Last spring, we had the opportunity to hear a webinar from Arlene Blum, the director of the Green Science Policy Institute and a crusader for removing carcinogenic flame retardants from childrens' products and furniture. Ms. Blum has been leading this uphill battle since the 1970s when she first recognized the importance and magnitude of this work as a graduate student. In addition to being a mother and avid mountaineer, she has worked tirelessly to research chemical components of these products and their health impacts and use her science to inform and change policy at the local, state, national, and international level. Her work led her to be profiled by Dove as one of several "Women Who Should be Famous," meant to inspire young girls.
For those who missed our webinar last spring, a new article in the New York Times Magazine profiles Ms. Blum and her twin passions of mountain climbing and responsible chemistry and environmental policy. It highlights her delicate balance between science and the fight for public good, and mountaineering and mothering. In addition, the article does much more in bringing awareness to a wide audience about the danger of unknown and unstudied chemicals in the home. As Ms. Blum will say, there are many chemicals that enter our homes through the products we purchase about which we know little or nothing. Many could be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or in other ways harmful to our health and well-being. Yet due to current policies which allow use of chemicals until they are proven harmful (rather than a precautionary or scientifically-based principle for regulatory approval), we have no idea of the danger of these molecules. Instead, we welcome these dangerous compounds into our homes, the place in which we should feel safest.
I write this not to scare readers away from sitting down but to highlight Ms. Blum as one who understands the responsibility with which she as a scientist is endowed. In all of our work we should follow her example and strive to understand the impact of our work as engineers and scientists on society. It is not enough to study and learn for ourselves--we must always question the norm and use our work to in turn inform policy, social change, and decisionmaking at all levels. Perhaps for some this means using the projects you undertake to institute change on your campus, in your community, or among friends and colleagues in their homes. Perhaps it is larger and affects your city or state. No matter what the scale, we have a duty to strive for sustainability and improved quality of life in all senses of the word through our work. We should always question, we should always improve, and we must make sure that our work is not just shelved but utilized for good to its true potential.
You can read the full New York Times article here.