Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Arlene Blum: Earth Day Hero

There are two ways you may have heard of Arlene Blum, as a consumer product safety researcher focusing on the removal of toxic chemicals or as a mountain climber.  Either way, it is clear she is up for big challenges.

With a PhD in biophysical chemistry from U.C. Berkeley, she co-authored a ground breaking research paper that led to a federal ban on flame retardants in kid's pajamas.  The ban removed both brominated and chlorinated Tris from use, a major environmental safety achievement in the late 70's.  Around the same time, she also became well known in the international mountaineering world, when she led the first all women ascent on Annapurna in Nepal, at 26,545 feet, one of the top ten tallest mountains, and statistically rated most dangerous.

Eight years ago she founded the Green Science Policy Institute at U.C. Berkeley and launched a series of campus seminars on "The Fire Retardant Dilemma."  The Institute's stated purpose is to provide unbiased scientific data to government, industry, and non-governmental organizations to facilitate informed decision making about the use of chemical in consumer products.  Their primary focus has been the modification of flammability requirements for the California Technical Bulletin, TB-117, which regulates furniture flame resistance, and AB-127 which Governor Brown signed in 2013 directing the State Fire Marshal to review code requirements regarding flame retardants in foam building insulation.  These actions are fueled by her published research that has shown that code required flame retardants used in furniture and foam building insulation do not provide the intended fire safety.  Further, the research shows that the retardants result in toxic smoke in the event of a fire, and that their long term environmental and human effects are or may be persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic.  This evidence should influence policy and architectural practices, particularly with regard to the selection and specification of furniture and building insulation products.

Arlene's research and advocacy about the impact of these chemicals (more info in this U.C. Berkeley news article), show her to be a relentless and tireless fighter to improve the environment.  She is my nominee for a true, Earth Day Hero, and someone we should all recognize and learn from.

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