January 2019: A Huge Success: Insulation Without Flame Retardants!


We are celebrating a huge victory! Yesterday the California State Building Commission ruled unanimously that California can safely update its codes to allow the choice of polystyrene building insulation without flame retardants below a concrete slab.

Click photo above of Annalise and Arlene Blum to learn about Arlene’s Hall of Fame California Museum exhibit

Building insulation–where there is no fire safety benefit–is one of the largest uses of toxic flame retardants. After many years of our scientific research and policy work towards healthier buildings, our Institute applauds this very positive first step. Big thanks to Green Science Policy staff who have led this work: Veena Singla, Avery Lindeman, Swati Rayasam, and Joe Charbonnet.

This hard-won success is an auspicious beginning for 2019 and our Institute wishes you a very happy and healthy New Year. 2018 was a big year for us between our Tenth Anniversary  Celebration of Big Ideas, and my being inducted into the California Hall of Fame. (The induction ceremony video is here).

To learn more about reducing chemical harm, register here for our February 15 Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyond Symposium at UC Berkeley. You will be inspired by speakers such as Robert Bilott, a lawyer who represents communities with PFAS-contaminated drinking water. His story will be documented in a major feature film with Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins.

As we begin our second decade, we are pleased that our Six Classes concept has encouraged so many decision makers in business and government to ask, “Do we really need this chemical, given the potential from harm?” when selecting chemicals and products.

Thank you so much to the many of you who contributed to our end-of-year fundraising campaign. With your help, we are looking forward to another successful year for our work reducing unnecessary and harmful chemicals for a healthier world.

Kind regards,

Arlene and the Green Science Policy team

You are Invited: Green Science Policy Symposium, February 15

What do Teflon fry pans, Goretex jackets, and pizza boxes have in common? Are toxic flame retardants still being added to consumer products? Find out at our annual symposium Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyond, Friday, February 15th at UC Berkeley.

This decade-long series of science and policy meetings has educated decision-makers in California and nationally to reduce toxics and protect our health. A preliminary agenda and registration can be found here. Space is limited.

This year’s inspiring speakers include:

  • Robert Bilott, a lawyer who represented communities with PFAS-contaminated drinking water, as reported in the NY Times Magazine cover story “The Lawyer Who Became Dupont’s Worst Nightmare.”
  • Pamela Miller, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and IPEN Co-Chair who works with Indigenous communities in Alaska to protect human rights and environmental health
  • Rainer Lohmann, Professor of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, an expert on global movement of toxic chemicals

When: Friday, February 15, 2019, 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM

Where: 150 University Hall, UC Berkeley (2199 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA)
Questions[email protected] Cost: $10 full-time students; $25 non-profit, government, academia and the public; $50 corporate and business.

(Costs cover the venue, event handouts, continental breakfast, lunch, and snacks.)
Register here.

Bigger Not Always Better for Toxic Chemicals by Joe Charbonnet

“It’s not easy being green.” Kermit the Frog probably didn’t have chemistry in mind when he sang that line, but according to researchers from Germany, the phrase rings true for a purportedly “green” flame retardant. A new peer-reviewed study found that heat and ultraviolet light can break down a flame retardant marketed as eco-friendly into smaller, potentially harmful chemicals.

Building insulation often treated with PolyFR

The flame retardant studied, called PolyFR, is a large polymer that is less likely to enter cells or accumulate in the food chain than previous flame retardants. However, the study’s authors discovered that heat or ultraviolet light-which could be encountered during PolyFR’s use as insulation in a hot attic or after its disposal in an open landfill-could break the long chemical chain into smaller, likely more harmful products.

Because over 26,000 tons of PolyFR are produced each year, even loss of 1% of PolyFR’s mass could lead to significant amounts of degradation products. The study’s authors caution that these results will become even more important if this flame retardant or similar ‘chemical cousins’ are used in products with direct human exposure like textiles.

Check out the GSP website to learn more about healthier insulation and watch a 4-minute video about flame retardants.

Flame Retardants: Hand-washing & House Cleaning by Anna Soehl

Washing your hands and cleaning your house frequently can reduce your exposure to risky flame retardants, according to a recent study in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology.

Hand-washing can reduce flame retardant exposures.

