Legislators from 10 states are asking the American Chemistry Council, the nation’s oldest trade group, to expel three member manufacturers of flame-retardant chemicals for “deeply unethical” practices.
Targeting Albemarle, Chemtura and ICL Industries—the world’s three largest makers of fire retardants—the request follows a four-day series in the Chicago Tribune that details a host of misrepresentations by the companies involving flame-retardant chemicals. All three companies supply chemicals for a variety of coatings and end users.
|American Chemistry Council president Calvin Dooley cited “lack of confidence” in the EPA to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act.|
The newspaper series, “Playing with Fire,” documented a wide variety of what it called questionable practices in the companies’ efforts to push legislative mandates for more fire-retardant products and materials.
The practices included the hiring of a prominent burn surgeon to testify repeatedly, dramatically and falsely about babies (especially poor children) dying in fires; the creation of a “front group” called “Citizens for Fire Safety” that falsely claims alliances with firefighters and health groups; and misrepresenting the science behind the risks and effectiveness of flame retardants.
‘Specific and Disturbing Dealings’
“[W]e are writing to urge you to expel these unethical manufacturers from your industry trade group,” the 21 state lawmakers wrote June 4 in a letter to ACC president and CEO Calvin M. Dooley.
The lawmakers note that ACC’s Responsible Care program requires members “to lead in ethical ways that increasingly benefit society, the economy and the environment.” Participating in Responsible Care is a condition of membership for ACC. ACC’s principles also include “communicating forthrightly with governments and communities about chemical risks.”
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families
|A 2007 chemical industry flyer challenges legislation to reduce the use of flame retardants. Critics say the manufacturers of such products have overstated their effectiveness and understated their risk.|
“The deception practiced by these companies…is completely unacceptable in our state legislatures,” the letter says. “Some of the most egregious practices, like lying about the death of an infant girl, are abhorrent by any measure.”
The signers said they had had “specific and disturbing dealings” with the industry that “violated basic ethical behaviors and certainly would not be considered honest…”
‘Confidence in Their Chemistries’
The companies did not comment on the series.
In his response, Dooley called the companies “longtime members” of ACC that “have great confidence in their chemistries, supported by substantial testing and studies on safety and efficacy.”
He said each company planned to release “available existing scientific information” that supports their claims.
Still, Cooley sought to distance the companies from ACC. He said ACC did not lobby at the state level and was not affiliated with Citizens for Fire Safety.
On the other hand, Cooley cited “a lack of confidence”—by whom, he did not say—in the Environmental Protection Agency’s “ability to effectively regulate chemicals in commerce, and because of this, even when chemicals have received federal regulatory approval, they are often subjected to attacks at the state level that breed misperceptions.”
He also said the issue pointed up the need for “bipartisan reform” of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which governs the nation’s chemical regulatory system.
Brominated Flame Retardants
The fight over brominated flame retardants in part reflects a stalled effort to reform the TSCA. With little national movement, about a dozen states have considered limits on flame retardants, citing growing evidence of their potential to bioaccumulate and their links to cancer, neurological deficits and developmental problems.
Based in St. Louis, MO, ICL Industrial Products is a global leader in flame retardants, bromine compounds and other chemicals for the electronics, construction, automobile, and oil and gas drilling industries.
|The three companies behind Citizens for Fire Safety control about 40 percent of the world’s flame-retardant market.|
Albemarle, based in Baton Rouge, LA, is a global developer, manufacturer and marketer of engineered specialty chemicals for consumer electronics, petroleum refining, utilities, packaging, construction, automotive/transportation, and other industries.
Philadelphia-based Chemtura makes chemical additives designed to improve the performance of polymers in their end-use applications. These include brominated performance products and flame retardants.
Together, the companies control about 40 percent of the world flame-retardant market.