jackson Hole and at the beach with the Green Science Policy Institute team and dozens of friends, including geophysicist Tanya Atwater. In 1978, while we were climbing Annapurna, Tanya was leading the first all-woman expedition to the ocean floor in the Submarine Alvin wearing the very t-shirt she’s holding here. It says, “A Woman’s Place is on the Bottom” and mine says, “A Woman’s Place is on the Top…Annapurna”. Annapurna shirts are still available here. My expedition account, Annapurna: A Woman’s Place, is being reissued this summer by Counterpoint Press with an introduction by Steff Davis.

In February, I was honored to receive the annual Thomas Lamb Eliot Awardfor lifetime achievement from my alma mater, Reed College. You can listen to the talk I presented, “A Life of Molecules and Mountains“.
If you would like to learn more about our work for a healthier planet, click here to view our website and or here to view our classic news articles and videos.
Have a good spring,
Arlene and the Green Science Policy Team
Read Below For:
* Institute workshops speed up availability of furniture without flame retardants
* Proposals to update building codes could allow for safer insulation
* Planet Earth has a finite capacity for chemical pollution
* Fluorinated chemicals found in food wrapping paper
* Calendar of upcoming events

Himalayan Fair May 16 & 17, 2015

Please join me at this year’s Himalayan Fair in Live Oak Park, 1300 Shattuck Avenue in North Berkeley, California. You can enjoy the food, music, dance, crafts and arts of the Himalayan regions.

Please stop by our booth under the big tree northeast of the stage to visit and enjoy the entertainment. Contact me if you’d like to volunteer to help tend my booth.

The fair’s profits go directly to the Himalayan regions as donations to orphanages, clinics, schools, village water supplies, and other Himalayan charities.

I describe starting the Fair after returning from the Great Himalayan Traverse in my memoir, Breaking Trail. Get in touch if you might like to volunteer to help organize this fun Himalayan community event. More information about the Himalayan Fair here.

Making Furniture without Added Flame Retardants a Reality

In February, the Green Science Policy Institute sponsored meetings with government and industry to support the transition to the new California furniture flammability standard. You can see a list of some companies that sell furniture without added flame retardants here. You can view some of the talks presented at our February meetings here and the Six Classes webinars here.

This month the new standard got a big boost when Ashley Furniture, the top selling home furnishings retailer in North America, announced that their new upholstered furniture does not use flame retardant chemicals and will be labeled as such wherever it’s sold in the US. Read more at

Proposals to Update the International Building Code Could Allow for Safer Insulation

This April, two proposals that would enable below grade use of foam plastic insulation without flame retardants will be considered at ICC code change hearings in Memphis, TN. These proposals have support from nineteen co-proponents, including fire safety professionals, engineers, and green builders and designers. Contact Avery ( if you’d like to get involved in supporting this work.

Why update building codes? Thousands of tons of flame retardants are added to foam plastic insulation each year to meet building code requirements. In many applications, flame retardants do not meaningfully improve fire safety, but they are associated with significant health and environmental harm. For instance, the flame retardant in polystyrene insulation has been banned by over 150 countries, and its replacement poses similar concerns. By updating codes in North America, foam plastic insulation without flame retardants can be safely used in buildings without concerns for “regrettable substitution” of one harmful flame retardant for another.

Planetary Boundaries: It’s a Small World for Toxics After All

The central concept of Miriam Diamond and her co-authors’ visionary paper “Exploring the Planetary Boundary for Chemical Pollution” is that planet Earth has a finite capacity for chemical pollution beyond which human health and ecosystems survival are threatened. Reducing individual chemical emissions, while the total amount increases, is leading to irreversible harm. This paper demonstrates that many chemicals in commerce need to be used with much more prudence and precaution.

What Is Your Food Wrapped In?

If your food comes wrapped in grease- and water-repellant paper, you might be exposed to fluorinated compounds, a class of chemicals that is often toxic and so persistent that they are never known to break down. To understand where these chemicals are used, we collected over 50 food-contact paper products from local food-related businesses and screened them for fluorine in collaboration with Dr. Graham Peaslee from Hope College. We found fluorinated compounds in microwave popcorn bags, pastry bags, sandwich and takeout wrappers, and pizza box liners — even from local organic restaurants and bakeries. When we informed the businesses, they were surprised to learn about the potentially harmful chemicals in their food packaging and eager to move to safer alternatives. This highlights the importance of our efforts to educate retailers and manufacturers about the Six Classes containing many of the harmful chemicals commonly used. Once equipped with this knowledge, businesses can make better purchasing choices to protect human health and the environment.

Calendar of Upcoming Events

April 8, 2015, 7pm: Arlene Blum, “The Class Concept: A New Approach to Flame Retardants & Other Harmful Chemicals”, Integrated Science Building Room 135, U. Mass. Amherst, Amherst, MA.
Organizer: Tom Zoeller,
April 9, 2015, 11am – 11:30pm: Arlene Blum, “Fire Safety without Harm: California’s Changing Flammability Regulations”,  CIC Boston, 50 Milk Street, Boston, MA. Click here to register by March 27, 2015 for the symposium “Non-Toxic Fire Safety in MA” held 9am – 12:30 pm.

April 9, 2015, 5:30pm: Screening of Toxic Hot Seat and discussion with Tony Stefani and Arlene Blum, who are featured in the film, Suffock University, 73 Tremont Street, 7th floor, Boston. More information here.

April 10, 2015, 12:30 – 2pm: Arlene Blum, “Flame Retardants and the ‘Six Classes’ of Harmful Chemicals: How Science Can Impact Policy”, FXB Building Room 613, Harvard School of Public Health, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA. New England Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Researchers’ Consortium,
Organizer: Ann Backus,
April 21, 2015, 9:30am – 4:30pm:
Symposium – Science and Policy of Flame Retardants and other POPS in China and the US
June 7-10, 2015: Six Classes Toxics Reduction Retreat
Contact for more information.
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. Register here.
November 12-13, 2015: A scientific conference for finding new technologies for the safe disposal of foam and plastic mixed with flame retardants. Contact for more information.