June 2015: The Roller Coaster of Life


The last weeks have seemed like the proverbial “roller coaster of life.” Following a series of tragic earthquakes in Nepal, the Himalayan Fair raised considerable support for both relief and rebuilding. In case you might like to contribute, the list of a dozen small, on-the-ground charities in Nepal to which the Fair is donating is here.

The New York Times Retro Report – well worth watching – concisely recounts the flame retardant saga. You can view ithere. And today Nick Kristof’s NY Times column,“Chemicals in Your Popcorn?”, is about PFASs, the first of the Six Classes of concern.

On the other hand, the global consumption of harmful classes of chemicals continues to grow.  For flame retardants, a 1.5 billion pounds usage is projected for 2019. What part of this usage is actually necessary?

Here at the Green Science Policy Institute, we are hiring aScience and Policy Associate. Please consider applyinghere if you might like to join our team to reduce toxics and protect human health and the environment. Also see below to learn about our exciting new collaboration for healthier building materials and consumer products, especially in affordable housing.

I’m recently back from the International Flame Retardant meeting in Beijing, where we hosted a Science and Policy workshop and also learned about the Chinese intent to reduce pollution and toxic chemicals. You can view the talks presented in English and in Chinese here. I learned that the use of some harmful chemicals, already phased out in the US and EU, is increasing in China. This worrying trend needs reversing.

For an update on our work, you are invited to my talk on the UC Berkeley campus on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 4:30 pm.

Thanks for your interest in our work and have a good June,
Arlene and the Green Science Policy team

New Initiative for Healthy Affordable Housing

The Green Science Policy institute is delighted to announce our participation in an innovative new initiative aimed at improving the health impacts and transparency of building and consumer products used in affordable housing. This three-year-long project is a collaborative effort with our partners: The New School’s Parsons School of Design, Healthy Building Network, and Health Product Declaration Collaborative.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Some harmful chemicals can survive wastewater treatment and end up in our food when reclaimed water is used to irrigate crops. In a pair of recent papers, Chris Higgins’s group at Colorado School of Mines looked at uptake of organophosphate flame retardants and other members of the Six Classes by lettuce and strawberries. His data suggests that such chemicals of concern can be taken up by crops from water containing them and accumulate in the edible portions of the plants, especially strawberries. This is yet another unintended consequence of the use of harmful chemicals and a reason that we must look for safer alternatives and use flame retardants only when they provide a well-established fire safety benefit.

Pop Stop: Fluorinated Chemicals Make News

The Madrid Statement, signed by over 230 scientists and professionals from 40 countries, expresses a scientific consensus on the very persistent and harmful class of highly fluorinated chemicals, and provides a roadmap to limit their production and use. june3

Following the Madrid Statement’s May 1 publication in the high impact journal Environmental Health Perspectives, highly fluorinated chemicals are beginning to receive the media attention they deserve, many for the first time ever. Close to 100 news media outlets covered the Statement, including The New York Times, Huffington Post, Science Insider, National Geographic, Environmental Health News, NBC Today & USA Today.

Excellent news that the large retailer COOP Denmark announced that it will no longer sell microwave popcorn in any of its 1200 stores because, according to its press release, “renowned researchers and authorities are concerned about the fluorinated substances used in packaging.” Will US retailers follow this lead? Read more about COOP Denmark’s move on our blog.

Chemical Industry Insider Comes Clean

june4The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the major trade group for the chemical industry, long claimed it didn’t lobby on behalf of its member companies in state legislatures and that it had no affiliation with theCitizens For Fire Safety Institute. Now Grant Gillham, former Executive Director of Citizens for Fire Safety, has come forward and stated that his organization was a front group for the flame retardant production companies and detailed how they contributed to defeating state efforts to reduce the use of flame retardants.

Gilham said, “They flat out lied about it. They denied that they ever did anything with us.” In truth, as discussed in riveting articles from theCenter for Public Integrity, the Daily Beast, and on our blog, the ACC and the three flame retardant producers created and supervised Citizens For Fire Safety Institute, which operated from 2007-2012. Gillham has now shared a number of documents that prove their involvement.