Flame Retardant Chemicals Front Group Goes Up in Smoke

More than two years ago, CEH exposed the dirty tricks and underhanded tactics used by a chemical industry front group called Citizens for Fire Safety (CFFS). More recently, we highlighted the front group’s fraud with this hilarious video. CFFS includes no actual citizens and does not work for fire safety; instead, for years they have lobbied government officials against efforts to protect the public from harmful flame retardant chemicals.

But no more! Last week, the three flame retardant makers who are the sole funders of the front group were forced to pull the plug on CFFS once and for all. This is a great victory for all of us who work ethically and honestly to protect children and families from harmful chemicals.

There has been growing awareness of the dangers of flame retardants, which have been linked to serious health problems including lower IQs, reduced fertility, impacts on neurological development in infants and children, among other health threats. A recent series by the Chicago Tribune exposed how  the makers of flame retardants hide behind CFFS, the front group they created, which uses distorted science, tobacco-industry tactics, and falsifies information about the “benefits” of these risky chemicals.

Following the Tribune series, a Senate Environment committee hearing included sharp rebukes to flame retardant makers from several legislators, including California’s Barbara Boxer, who asked one flame retardant company official about CFFS directly, stating “Don’t you owe people an apology?” (unsurprisingly, the executive failed to apologize). Also, 21 legislators from ten states called on the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s chief lobbying group, to drop the three flame retardant companies from its membership (unsurprisingly, ACC refused).

Instead, in an ominous turn of events, the three flame retardant makers stated that now that they can no longer hide behind CFFS, they intend to conduct their lobbying through the American Chemistry Council (ACC).  While ACC may sound like a bunch of chemistry professionals who discuss interesting chemistry issues, in fact the group is  a trade association of more than 160 chemical and plastics companies..  ACC has never met a chemical they didn’t like. They have heavily lobbied against efforts to reform our 37 year old broken chemical policy (Toxic Substances Control Act) as well as bans on plastic bags and BPA in children’s bottles and sippy cups…to name just a few.

When asked to drop the companies from its membership, ACC denied any connection to CFFS, stating that “ACC is not affiliated with Citizens for Fire Safety, and neither ACC staff nor resources were used to support activities undertaken by the group.”

But while ACC may have had no legal “affiliation” with CFFS, it’s clear the groups worked hand-in-hand. Joe Lang, a key lobbyist for CFFS (who testified at the most recent California hearing on flame retardants), is also a lobbyist for ACC. What a coincidence!   ACC has already been lobbying heavily against flame retardant bills.  In California alone, ACC lobbyists targeted four flame retardant bills, spending on average over $1 million a year over the past five years to stop any public health protections from these risky chemicals. Combined with CFFS and other chemical group spending (much of it through public relations firms that work with industry to create groups like CFFS), the chemical industry spent more than $23 million on California lobbying on flame retardants during this period.

Indeed, the three flame retardant companies that created CFFS are more than just members of the ACC: they have created a sub-group within the ACC called the North American Flame Retardant Alliance (NAFRA). Like CFFS, NAFRA consists solely of these three companies.  Ultimately, then, the likely outcome of the death of CFFS is that their underhanded work will simply be moved to ACC and NAFRA. Stay tuned.