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State Legislators Seek Federal Hearing On Flame Retardants

Flame Retardants: Lawmakers want to air grievances about chemical industry lobbying tactics against regulation

by Cheryl Hogue
July 17, 2012

Current and former state lawmakers from 13 states are asking a U.S. congressional committee to investigate what they call “unethical chemical industry activities” against states’ attempts to regulate flame retardants.

In a July 16 letter, the state legislators ask Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee and Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the panel’s top Republican, to convene an oversight hearing about flame retardants. Committee staffers did not respond to C&EN’s inquiries about the letter before deadline.

The state lawmakers cited a recent investigative series in the Chicago Tribune that outlined tactics used by three major manufacturers of brominated flame retardants against state legislation that would limit the chemicals’ uses in furniture and other consumer goods. According to the Tribune articles, those companies—Albemarle, Chemtura, and ICL Industrial Products—together created “Citizens for Fire Safety,” a front group that campaigned against lawmakers’ efforts to move bills that would limit use of retardants.

According to the letter from 41 current and five former state lawmakers, “Many of us as legislators were faced with public attacks … including barrages of misleading paid television and newspaper ads.” A dozen legislators signing the letter were also among 21 state lawmakers who in June called for the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade group, to expel Albemarle, Chemtura, and ICL Industrial Products (C&EN, June 11, page 7).

Among the worst tactics revealed in the Tribune series, the state legislators tell Boxer and Inhofe, are “misrepresenting the science related to both the effectiveness and health risks of flame retardant chemicals” and “employing an expert witness who repeatedly invoked a phony story of a child dying in a fire in order to justify flame retardant mandates.”

The state lawmakers indicated they want to testify at an oversight hearing. “We want to share our perspective on those tactics and make it clear that the pattern of deception practiced by the chemical industry in state legislatures is unacceptable,” they write.

The letter also says that in the absence of congressional action, the legislators will introduce bills in their state legislatures in 2013 “to move away from flame retardants that have no added fire safety benefit.”

In a related move, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services & General Government will hold a hearing today on the effectiveness of furniture flammability standards and flame retardants.



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