After a lengthy investigation, reporters at The Chicago Tribune discovered that current fire safety standards, which require the addition of fire retardant chemicals to many household items, are actually the result of years of lobbying and misinformation fueled by tobacco and chemical industry representatives. Rather than protecting us from fires, these chemicals are actually just accumulating in our homes and cities, putting people at greater risk of developmental problems and illnesses.
The introduction of flame retardant chemical additives in furniture actually has its roots in problems faced by the tobacco industry, the series of articles relates. Several decades ago, the tobacco industry was facing many complaints of burn injuries and house fires resulting from smoldering cigarettes. Regulators began to call for the creation of cigarettes that would automatically stop burning when not being smoked. Unfortunately, industry experts discovered that these fire-safe cigarettes smelled funny and were less enjoyable to smoke. Therefore, to turn regulatory attention away from fire-safe cigarettes, big tobacco created and funded fire safety lobbying groups like The National Association of State Fire Marshals to shift attention to making furniture more fire resistant; the industry goal was to "focus on the fuels rather than ignition sources."
By 1997, anti-tobacco industry regulation had gotten to the point where fire safe cigarettes were a must, yet by this point, says The Tribune, chemical manufacturer's had grown used to the profits they raked in by adding flame retardant foams and coatings to furniture, electronics and even baby toys. Thus, companies like Albemarle Corp., Chemtura Corp. and ICL Industrial Products, three of the largest flame retardant chemical manufacturers in the U.S., began their own lobbying campaign, founding and funding the supposedly altruistic organization Citizens for Fire Safety. As The Tribune reports, under the guise of "uniting to ensure that our country is protected by the highest standards of fire safety," this lobby group actually became a front for industry interests, going so far as to manipulate obscure scientific studies and manufacture expert testimony to support claims that fire retardant chemicals saved lives.
In fact, current scientific thought seems to suggest that adding flame resistant chemicals to furniture and other household items may actually be doing more harm than good. Several of these products, like the dangerous chemical penta, have already been pulled off the market because they build up in the body, especially in children's systems, potentially causing impaired fertility, developmental problems, neurological deficits and even cancer. Some studies even point to the fact that flame resistant foams and stuffing don't delay fires, and in fact make smoke from fires all the more toxic to individuals caught in the vicinity of blazes. Despite this fact, laws aimed to deregulate the use of fire resistant chemicals continue to be shot down; The Tribune suggests that this is the result of tremendously effective public relations and lobby campaigns spurred and funded by the deep pockets of the tobacco and chemical manufacturing industries.
Not enough information about the specific chemical makeup of all fire retardants is yet available to make a blanket statement about the threats they pose to public safety, yet one thing is clear: they certainly do not live up to all the claims of fire protection industry representatives make about their use. If you or a loved one has been harmed in any way because of flame resistant chemicals, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact a personal injury attorney from Arnold & Itkin today for a free consultation regarding your case.PerP