Flame retardants don't work, and are hazardous

Flame retardants are found in a variety of household products despite evidence they put people's health at risk. A Tribune investigation looks at how industry has used deceptive tactics to convince the public they're needed.

 

Dear Colleagues,

Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth have highlighted halogenated flame retardants as priority chemicals for substitution. Health Care Without Harm has campaigned against their use.

The wisdom of that position is very compellingly presented in a new series featured in the Chicago Tribune. The first part of the series is copied below. The article also highlights the industry's tactics in attempting to distort facts to keep flame retardants in products unnecessarily. The series also highlights alternative barriers that perform better and are less toxic. 

-Tracey Easthope

Below find some excerpts and the full articles:

Tribune Watchdog, Playing With Fire

Chemical companies, Big Tobacco and the toxic products in your home

The average American baby is born with 10 fingers, 10 toes and the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world. The toxic chemicals are present in nearly every home, packed into couches, chairs and many other products. Two powerful industries — Big Tobacco and chemical manufacturers — waged deceptive campaigns that led to the proliferation of these chemicals, which don’t even work as promised.

Watch the introduction

Part one: Torching the truth

Chicago Tribune
6 May 2012
Full Article

Fear fans flames for chemical makers

Manufacturers of fire retardants rely on questionable testimony, front groups to push standards that boost demand for their toxic — and ineffective — products

Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe, Chicago Tribune reporters

Dr. David Heimbach knows how to tell a story.

Before California lawmakers last year, the noted burn surgeon drew gasps from the crowd as he described a 7-week-old baby girl who was burned in a fire started by a candle while she lay on a pillow that lacked flame retardant chemicals.

"Now this is a tiny little person, no bigger than my Italian greyhound at home," said Heimbach, gesturing to approximate the baby's size. "Half of her body was severely burned. She ultimately died after about three weeks of pain and misery in the hospital."

Heimbach's passionate testimony about the baby's death made the long-term health concerns about flame retardants voiced by doctors, environmentalists and even firefighters sound abstract and petty.

But there was a problem with his testimony: It wasn't true.

Records show there was no dangerous pillow or candle fire. The baby he described didn't exist.

Neither did the 9-week-old patient who Heimbach told California legislators died in a candle fire in 2009. Nor did the 6-week-old patient who he told Alaska lawmakers was fatally burned in her crib in 2010.

Heimbach is not just a prominent burn doctor. He is a star witness for the manufacturers of flame retardants.

His testimony, the Tribune found, is part of a decades-long campaign of deception that has loaded the furniture and electronics in American homes with pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility.

The tactics started with Big Tobacco, which wanted to shift focus away from cigarettes as the cause of fire deaths, and continued as chemical companies worked to preserve a lucrative market for their products, according to a Tribune review of thousands of government, scientific and internal industry documents.

These powerful industries distorted science in ways that overstated the benefits of the chemicals, created a phony consumer watchdog group that stoked the public's fear of fire and helped organize and steer an association of top fire officials that spent more than a decade campaigning for their cause.

Continue reading full article

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