The Chicago Tribune just published a long investigative story on how the chemical industry’s star witness in support of chemical flame retardants has been making up terrible stories about burned babies to support these harmful laws. It’s a great piece of reporting. Here’s an excerpt:
“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.”
Wow. These people are disgusting and shameless. The Tribune also ran a descriptive piece on how the chemicals offer no safety benefit yesterday.
More sobering facts from the first article:
Today, scientists know that some flame retardants escape from household products and settle in dust. That’s why toddlers, who play on the floor and put things in their mouths, generally have far higher levels of these chemicals in their bodies than their parents.
Blood levels of certain widely used flame retardants doubled in adults every two to five years between 1970 and 2004. More recent studies show levels haven’t declined in the U.S. even though some of the chemicals have been pulled from the market. A typical American baby is born with the highest recorded concentrations of flame retardants among infants in the world.
The article also confirms that for those of us interested in organic foods, having a sofa free of chemicals should actually be a far bigger concern in terms of chemical exposure:
The amount of flame retardants in a typical American home isn’t measured in parts per billion or parts per million. It’s measured in ounces and pounds.
A large couch can have up to 2 pounds in its foam cushions. The chemicals also are inside some highchairs, diaper-changing pads and breast-feeding pillows. Recyclers turn chemically treated foam into the padding underneath carpets.
“When we’re eating organic, we’re avoiding very small amounts of pesticides,” said Arlene Blum, a California chemist who has fought to limit flame retardants in household products. “Then we sit on our couch that can contain a pound of chemicals that’s from the same family as banned pesticides like DDT.”
The article provides detailed proof that the “Fire Safety” group that goes from state to state with its road show in support of flame retardants is also a liar — in sum, nothing but a deceptive front group for the chemical companies.
If there was ever a time to push California to repeal this absurd and harmful law, it’s now. Take action here. Let’s embarrass them into allowing safer and healthier furniture for all of us.
UPDATE: Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.) calls for action by two federal agencies (the CPSC and EPA) to address the issue. Great news!