by Erik Neumann
Arlene Blum and I are standing in an upscale furniture store in Berkeley. The showroom is full of brightly colored chairs and couches in purple, grey, and blue and upholstered with whimsical patterns and elegant modern lines.
Blum is the Executive Director of the Green Science Policy Institute, an independent research group that studies the chemicals used in household products. She’s a former chemist at UC Berkeley, where in the 1970s she studied flame retardants, including one called Tris that appeared to change DNA, and possibly caused cancer. Blum’s work got these chemicals removed from children’s pajamas, where they were commonly used at the time. Now, she’s trying to get them out of furniture.
Blum is tall, with long grey hair. Most of the time, she has a big smile on her face. When she looks around this store, however, she isn’t smiling. The chair she’s examining is covered with dark purple fabric and is filled with either Firemaster or chlorinated Tris. Both chemicals are toxic. What’s worse, Blum says, they don’t actually stop fires.
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