Commonly added to building insulation, carpet padding, electronics, etc. in an attempt to slow the ignition of fires, flame retardants have been linked to hormone disruption, reduced fertility, thyroid problems, and cancer. Studies have found that the chemicals often migrate out of products and into household dust, which is picked up on hands (and then put in the mouth). During the first week of this study, half of the 32 the women participating were instructed to clean their homes more than usual, half to do extra hand-washing. During the second week of the study, all women were asked to do both extra hand-washing and house-cleaning.

After the first week, urine samples from both groups showed that levels of most of the flame retardants had declined, some by as much as half. After the second week they dropped even more.

The researchers noted “house cleaning and hand-washing can help to reduce, but not eliminate, exposure to flame retardants.”

Cleanliness is especially important in households with children or pregnant women, since young children and fetuses are most vulnerable to the chemicals’ effects.

For more information about flame retardants and how to reduce your exposure, visit our website. Also see Why You Should Be a Dust Buster.

PFAS Policy: So Much News! by Tom Bruton

(1) The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published draft tolerable weekly intakes (estimates of the maximum amount of the chemicals to which a person can be exposed without increasing their health risk) for PFOA and PFOS. EG, the estimate for PFOA is roughly 1750 times lower than the 2008 level! EFSA concludes that “a considerable proportion of the population” is exposed to PFOA and PFOS at levels above the new risk thresholds.”

(2) New York’s new proposed maximum contaminant levels of 10 ng/L for PFOA and 10 ng/L for PFOS would be the nation’s most stringent standards.  New Hampshire’s proposed level of 85 ng/L would be the nation’s first enforceable drinking water limit for PFHxS.

(3) 23 Senators sent a letter asking the US Centers for Disease Control to prioritize studies on health effects of firefighters’ exposure to PFAS.

(4) U.S. Reps. Dingell, Upton, and Kildee of Michigan introduced a bipartisan bill that would make all PFAS hazardous substances under the Superfund law, paving the way for EPA to clean up contaminated sites.

(5) “Time-bombing the future” documents the history of PFAS, including their little-known role in the Manhattan Project.

Unknown and Unwelcome by Joe Charbonnet

Toddlers have the highest exposure

The abundance of organophosphate ester (OPE) flame retardants in indoor environments is troubling, but hardly news to scientists. So it was surprising when two teams of researchers recently discovered high levels of a previously undocumented OPE in dust samples everywhere they looked. The chemical, called tri(2,4-di-t-butylphenyl) phosphate, was abundant in household dust, air, water and sediments, but had previously been overlooked. Because of their higher contact with dust on floors, toddlers are at the greatest risk for exposure to this and similar compounds.

These findings highlight the problem of regrettable substitution. As older, toxic flame retardants are phased out, they are often replaced by OPEs, a different group of toxic flame retardants which may disrupt sex and thyroid hormone function and the nervous system. These studies demonstrate how the substitute chemicals may be unknown to researchers, leaving us blind to their abundance and risk. By encouraging us to think of all flame retardants together, the Six Classes approach can help to eliminate regrettable substitutions.


January 24, 2019: The San Francisco Green Business Program Panel Discussion and Reception

  • Time: 5:30 – 8:00pm
  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Speakers:

– Arlene Blum, Ph.D., Green Science Policy Institute
– Chris Geiger, Ph.D., SF Environment, Green Purchasing ~ Safer Pest Management
– Debra Baida, Founder of Liberated Spaces

This event is free. Please RSVP on Eventbrite.

February 11-13, 2019: 46th Annual Pretreatment, Pollution Prevention, and Stormwater Conference

  • Location: Monterey Bay, CA

Connect the Dots to Clean Water as you listen in to an impressive group of leaders in the environmental community. Joe Charbonnet from the institute will be giving an introductory address. Please click here for more information.

February 15, 2019: Green Science Policy Symposium: Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyond

  • Time: 8:30am – 4:30pm
  • Location: 150 University Hall, UC Berkeley (2199 Addison Street, Berkeley CA).

This annual meeting brings together scientists, business, government, and citizens groups to share information on flame retardants, fluorinated chemicals, and other chemicals of concern. Registration and agenda here.

May 21-22, 2019: Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference 

  • Location: Champaign, IL

Tom Bruton will be giving a keynote and participating in a panel. Learn more here.