Spring 2008 Newsletter

Dear friends,


Please come to the twentieth fifth anniversary of the Himalayan Fair on May 17 and 18 in Berkeley’s Live Oak Park. Your help at my booth and/or the kid’s booth are appreciated

Last spring as I began to work on stopping the increase of toxic chemicals in consumer products, I wrote, “I feel like I’m at basecamp looking up at the icefall and avalanches of Annapurna and gathering a stalwart team to join the ascent.” A great team has come together during this amazing year of learning, speaking, writing, and succeeding in our efforts. Two segments featuring our work will be on CBS national news on Monday and Tuesday May 17 and 18.


With the help of a global coalition of distinguished scientists, physicians and NGOs, and against all odds, we succeeded in stopping the proposed international flammability standard which would have led to the use of up to 1.7 billion pounds of unneeded chemicals in electronic housings each year.


Please let me know if you might like to join this expedition for human health and the environment as a supporter or a volunteer and/or would like to be on our email list for occasional updates. We are adding material to our website at http://greensciencepolicy.org/industrial.shtml


In June, I’m going to Brussels to meet some of our NGO colleagues and have postponed until 2009 a geology trek in the trans-Himalayan

region of Ladakh with my geophysicist friend Tanya Atwater. In

December I will lead a trek either to Burma or Nepal. Please read on for suggestions on how to help with the terrible tragedy in Burma.



Happy Spring 2008




25th annual Berkeley Himalayan Fair May15, 16, 2007 at Live Oak Park in Berkeley Where to donate to help in Burma Nepal or Burma Adventure Dec 17- Jan 1, 2009 Ladakh Geology Trek and Adventure June 15 to July 9, 2009 An Enormous Success and More Challenges to Come The Initiative for Green Science Policy My cat Midnight has a high level of toxic chemicals inside her Leadership and Sustainability Workshops The Fire Retardant Dilemma at UC Berkeley Annalise’s Gap year Cite Press release on our current expedition to a healthier world



25th ANNUAL HIMALAYAN FAIR 2006 May 15-16, 2008


The 25th annual Himalayan Fair will be held on May 20-21, 2006 in Live Oak Park in North Berkeley. This might be the last Himalayan Fair due to serious problems with the City of Berkeley. This festive re-creation of a Himalayan bazaar features the food, music, crafts and dances of the Himalayas. All of the fair’s profits go directly to the Himalayan regions as donations to orphanages, medical clinics, schools, village water supplies and agricultural and child nutrition projects and other Himalayan charities. I describe starting the Himalayan Fair after returning from the ten month long Great Himalayan Traverse in Chapter 23 of my memoir “Breaking Trail.” You can visit the Himalayan Fair website http://www.himalayanfair.net


Your help at my booth and the kid booth are appreciated. Simone Verbaken is taking over running the kid’s booth this year. Please contact her: s.verbaken@gmail.com or me in advance if you can help either of us, or just come and help. I’m under the big tree on the northwest corner of the park and you can reach me on my cell phone

510 919 6363 if you want to help.





If you would like some suggestions of where to donate, here are some excellent organizations with which Annalise and I are familiar.


IDE Myanmar: http://www.ideorg.org/work/myanmar.php

(Annalise’s Stanford Burma group selected IDE who have 30 staff in their Yangon office and 150 field staff to help with the recovery and

reconstruction effort. You can donate

at https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=3264)


Foundation for the People of Burma: www.foundationburma.org/ (Our Burma Village Assistance Project sends money to the tribal regions through FPB)


Medecins Sans Frontieres Holland: http://www.msf.org/

(A journalist friend who lived in Burma for several years wrote: “The on the ground group who is getting relief to people is MSF Holland “)


Relief International: www.ri.org/

(An effective, small relief organization that Annalise has worked with)


US Campaign for Burma: http://uscampaignforburma.org/index.php

You can also take action here and send a message to the UN pressuring them to force aid inside Burma


Burmese American Democratic Alliance: http ://www.badasf.org/





Against all odds, it appears that we have been successful at stopping the proposed IEC 62368 candle flammability standard which would have led to the use of up to 1.7 billion pounds of unneeded chemicals in electronic housings each year. As described in an article in the electronics industry press and also the press release at the end of this message : http://circuitsassembly.com/cms/content/view/6557/95/

the U.S. and 58% of the 31 voting countries voted No and many cited our paper , “The Case against Candle Safe Electronics” as having provided the information which led them to vote agains the standard. Our paper can be downloaded at http://greensciencepolicy.org/standards.shtml.


The bad news is that the chemical industry has three other efforts through the Fire Marshals to require similar standards to the Section

7 candle standard for the U.S. through Underwriter’s Laboratory and for Canada through the Canadian Standards Association and a similar standard for TVS through the IEC. The votes for the UL and CSA standards will be May 19 and the IEC TV standard is in late June. So once again we have a short window of time to stop a vastly increased demand for unneeded fire retardants chemicals in consumer products.


I am planning a trip to Brussels in a couple weeks to meet European NGOs and continue building a global coalition for less toxics in consumer products.





