Skip to main content

Chicago Tribune covers the chemical industry’s dirty tricks

In May, 2012, the Chicago Tribune wrote an investigative series uncovering dirty tactics by the chemical industry that insiders have known for some time.

The series focuses on toxic flame retardants, and the methods used by industry to keep pumping millions of pounds of them into our household goods each year despite health risks and questionable effectiveness.

Flame retardants are found in all manner of household goods, including couches and other furniture, carpets and electronics.

Among other things, the Tribune investigation uncovered:

  • Completely fabricated stories used during testimony told in order to garner sympathy about threats to children from fire.
  • Grossly distorted findings about the effectiveness of flame retardants when it comes to retarding fire. “The fire just laughs at it,” said the lead author of a study that is often cited as proof that fire retardants save lives.
  • Direct connections between the chemical industry lobby and the tobacco lobby.
  • A concerted effort by industry to knock down state laws one-by-one, as it is known that states are exercising more power than the federal government when it comes to banning toxic chemicals.

As news of the Tribune series traveled, it had a snowball effect culminating in calls for stronger regulation of toxic chemicals. The news stories gave way to more news stories, and legislators and activists alike were motivated to take quick action.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) immediately moved to force the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to answer for their lack of action against toxic flame retardants.

And 200 nurses, mothers and cancer survivors marched in Washington DC as a part of the National Stroller Brigade protesting the lack of regulation of toxic chemicals found in our households.

A few quotes in response to the investigative story:

This campaign season, you’ll hear fervent denunciations of “burdensome government regulation.” When you do, think of the other side of the story: your home is filled with toxic flame retardants that serve no higher purpose than enriching three companies. The lesson is that we need not only safer couches but also a political system less distorted by toxic money.

– Nick Kristof, The New York Times

The toxic flame retardant scandal should be a wake up call for Congress. Similar toxic disasters in the past – like thalidomide in the 1960s, PCBs in the 1970s and Bhopal in the 1980s – spurred badly needed chemical reforms in their day. It’s time to stop playing with fire and fix our broken chemical safety system.

– Mike Belliveau, Senior Advisor, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

Citizens for Fire Safety is the latest in a string of industry groups that have sprung up on different continents in the last 15 years — casting doubt on health concerns, shooting down restrictions and working to expand the market for flame retardants in furniture and electronics.

– Chicago Tribune

“When we’re eating organic, we’re avoiding very small amounts of pesticides,” said Arlene Blum, a California chemist who has fought to limit flame retardants in household products. “Then we sit on our couch that can contain a pound of chemicals that’s from the same family as banned pesticides like DDT.”

– Chicago Tribune

Search Insights



Priority Area