In a UC Berkeley classroom, Arlene Blum dived into a version of a chemistry lecture she has given for most of the past decade.

There would be no homework, however, and the chairs held more architects and government officials than students. Blum had summoned them from across the country to discuss what has become – largely because of her – one of the biggest health campaigns in the nation: the drive to remove flame-retardant chemicals from the environment.

“It’s not a dilemma anymore,” Blum, 68, told the crowd on a recent morning. “We know we can have fire safety without harm.”

With her open-toed walking sandals, warm smile and easy ability to converse with strangers, Blum blends into the laid-back crowd at UC Berkeley, where she is a visiting scholar and where she earned a doctorate in biophysical chemistry. But her casual demeanor masks a relentless determination that began with a discovery she made more than 30 years ago…

Stephanie M. Lee