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While attending a green chemistry conference in 2006, Arlene Blum found herself chatting with a foam industry executive. When he sketched the structure of a flame retardant currently used in couches, she couldn’t believe her eyes.

He had drawn chlorinated tris, a phosphate compound that Blum and Bruce N. Ames of the University of California, Berkeley, had demonstrated in the late 1970s to have mutagenic properties along with its brominated twin. Shortly after their discovery appeared in Science, manufacturers voluntarily removed the chemicals from children’s sleepwear.

Clearly, Blum says, just doing the science isn’t sufficient for good policy decisions. So the chemist is drawing attention to flame retardants once again…

Rachel Petkewich