Fear fans flames for chemical makers

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by tulianr, May 7, 2012.


  1. tulianr

    tulianr Don Quixote de la Monkey

    (Maybe this is old news for some of you, but I was stunned by this article in the Chicago Tribune, about flame retardant materials. I've included an excerpt of the article along with the link. These are some folks who deserve to be lynched. Apparently, you can survive the SHTF event, and still be killed by your own furniture.)


    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/...0506_1_flame-retardants-candle-fire-chemicals

    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.

    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.

    People might be willing to accept the health risks if the flame retardants packed into sofas and easy chairs worked as promised. But they don't.

    The chemical industry often points to a government study from the 1980s as proof that flame retardants save lives. But the study's lead author, Vytenis Babrauskas, said in an interview that the industry has grossly distorted his findings and that the amount of retardants used in household furniture doesn't work.

    "The fire just laughs at it," he said.

    Heimbach, the burn doctor, has regularly supported the industry's position that flame retardants save lives. But he now acknowledges the stories he told lawmakers about victims were not always factual.

    He told the Tribune his testimony in California was "an anecdotal story rather than anything which I would say was absolutely true under oath, because I wasn't under oath."

    In the last quarter-century, worldwide demand for flame retardants has skyrocketed to 3.4 billion pounds in 2009 from 526 million pounds in 1983, according to market research from The Freedonia Group, which projects demand will reach 4.4 billion pounds by 2014.

    As evidence of the health risks associated with these chemicals piled up, the industry mounted a misleading campaign to fuel demand.

    There is no better example of these deceptive tactics than the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute, the industry front group that sponsored Heimbach and his vivid testimony about burned babies.

    In the website photo, five grinning children stand in front of a red brick fire station that could be on any corner in America. They hold a hand-drawn banner that says "fire safety" with a heart dotting the letter "i."

    Citizens for Fire Safety describes itself as a group of people with altruistic intentions: "a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders, united to ensure that our country is protected by the highest standards of fire safety."

    Heimbach summoned that image when he told lawmakers that the organization was "made up of many people like me who have no particular interest in the chemical companies: numerous fire departments, numerous firefighters and many, many burn docs."

    But public records demonstrate that Citizens for Fire Safety actually is a trade association for chemical companies. Its executive director, Grant Gillham, honed his political skills advising tobacco executives. And the group's efforts to influence fire-safety policies are guided by a mission to "promote common business interests of members involved with the chemical manufacturing industry," tax records show.

    Its only sources of funding β€” about $17 million between 2008 and 2010 β€” are "membership dues and assessments" and the interest that money earns.

    The group has only three members: Albemarle, ICL Industrial Products and Chemtura, according to records the organization filed with California lobbying regulators. Those three companies are the largest manufacturers of flame retardants and together control 40 percent of the world market for these chemicals, according to The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based research firm.

    Citizens for Fire Safety has spent its money primarily on lobbying and political expenses, tax records show. Since federal law makes it nearly impossible for the EPA to ban toxic chemicals and Congress rarely steps in, state legislatures from Alaska to Vermont have become the sites of intense battles over flame retardants.

    Many of the witnesses supporting flame retardants at these hearings were either paid directly by Citizens for Fire Safety or were members of groups that benefited financially from Citizens for Fire Safety's donations, according to tax documents and other records.

    At the same time, Citizens for Fire Safety has portrayed its opposition as misguided, wealthy environmentalists. But its opponents include a diverse group of public health advocates as well as firefighters who are alarmed by studies showing some flame retardants can make smoke from fires even more toxic.

    The group also has misrepresented itself in other ways. On its website, Citizens for Fire Safety said it had joined with the international firefighters' association, the American Burn Association and a key federal agency "to conduct ongoing studies to ensure safe and effective fire prevention."
    Both of those organizations and the federal agency, however, said that simply is not true.

    "They are lying," said Jeff Zack, a spokesman for the International Association of Fire Fighters. "They aren't working with us on anything."

    After inquiries from the Tribune, Citizens for Fire Safety deleted that passage from its website.

    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."
     
    chelloveck likes this.
  2. Seawolf1090

    Seawolf1090 Adventure Riding Monkey Founding Member

    Emotionalism and sensationalism - the best sales gimmicks ever!
     
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