Colleagues and I are working to start the Initiative for Green Science Policy (GSP), possibly at Stanford and/or UC Berkeley. Our goals are:

  1. Provide current unbiased research results and data to the manufacturing industries to help them address real environmental challenges, include considerations of human and environmental health in their material and process selection, and move towards true sustainability.
  2. Serve as an interface between academic scientists and engineers and the policy needs of national, state, and local governments.
  3. Provide research opportunities for science and engineering students to solve challenging interdisciplinary problems with potential policy, health, and environmental real world applications.


Please get in touch for more information or if you might like to support this effort. We had our first fundraising event in April at Hilary and Danny Goldstine’s home and with the critical seed money that was donated, we are able to hire three interns and begin to move our effort to another level.





Environmental Working Group releases a report our pets’ bodies are contaminated with dozens of chemicals, often at levels much higher than found in people. The results show that America’s pets are serving as involuntary sentinels of the widespread chemical contamination that scientists increasingly link to a growing array of health problems across a wide range of animals wild, domesticated and human.


My cat Midnight was the poster cat for their West Coast press event. Midnight has hyperthyroid disease and a high level of PBDE fire retardant chemicals in her body. PBDE exposures have been shown to impact thyroid levels in mice, rats, kestrals, and frogs.


Midnight and I were on the front page of the Daily Californian:


and the Oakland

Tribune. http://www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/ci_8970452


You can download the informative EWG report at http://www.ewg.org/reports/pets





NEPAL or BURMA DEC 17- JAN 1, 2009


Given the terrible tragedy in Burma, it isn’t clear if we will be able to travel there in December. If we do, part of our trip will include helping the villagers. If Burma is not a good option this year, we will plan a holiday trek in Nepal during this same time. Please let me know if you want to be on the list to receive information about either or both of these potential holiday trips.


Isolated from the rest of the world for the last decades, Burma is a traditional country rich in natural resources with a diversity of tribal peoples, ancient monasteries and pagodas, lively villages, and

colorful markets. In Bagan, one of the richest archeological sites

in Asia, we will explore by car, bike, foot, and boat among 2000 well-preserved temples and pagodas from the 10th to 12th centuries. In the hill station of Kalaw, we will meet friends who are helping bring water, roads, and health education tribal villagers in Shan state. We will trek for five days in the Kalaw region, sleeping in hospitable monasteries and long houses. After reaching lovely Inle Lake, we will visit floating gardens and markets before returning to Yangon.





You are invited to join mountaineer world famous geophysicist Tanya Atwater and me on an adventurous 15-day trek in Ladakh amidst ancient Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, flat-topped mud-brick houses in oasis-like villages, and snow-capped mountains.

Hugh Swift and I crossed the Ladakh Himalaya 25 years ago with on our traverse of the Great Himalaya Range. After seeing the photos, Tanya has wanted to go to Ladakh with me ever since. Beginning at the Lamayuru monastery where Hugh and I concluded our ten- month-long trek in June of 1982, we will enjoy the masked dances of the Lamayuru Festival. Then we will walk up the remote Ripchar valley, cross the Zanskar River by way of a trolley box and trek into the Markha valley with giant rock pinnacles, narrow defiles, prayer-flagged passes and the ruins of forts and castles.





The Fire Retardant Dilemma: Sessions VI

When: Fridays, Sept 19, 8:00am to 1:00pm

Where: 150 University Hall, UC Berkeley (Oxford and Addison). The Fire Retardant Dilemma: How can we achieve fire and environmental safety as well as protect public health? This seminar will bring together speakers from industry, government, academia, and citizens groups to share information and research results and discuss innovative solutions based to the Fire Retardant Dilemma.


PowerPoint lectures and agendas from previous sessions are posted at http://greensciencepolicy.org/conferences.shtml.





Lauren Heine, a respected green chemist; Victoria Keller, a noted outdoor educator, and I are developing leadership workshop to help organizations find a new vision of their future based on safer materials and sustainability. During these workshops, participants use hands-on activities, case studies, and their own experiences to define their values and vision for the future. The outdoor and group problem-solving activities lead to the formation of a united team.

Participants develop a personal vision statement and an action plan to use their new skills to implement their vision.

If you know of an organization that might like more information about leadership and sustainability workshops. Please ask them to get in touch with us. I have previously developed a leadership workshop for the chemists at National Laboratories; we would especially like to work with the chemical industry to help them find a new vision of their future best on environmental and human health and safer chemicals.





My daughter Annalise made a gap year website to help students who want to take time off after high school at http://www.freewebs.com/gapyearsite

The site has profiles of successful gap years and lots of resources on volunteering internationally. If you can recommend good programs or resources, or know someone who has taken a gap year and would like to write for the site, you can email Annalise at annalise@stanford.edu.






Scientists, Researchers, NGOs, & DCA Lead Electronics Industry to Environmental Victory


The unnecessary use of potentially toxic fire retardants in household electronics enclosures stopped, for now.


