Purpose Prize Winner Lends Expertise to New York Times and NPR

Arlene Blum

Purpose Prize winner Arlene Blum, whose research and advocacy led to a ban on a toxic fire retardant in children's sleepwear, has recently lent her expertise to two major media outlets.

In the New York Times, Blum noted that the same chemical she helped remove from kids’ pajamas decades ago – chlorinated Tris – is in upholstered furniture and nursing pillows today. She told Times columnist Nicholas Kristof flame retardants in pregnant women "can alter brain development in the fetus.” Read the column here.

And on NPR, Blum said that flame retardants turn up in household dust and in human blood and breast milk. She said they can cause cancer in lab animals and abnormal brain development in humans. Listen to the NPR story here.

Blum is in demand as an expert, given her vast experience in the field. But like with many social entrepreneurs, her life’s work took several turns.

After she helped spark the ban on chlorinated Tris in children’s sleepwear in 1977, Blum took a break from her scientific career as a University of California, Berkeley, chemist to focus on motherhood, corporate leadership training and mountaineering.

She spent years leading mountain climbing teams in the Himalayas until her cat, Midnight, was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in 2006. Blum found high levels of fire retardant chemicals in the cat's blood and in household dust. The discovery brought Blum back to working toward reducing toxins in consumer products.

She later founded the Green Science Policy Institute in 2008. Since then, the institute has prevented the use of hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic flame retardants in consumer products.

Blum won a $100,000 Purpose Prize in 2008 for the extraordinary contribution she’s making in her encore career. Prize winners are people over 60 who are creating new ways to solve a range of social problems challenging our nation and our world.