Chicago Tribune: Playing with fire investigative series

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In May of 2012, The Chicago Tribune published a riveting four-part exposé of the flame retardant industry and its influence on public policy.

Since then, the Tribune has continued to draw attention to this important issue with regular updates to the Playing With Fire series over the ensuing year. The policy and public opinion impacts of this landmark piece of investigative journalism continue to be felt to this day.

“Government scientists found that chairs containing flame retardants, like the one being tested above, burn just as fast as identical chairs without them.” (Consumer Products Safety Commission / May 5, 2012).

Selected updates

  • May 2012: Durbin urges action – Just days after the publication of the Playing With Fire series, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin “demanded answers from two federal agencies, urging them to act aggressively to rid homes of chemicals that pose health risks but don’t stave off fires.” Durbin asked the Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission why her agency hasn’t formalized furniture flammability rules the agency proposed in 2008. If enacted, those rules would likely reduce the amount of flame retardants in American homes because the federal tests can be met without the use of chemicals and would trump California regulations that now guide most manufacturers.
  • May 2012: Higher levels of flame retardants found in minority children – A report on scientific research by Green Science Policy Institute collaborator Dr. Heather Stapleton highlighting consumer product toxic chemicals as a social justice issue
  • June 2012: New Calif. standards could reduce flame retardants – “California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday called for a sweeping overhaul of his state’s 1970s-era flammability standard, a change that could dramatically reduce or eliminate the toxic flame retardant chemicals in sofas, easy chairs and baby products in homes across the nation.”
  • July 2012: EPA vows investigation of flame retardants – “James Jones, the EPA’s top chemical safety official, told senators that flame retardants illustrate several weaknesses in the Toxic Substances Control Act, a 1976 law that gives the government little power to assess or limit dangers from flame retardants and scores of other chemicals.”
  • September 2012: Makers of flame retardants cut ties with industry front group – Not long after the Playing With Fire series exposed the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute as an industry front group for the three largest manufacturers of flame reatrdant chemicals, the companies severed their relationships with the group and its website was deactivated
  • February 2013: California plans to alter rules on flame retardants – “In a move that could affect consumers nationwide, California officials Friday unveiled plans to scrap an obscure 1975 rule that led to the widespread use of toxic flame retardants in upholstered furniture and baby products in American homes.” Keep up with this ongoing success story on our flame retardants in furniture page
  • March 2014: Surgeon rebuked for flame-retardant falsehoods – “In a stern rebuke of a noted surgeon, the state of Washington has issued disciplinary charges against Dr. David Heimbach, who told lawmakers misleading stories about fatally burned babies while testifying in favor of flame retardants.”

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