May 5, 2008 -Dr. Arlene Blum, a visiting scholar in the Chemistry Department at the University of California at Berkeley; Friends of the Earth; Design Chain Associates, LLC; the Center for Environmental Health; the Initiative for Green Science Policy; and a worldwide coalition of scientists, physicians, and NGOs have achieved what was thought to be impossible. A proposed new draft standard by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), IEC 62368 “Audio/Video, Information and Communication Technology Equipment – Safety – Requirements” which could have led to the introduction of hundreds of millions of pounds of potentially toxic fire retardant chemicals into consumers’ homes and bodies, has been defeated.

Eighteen of the 31 voting countries, or 58%, voted against the IEC draft standard based on new information provided by the coalition.

This was far more than the 25% needed to defeat the standard.


The majority of IEC 62368 improves existing standards for electronic product safety; however Clause 7, a part of the standard which would have required plastic enclosures for household electronic products to withstand candle flame ignition, had no valid fire safety rationale, but enormous potential negative consequences. The Clause, which was promoted as an enhanced fire safety standard, in fact had limited potential to affect fire safety, as appliance fires represent only a small number of the total candle fires in the US each year. In the US – which has the best fire data in the world – appliance fires caused by candles, which represent a far broader scope than was covered by this draft standard, amount to only 3% of total candle fires, result in no deaths, and cause only $5M of property damage a year according to a 2007 report by the National Fire Protection Association.


In order to meet the requirements outlined in Clause 7, producers would likely have used hundreds of millions of pounds of potentially toxic fire retardant chemicals that can migrate out of consumer products into dust, humans, and animals where they persist and bioaccumulate. Many dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers provide evidence of environmental toxicity as well as negative health impacts in many species, including humans. Fire retardant chemicals that are used in electronics and many other products can cause neurological and reproductive impairments such as hyperactivity, mental retardation, reduced sperm count, reproductive dysfunction, thyroid abnormalities, endocrine disruption, and/or cancer in animals exposed to them. These negative impacts have led to an ongoing stream of restrictions by governments around the world on the use of a series of fire retardant chemicals in consumer products.


Dr. Arlene Blum, who is working with the coalition of scientists and physicians who studied the impacts of Clause 7, noted, “My colleagues and I are delighted that the IEC committees didn’t move forward with this potentially destructive standard without considering current health and environmental information.” Dr Blum coordinated the research and writing of the “The Case against Fire Retardant Electronics, an extensive report (available at

http://greensciencepolicy.org/standards.shtml) which summarizes scientific research showing that the fire retardant chemicals currently in use could have negative environmental and health consequences, and also highlights the lack of a well-documented fire safety rationale in Clause 7.


The fire retardant chemical industry does not provide adequate information about the chemical composition or toxicology of its products, nor does it acknowledge the extensive literature of scientific publications showing environmental and health/safety problems. Clause 7 was initiated and promoted by this industry through the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) which is housed in the office of the fire retardant industry’s Washington, DC-based lobbyist, Peter Sparber and Associates.


“Through deceptive and incomplete data, and sheer force of will, the fire retardant industry has, over the past several years, very nearly succeeded in making this candle flame ignition requirement a fait accompli”, said Mike Kirschner of Design Chain Associates. “The electronics industry’s desire is to improve environmental performance of its products and this would have driven it in the other direction for no good reason.”


Following a decision last December by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to not move forward with an open flame standard for furniture foam due to health and environmental concerns, CPSC Commissioner Thomas Moore said, “No one wants to trade fire risks for chemical toxicity risks.” No one, that is, except the fire retardant chemical industry.


“Fire retardant chemicals are building up in our bodies at astonishing rates, with children now showing the highest levels. This is of great concern given that these chemicals have not been proven safe,” said Sara Schedler, of Friends of the Earth. “We cannot continue to allow consumers to be the test subjects for untested chemicals.”


“We are pleased that the chemical industry failed in its attempt to use false claims about fire safety as a way to sell more hazardous chemicals,” said Judy Levin, of The Center for Environmental Health.

“Consumers deserve safe electronics made without unnecessary chemical threats.”


The efforts of the fire retardant chemical industry to promote candle standards for consumer electronic housings through the NASFM are not over. There are two other draft IEC standards, revisions of IEC 60065 (TV and audio equipment) and IEC 60950 (IT equipment), that incorporate this same Clause 7 candle flame resistance requirements. In addition, the NASFM has introduced the requirement in Canadian CSA and American UL standards which have votes scheduled for May 19. We urge members of all committees to vote against all of these harmful and unnecessary standards.



Please contact us if you would like your name to be taken off this e-mail list or would like more information about Arlene Blum’s leadership and sustainability lectures or workshops




Arlene Blum, PhD
Visiting Scholar, Chemistry
University of California, Berkeley
Box 5455, Berkeley, California, 94705
Telephone: 510 644-3164  Mobile: 510 919-6363
Web: www.greensciencepolicy.org, www.arleneblum.com Arlene Blum
Phone:   510 644-3164
Fax:        510 644-2164
Cell:        510 919-6363
E-Mail:   <mailto:arlene@arleneblum.com>arlene@arleneblum.com
Web site: www.arleneblum.com