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Chemical Industry Tactics Hit New Lows

The CPSC “We did not find flame retardants in foam to provide any significant protection [from fire]”

On Saturday, while sitting at my computer waiting to take my son to baseball practice, I was stunned to read that the main “expert” who opposed our Toxic-Free Kids Act had actually fabricated stories about burn victims in testimony to elected officials in other states—and been caught in the act by the Chicago Tribune. I am used to seeing the powerful chemical industry spend millions of dollars to protect widespread use of their chemical products, but the use of outright deceit marks a new low in their practices.

My outrage, on the other hand, is at an all-time high.  This “expert,” Dr. David Heimbach, is no ordinary industry paid consultant. He is a decorated burn doctor who has treated many burn victims.  In 2009, the Dalai Lama presented Heimbach with an award for his pioneering care of burn victims around the world. But this well-respected doctor has now chosen to travel around to state legislatures for the chemical industry and make up stories about children being seriously injured or dying in fires and how toxic flame retardants could have saved them—when the facts point to the opposite. 

WTC and our partners decided to pursue a ban on chlorinated Tris in Washington after studying this cancer-causing chemical for more than a year. We made sure our science was indisputable and that safer alternatives were available. And, most importantly, that we were absolutely doing the right thing in banning a flame retardant in children’s products. We worked with firefighters, nurses, pediatricians and the environmental community, who shared our concerns about exposure to cancer-causing flame retardants.

But enough legislators believed testimony by the chemical industry and the burn doctor that delivered their message. The bill passed the House 60-34 but died before it reached a final vote in the Senate.  Now children in Washington will spend one more year lying, sleeping, and nursing on cancer causing flame retardants.

Important government research was also unveiled in the Tribune’s articles. The Consumer Product Safety Commission conducted independent research on the effectiveness of flame retardants like chlorinated Tris, commonly used in foam furniture and concluded:  “We did not find flame retardants in foam to provide any significant protection.” The article also reported that the private Underwriters Laboratory, which certifies products as meeting fire safety standards, concluded that barrier methods actually work much better than adding these toxic flame retardants to foam!

Dr. Heimbach testified in Olympia opposing the Toxic-Free Kids Act and lobbied legislators on behalf of the industry front group Citizens for Fire Safety.  He also helped to convince the larger business community to oppose this common-sense measure. The bill topped the Association of Washington Business’ kill list, and they were joined in opposition by Johnson and Johnson, the Personal Care Products Council, the Toy Industry Association, Walmart, Target, and others. This all-out business assault on the Toxic-Free Kids Act on behalf of an industry that according to the Tribune article has carried out a “decades-long campaign of deception” was truly appalling! This new information makes it doubly clear that these companies and the legislators who voted with them were on the wrong side of the issue.

This is not the end of the fight in Washington. In 2007, this state became the first in the nation to ban all PBDE flame retardants after a three-year fight. We know better than to give up easily in the face of industry’s dirty tactics when we know that children’s health is at stake, and we’re not giving up now.  We will work harder than ever to eliminate toxic flame retardants and other chemicals that cause cancer and other health problems. Please join us!


Image courtesy of flickr user mobial