Flame retardants are making headlines these days thanks to an "exposé" -- more properly characterized as an unsubstantiated smear campaign -- published as a series of articles in the Chicago Tribune this past spring. The effort has helped Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) build the case for his anti-chemical legislation, which he calls the "Safe Chemicals Act." Supposedly, he and his journalist allies at the Chicago Tribune know better than anyone else -- including scientists and engineers that produce these products -- about what makes a chemical safe or dangerous.
The Tribune reporters conducted a little bit of "research" and added some colorful interpretations of their "findings" to render the judgment that flame retardants -- which have been used for decades to reduce fire risks and save lives -- are public enemy number 1. But despite the Tribune's sloppily researched and ideologically motivated series, there isn't much evidence that anyone has suffered significant adverse health effects from trace exposures to flame retardants in consumer products.
Because the Tribune series continues to fan the flames and build the case for more regulations, policy makers, honest reporters, and consumers should examine it critically. A series of articles by Raoul Lowery Contreras published in the Latino Times offers an excellent critique. Check these out (links below). If you only have time to read one, see the last article on the list. It raises serious questions about the Tribune's attack on the reputation of a burn-victim doctor for offering testimony on the value of flame retardants. It seems that the Tribune was more interested in building their anti-chemical case than doing fair and honest reporting.
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