The Movement Against Flame Retardants Is Building



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.

“There we go, lets look at this nice chair,” Blum says, examining an item in the furniture showroom. “It says this article meets the flammability requirements of the California Bureau of Furnishings Technical Bulletin 117.”

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.

Read the rest of this story — and listen to the audio version — at