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Greg Webb
Greg Webb
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Flame Retardants and Chemical Manufacturers – Benefits a Bunch of Smoke?

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For years, the chemical companies that produce flame retardants, chemicals which are supposed to inhibit or resist the spread of fire and are used on textiles and other materials, have participated in a campaign to encourage the public’s fear of fire. So say two writers for The Chicago Tribune, Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe, in their May 6, 2012 article, “Fear Fans Flames for Chemical Makers.” This years-long negative PR campaign was believed to help generate a burgeoning market for the sale of chemical flame retardants purportedly to protect families and especially children.

The article also notes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has allowed many chemicals now believed to be toxic to pass through their approval process and slide into the environment for decades—which are now present—“loaded” is the word Callahan and Roe use—in American homes, even in electronics, as well as furniture! It is common knowledge that since the 1970s, some flame retardants have been withdrawn from the market due to “health concerns.” Yet it is astounding that of the 80,000 chemicals manufactured which have raised health concerns, the Environmental Protection Agency has only tested 200 of them (CNN.com, May 22, 2012).

Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced the Safe Chemicals Act in 2011, and some hearings have been held on Capitol Hill to discuss the pervasiveness and inherent problems due to the toxicity of chemicals, including flame retardants, in the environment, yet the legislation has moved nary a bit.

On May 22, in D.C., a demonstration was held by hundreds of mothers, some with children in tow, known as the “Stroller Brigade,” protesting the presence of toxic chemicals on everything their babies have around them. Whether pillows, mattresses, carpets, or plastic toys, you name it, toxic chemicals have been used on them as flame retardants or as material components. At the demonstration, Senator Lautenberg and Senator Dick Durbin both spoke in support of modernization of the “Toxic Substance Control Act.” Lautenberg noted that the legislation “would require chemical manufacturers to prove their chemicals are safe before finding them in our children’s bodies.” (CNN.com, May 22, 2012) In support of the legislation, the women delivered 130,000 petition signatures to their legislators.

It does not take a chemical engineer to anticipate that the chemical manufacturing industry would be dead set against the revamp and reauthorization of the Safe Chemicals Act. Once again, Congress will be faced with a decision that involves safety of our citizens on one hand, and enormously well-heeled corporate interests on the other. It boils down to this basic dilemma: do what is right, or take the money. I think I know what the outcome will be.

For past articles on this issue, see the following: http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/07/08/chemical.bans/index.html?iref=allsearch and http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/health/2011/05/18/am.gupta.toxic.chemicals.cnn

For information about the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, visit: http://www.saferchemicals.org/safe-chemicals-act/