Watchdog Update: Pressure grows for limits on flame retardants

Advocates gather Tuesday on Capitol Hill before a protest and news conference calling for safer chemicals. (Brendan Hoffman, For the Chicago Tribune)

At the state level, the chief opponent of legislation restricting the use of flame retardants is the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute, a group that has billed itself as "a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders."

But as the Tribune reported, the organization is actually a front group for the three largest makers of flame retardants, Albemarle Corp., Chemtura Corp. and ICL Industrial Products.

Since then, Citizens for Fire Safety has changed its website to acknowledge that it is a trade group funded by those companies. Quotes on the site from two physicians who spoke favorably about flame retardants and the group's commitment to saving lives also were deleted.

The chemical industry says chlorinated tris is safe as used, and Citizens for Fire Safety thwarted a proposed ban in Washington state this spring. But in response to the Tribune series, activists are asking the state's Department of Ecology to add the flame retardant to its list of chemicals "of high concern to children," which would require manufacturers of children's products to disclose their use of the chemical.

Last year, industry lobbyists fought successfully in New York to strip chlorinated tris out of legislation that banned a related chemical, TCEP, from children's products. But on the eve of the recent vote by the New York committee, copies of the Tribune series were distributed to senators by Kathleen Curtis, a nurse who leads a group called Clean and Healthy New York, and Andrew McGuire, a burn survivor and advocate. The bill passed unanimously.

"We said (the series) proves what we've been saying all along," Curtis said. "They lie. They buy testimony. They misrepresent science. The chemicals don't work. They're unnecessary. They're harmful."

The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families group has called on the American Chemistry Council to expel the major flame retardant makers for ethical lapses. In a letter, the advocates wrote that the Tribune series documented practices "that can only be described as deeply unethical, completely lacking in scientific integrity, and deliberately misleading of policy makers and the general public."

A spokeswoman for the industry group said it had received the letter but declined to comment.

Ian Duncan of the Tribune Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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