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For years I have wondered why is it that we require that infant and children sleepwear be treated with flame retardants. It has puzzled and perplexed me that to avoid a rare occasion of a burning house fire we would subject every child to the slow release of known toxic chemicals. Save a few by poisoning everyone? It made no sense.
Well, now I know. The Chicago Tribune Watchdog report recently came out with a 4 part series on Flame Retardants. FINALLY, my questions have been answered. Sadly the answers are pretty infuriating. I HIGHLY recommend taking the time to read this entire 4 part series. But in a nut shell, here's the rub:
PART 1: Dr. David Heimbach, a burn expert was paid for his testimony in front of the California state Senate on a bill that could have reduced the use of flame retardant chemicals in furniture. He testified about treating children with burns. Problem is the dramatic stories are lies. He made them up:
"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."
PART 2: How and why did we start adding fire retardants to furniture and other items? It can be traced back to cigarette companies. Yep. Cigarettes were starting fires and instead of addressing the problem at the cigarette level they decided to shift focus to furniture and blame it. Cigarette companies targeted fire departments around the country and began funneling money and influence to get the firefighter community to support their agenda.
"The fire marshals organization continued promoting flame retardant products even after it was clear that the chemicals inside were escaping, settling in dust and winding up in the bodies of babies and adults worldwide.
The marshals continued even after flame retardants were linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility."
If that weren't infuriating enough . . .
"The marshals just last year helped defeat a crucial bill in California that would have reduced flame retardants in products nationwide. The association's president at the time wrote a letter opposing the legislation. A lobbyist for the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute, a front group for the largest makers of flame retardants, read excerpts of the letter at the hearing where the bill was voted down.
And who remains a financial sponsor of the fire marshals, with its logo on the group's home page?
Chemtura, one of the world's largest producers of flame retardants."
PART 3: The science is grossly flawed. The statistics use to promote chemicals being put in everything from couches, to electronics, to children's sleepwear is based on manipulated and distorted science. Science that claims it is safe and effective.
"The main basis for these broad claims? A report so obscure it is available only in Swedish.
When the Tribune obtained a copy and translated it, the report revealed that many of industry's wide-ranging claims can be traced to information regarding just eight TV fires in western Stockholm more than 15 years ago."
To add insult to injury, the author of the most often used report says this:
"Vytenis Babrauskas says chemical manufacturers have "grossly distorted" his research to promote their fire retardants. The amount of chemicals in household furniture is often enough to pose health threats but not enough to stem fires; "the worst of both possible worlds," he says. (Kevin P. Casey, For Chicago Tribune / April 6, 2012)"
PART 4: Toxic roulette. They keep coming out with better/safer fire retardant chemicals but are they really safe? The latest "safe" chemical is Firemaster 550. The chemical makers claim it is safe, but is it?
"Documents obtained by the Tribune show that scientists within the agency were deeply skeptical about the safety of Firemaster 550, predicting that its chemical ingredients would escape into the environment and break down into byproducts that would pose lasting health hazards.
The manufacturer's own health studies, obtained by the Tribune, add to that troubling picture. They found that exposing rats to high doses of Firemaster 550 can lower birth weight, alter female genitalia and cause skeletal malformations such as fused ribs and vertebrae."
Sigh. Double sigh. Greed is a strange thing. At least I no longer have to wonder why we have such nonsensical laws. Now I just wonder how the people who work and promote such known toxic chemicals sleep at night. I am extra grateful today that my life's work is something that helps rather than hurts people and planet.
Founder of Harmony Art organic design.