This week the Chicago Tribune ran a four-part series by reporter Michael Hawthorne on the toxic hazards of flame retardants, including Firemaster 550.
Entitled, Playing with Fire, the series is a scathing review of the flame retardant industry and corresponding regulatory oversight, and has already led to a call to action by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.
According to a related article in the Tribune, Durbin said told the Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, “The Tribune investigation makes it clear that this life-threatening issue has been swamped by self-serving chemical companies and lack of aggressive oversight by our government.”
The MSDS for Firemaster 550 includes ingredients listed Component B and Component A. According to the Tribune article, independent scientists have determined Firemaster 550 contains “two brominated compounds known as TBB and TBPH.” These chemicals are structurally similar to DEHP – a chemical banned for use in children’s products and considered a known carcinogen.
These chemicals have been showing up in the environment and people in quantities that have alarmed scientists and health experts for years.
One of the most interesting aspects of Hawthorne’s series, for those who have been watching the tug-of-war happening in Washington D.C. over the role of the EPA, is how the journalist lays equal blame on the flame retardant industry and regulatory agencies. He paints the picture of a regulatory environment where the agencies responsible for safeguarding the population from chemical and environmental hazards are both handcuffed in their efforts by opposing interests, lack of political cover, and too often lack of information.
Hawthorne says, “Unlike Europe, where companies generally are required to prove the safety of their chemicals before use, U.S. laws requires manufacturers to submit safety data only if they have it.” He goes on to basically say that the agencies like the EPA usually bear the burden of proof that a chemical is unsafe.
In a side-item to the series, Hawthorne spotlights how a proposed revamp of the nation’s chemical safety law stalled in the White House, in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Fallout from this series is likely just beginning, but whether the initial shock and anger over the items reported by Hawthorne and the Chicago Tribune will translate into meaningful action in Washington D.C. and elsewhere is uncertain.