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Thursday, May 31, 2012

What The Tobacco Lobby Has To Do With Flame Retardant Products

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)

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)

The debate over fire retardant chemicals has flared up again, prompted by a new investigative series in the Chicago Tribune.

The newspaper investigated a decades-long campaign created jointly by the chemical and tobacco industries to introduce flame retardant chemicals in consumer products.

And the paper reported that flame retardants don’t necessarily save lives:

“We did not find flame retardants in foam to provide any significant protection,” said Dale Ray, a top official with the Consumer Product Safety Commission who oversaw the 2009 tests at a laboratory outside Washington.

Moreover, the amount of smoke from both chair fires was similar, Ray said, noting that most fire victims die of smoke inhalation, not the flames.

Many consumer groups are also investigating whether flame retardants are causing health problems, since the chemicals used in them have been linked to cancer, neurological disorders and developmental problems.

The Tribune also found that Big Tobacco lobbied for flame retardants to shift focus away from cigarettes as the cause of fire deaths.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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