Toxic Hot Seat
December 8, 2013 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Previously, covering Part One (out of Six) of the Chicago Tribune investigation Chemical flame retardants are everywhere. Our furniture. Our homes. Our bodies. Yet they don’t seem to stop fires. They do, however, seem to make us sick. TOXIC HOT SEAT is a documentary which takes an in-depth look at a nexus of money, politics and power – and a courageous group of firefighters, mothers, journalists, scientists, politicians and activists as they fight to expose what they assert is a shadowy campaign of deception that has left a toxic legacy in America’s homes and bodies for nearly 40 years. Set against the backdrop of the award-winning 2012 Chicago Tribune investigative series “Playing with Fire,” TOXIC HOT SEAT tells an intricate story, detailing how chemical companies that produce flame retardants spend millions of dollars on lobbyists, publicists and influencers, and how Big Tobacco had a hand in convincing fire-safety officials to back a standard that, in effect, requires all furniture to be filled with toxic flame retardants.

Nicholas Kristof (NYTIMES, 11/23/13):

RESEARCHERS this summer purchased 42 children’s chairs, sofas and other furniture from major retailers and tested them for toxic flame retardants that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, diminished I.Q.’s and other problems.

In a study released a few days ago, the Center for Environmental Health reported the results: the toxins were found in all but four of the products tested.

“Most parents would never suspect that their children could be exposed to toxic flame-retardant chemicals when they sit on a Mickey Mouse couch, but our report shows that children’s foam furniture can carry hidden health hazards,” a co-author of the study, Carolyn Cox, said in releasing the report.

The Story Behind ‘Playing With Fire’:

"The typical American baby is born with the highest recorded concentration of flame-retardant chemicals of infants anywhere in the world," Callahan said. "Our bodies will retain the chemicals … [and] we pass them onto our kids."

The law requiring flame-retardant chemicals has been in place since 1975, and efforts to change it have always failed. Callahan and Roe found that a group called Citizens for Fire Safety was one of the biggest opponents of change in the law and had been paying for Heimbach to appear as a witness at hearings. But while Citizens for Fire Safety presented itself as a grassroots public interest group, it was actually funded by the three largest chemical manufacturers in the U.S.

After the series was published in May 2012, the group was shut down.
posted by beisny (7 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a reference for the claim that they don't stop fires?
posted by clockzero at 7:50 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is there a reference for the claim that they don't stop fires?

Yeah, seriously, There are far fewer dangerous building fires than there used to be. Part of that is from changes to building methods and appliance design, but it seems unlikely that fire retardants didn't play any role at all.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:57 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

From the Kristof: The chemical industry has cited the work of a fire safety scientist, Vytenis Babrauskas, as showing that flame retardants do limit fires. But Babrauskas says in the HBO documentary that chemical companies misrepresented his findings “in an exceedingly blatant and disgraceful way.”

Babrauskas says that, in fact, retardants provide little if any delay for a fire, and then lead to much more toxic fumes. “You get the worst of both possible worlds,” he says.

posted by beisny at 8:02 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow. Between this and the ATF post I'm feeling a bit pessimistic about the state of regulation in this country.
posted by clockzero at 8:25 PM on December 8, 2013

As the HBO summary points out, the main cause of fire deaths, especially residential fire deaths, in the US has long been smoking. Fewer people smoke nowadays, and even fewer do it indoors, especially in bed or on top of flammable materials. More fire-safe cigarettes, now that they have finally been mandated by law in all states, have also helped. See this National Fire Protection Association release.
posted by zachlipton at 12:13 AM on December 9, 2013

Just another way too much time on your couch can kill you.
posted by shortyJBot at 5:04 AM on December 9, 2013

There's less cigarette smoking indoors than there used to be, too. Maybe that has something to do with there being fewer building fires?
posted by Anne Neville at 7:07 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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