Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fire Retardant: An industry's "decades-long deception"

Manufacturers of fire retardants rely on questionable testimony, front groups to push standards that boost demand for their toxic — and ineffective — products

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. Read More