FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 7, 2012
Oakland, CA--An in-depth investigation by the Chicago Tribune has found that chemical companies that make fire retardants used in furniture and dozens of consumer products have for decades used deception and phony “citizen’s” groups to mislead the public, legislators and regulatory agencies about the efficacy and safety of their harmful products. Evidence from recent scientific studies shows fire retardants are ineffective and is increasingly linking the chemicals to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems, impaired fertility and other health problems. Yet the chemical companies’ deceitful public relations tactics and massive lobbying efforts have blocked efforts to change outdated regulations, like California’s fire retardant rule TB 117, that requires fire retardants in furniture and baby products, resulting in the massive, unnecessary and toxic use of fire retardant chemicals nationwide.
“The Tribune investigation shows that the makers of these chemical poisons are using the tobacco industry’s playbook of deception, distortion of science, and phony front groups to maintain huge profits from their harmful products,” said Judy Levin, Pollution Prevention Program Director of the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), a leading consumer health watchdog. “It’s time to eliminate outdated requirements for these chemicals that provide no benefit while posing serious health threats to our children and families.”
In a stunning revelation, the Tribune investigation exposed how Dr. David Heimbach, a consultant paid by the fire retardant industry to testify about the need for their products, repeatedly lied to lawmakers in hearings on fire retardant rules. According to the Tribune, Heimbach made up details about medical cases of children who died from burn injuries to falsely demonstrate that they could have been saved by the toxic chemicals. When Tribune reporters confronted Heimbach with evidence of his lies, the doctor stated that the “anecdotes” he related were not “absolutely true” but were justified “because I wasn't under oath."
A front-group called Citizen’s for Fire Safety (CFS) paid for Heimbach’s fraudulent testimony. The group has no “citizen” members, but is in fact a trade group consisting of the three largest makers of fire retardants, Albemarle, ICL Industrial Products, and Chemtura, who together control 40% of the world market for the chemicals. The Tribune also confronted CFS after discovering that the group's website falsely listed alliances with fire fighter groups, federal regulators, and the American Burn Association. Facing the Tribune’s evidence, CFS took down the deceitful passages. The newspaper found that CFS is just one of many front groups the fire retardant companies have used over the past 15 or more years to mislead the public in the U.S. and abroad.
Products made with fire retardants often contain large amounts of the toxic chemicals. A couch can have as much as 2 pounds of the harmful substances in its foam cushions, and fire retardants are also used in carpet padding, highchairs, diaper-changing pads and breast-feeding pillows. While the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has found that flame retardants in household furniture are not effective, and can pose unnecessary health risks, California’s 1975 rule requiring the chemicals has resulted in their massive use nationwide.
CPSC has proposed new fire safety rules for furniture focusing on making upholstery resistant to smoldering cigarettes, without chemical fire retardants, since cigarettes are by far the chief cause of furniture fires. But until the proposed rule is finalized—a process that can take several years – California’s outdated regulation remains the de facto national standard. CEH and other health, consumer safety, and fire fighter groups have advocated for a new California rule based on the federal draft, and have urged state legislators to stand up to industry’s campaign of deception.
“The Tribune story is a must-read for California lawmakers, who need to know about these industry lies” said Levin. “Our state can lead the nation to safer products for our children and families by correcting the misinformed policies that have put us at risk for far too long.”
Links to the Chicago Tribune’s investigation are at http://www.toxicfreefiresafety.org/ChTriblinks5512.php . For more information, see http://www.toxicfreefiresafety.org/