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Arlene Blum calls it her “Rip Van Winkle” moment. It happened in March 2006, almost 30 years after her research with Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames helped ban mutagenic fire-retardant chemicals from children’s sleepwear. In particular, their seminal papers in Science magazine in 1977- 78 documented the toxicity of chlorinated and brominated versions of a phosphate compound called “tris.”

In the 1970s, Blum, a mountain climber who had earned her Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry with Ignacio Tinoco, split her time between research and climbing. When President Reagan took office in 1980, it became clear that the regulation of potentially harmful chemicals was not on the political agenda. Blum decided it was a good time to set aside her research, heed the call of the hills, and depart for a ten-month-long trek across the Himalayan mountain range…

UC Berkeley College of Chemistry Catalyst