Originally published September 8 2014
Chemical industry campaigns to keep profiting off of flame retardants that cause cancer
by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
(NaturalNews) The chemical industry is fighting tooth and nail to stop proposed legislation in California that would allow furniture to be sold without toxic flame retardant chemicals. The Chicago Tribune, which conducted a rigorous safety investigation on flame retardants back in 2012, says the bill would mandate that any furniture still containing them be labeled as such, a move that would likely deter consumers from purchasing it.
The bill comes as the truth about flame retardant chemicals -- mainly that they don't work and are highly toxic -- continues to emerge. And one major flame retardant chemical company, Philadelphia-based Chemtura, is leading the charge to block it with a new lawsuit, which the key author of the legislation says is nothing but a desperate attempt by this industry leader to protect its profits.
"These are the last gasps of a fraudulent war the chemical industry has been battling to protect their billions of dollars of sales," said California state Sen. Mark Leno, chief sponsor of the new bill. "They know that with adequate information, consumers will move away from chemical-filled products."
Chemical industry sues to block mandatory flame retardant labeling in California The chemical industry opposes the labels because they threaten its viability, but consumer groups say they are necessary to keep people informed about the latest science on flame retardants. This includes data showing that, whether treated with chemicals or not, furniture tends to ignite and burst into flames at about the same rate.
The Tribune had also found during its investigation that chemical companies were lying about children being burned up by untreated furniture. Dr. David Heimbach, the former head of the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, told lawmakers fabricated stories about babies that had supposedly burned after untreated furniture caught fire.
Dr. Heimbach's testimony was later exposed as false, and it was revealed that he had received $240,000 in compensation from flame retardant manufacturers for lying before Congress. Since that time, it has become clear that flame retardant chemicals, including Chemtura's Firemaster 550, do not work as claimed, and are not in any way environmentally friendly.
Flame retardant chemicals accumulate in people's bodies, research finds A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Tribune uncovered data showing that Firemaster 550 and many other similar flame retardant chemicals are showing up in people's bodies. Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that they are potential health hazard, despite dubious claims by their manufacturers.
"Testing by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Northbrook-based Underwriters Laboratories has found that flame retardants provide no meaningful protection from small open flames -- the type used in tests that industry relied on to meet the old California flammability standard," wrote Michael Hawthorne for the Tribune.
"In the safety commission tests, scientists in a federal laboratory touched a candlelike flame to a pair of upholstered chairs -- one with a flame retardant in the foam and one without. Both were engulfed in flames within four minutes."
Flame retardants lead to neurological damage, infertility, and cancer Even worse than their ineffectiveness is the fact that flame retardant chemicals are highly toxic to humans. The Tribune investigation, entitled Playing With Fire, found that flame retardants are linked to all sorts of serious health effects, including neurological damage, developmental problems, infertility and cancer. And yet the chemical industry has sought to conceal all of this, insisting that all furniture be outfitted with flame retardants to protect children.
But this tactic is no longer working. The new flammability standard is expected to be implemented nationwide, meaning furniture manufacturers will no longer be required to use flame retardants at all, in any state. Many have already begun to phase them out, it turns out, with the plan being to eventually start marketing furniture as "flame retardant-free."
"Although we cannot provide specifics about our confidential business plans, please know that we are committed to refining our approach as laws, regulations and science evolve over time," wrote a representative from Pottery Barn to the Tribune about its plans to eventually begin selling flame retardant-free furniture.
Other furniture manufacturers, including Ethan Allen, were more direct, explaining that "it is reasonable to expect that we will offer upholstered furniture with less or no fire retardant." In the same email, the Ethan Allen representative confessed that the company plans to begin producing such furniture later this year.
Consumer demand, after all, is constantly pushing toward more products that are free of chemicals and produced as naturally and humanely as possible. Flame retardants do not qualify under this, which means the big wigs in the chemical industry are going to have to start looking for new jobs elsewhere.
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