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Sun Nov 24, 2013, 08:41 AM

Danger Lurks in That Mickey Mouse Couch [View all]

Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 04:39 AM PST
Danger Lurks in That Mickey Mouse Couch
by teacherken

is the title of this New York Times column by Nick Kristof that I hope will encourage you to turn on your televisions tomorrow, not for football, but to watch a documentary titled Toxic Hot Seat on HBO.

The background is simple - furniture, including that made specifically for children, contains "fire retardant" chemicals that are seriously harmful to health, whether or not they catch on fire, and which realistically do not retard or prevent fires from spreading.

Kristof provides notable service in reminding us how this came about:

The story goes back to the 1970s, when the tobacco industry was under pressure to make self-extinguishing cigarettes because so many people were dying in fires caused by careless smokers. The tobacco industry didn’t want to tinker with cigarettes, so it lobbied instead for requiring flame retardants in mattresses and couches.

This became a multibillion-dollar boondoggle for the chemical industry, but studies showed that flame retardants as actually used in sofas don’t prevent fires. This is easy to test: Just set a cushion on fire. The documentary shows that it will burn right up.

Please keep reading.

Kristof offers the words of the scientist fire safety scientist,upon the companies making the "retardants" relied, Vytenis Babrauskas,, to inform us that the comapnies relied upon his work

as showing that flame retardants do limit fires. But Babrauskas says in the HBO documentary that chemical companies misrepresented his findings “in an exceedingly blatant and disgraceful way.”

Babrauskas says that, in fact, retardants provide little if any delay for a fire, and then lead to much more toxic fumes. “You get the worst of both possible worlds,” he says.

That includes rare cancers for fireman who inhale the fumes. But there is more:

The larger danger is to people sitting on those couches. Retardants are released as dust from the foam and accumulate on the floor. The greatest risk is probably to pregnant women and to small children, who are also more likely to be on the floor.

The chemical are endocrine disruptors, which are notorious problems for human health.

When California was considering standards to ban such "retardants" - as were other states such as Maine -

That’s when a mysterious organization called Citizens for Fire Safety Institute began running commercials defending the chemicals.

Despite the feel-good presentation, the documentary will show that it was a dishonest front for a group of three large companies who manufactured the "retardants."

Kristof notes that the chemical industry is pushing back against the documentary with its own "fact-based" website for which he provides the link - I won't.

Too often in the past industry has used advertising and various front groups to distort the public discourse on issues that affect us all in order to protect their profits. Corporate executives have lied with impunity to Congressional panels. The fund initiatives and groups to change the laws and regulations intended to protect us in order to prevent us from enforcing health and safety rules, and to tilt the elective and legislative processes to exclude the voices of those who might in any way threaten their dominance and their economic interests. ALEC is but one example.

Early in his piece Kristof notes of the documentary

This is a televised window into political intrigue and duplicity that makes “House of Cards” or “Breaking Bad” seem like a Sunday school picnic.

That is a frightening thought, is it not?

And just we are clear, Kristof ends his piece with a pointed column that is sure to get him and the Times major pushback:

Let’s be clear. The companies stonewalling safety regulation include giants like Exxon, BASF, DuPont and Dow Chemical, and I hope their executives squirm on Monday evening as they watch “Toxic Hot Seat.”

But squirming is insufficient.

They should be subject to both civil lawsuits and in some cases criminal penalties - why do not laws on reckless endangerment apply to them? Why cannot individual firemen and the Firefighters Union file serious lawsuit for damages? Why cannot local jurisdiction who have had to pay out disability sue the companies as the cause of those disabilities?

Understand thst Citizens United complicates our ability to rein in corporate interests for the benefit of the rest of us. So does an administration unwilling to fully stand up to such interests because it wants their political support, or at least their neutrality on some issues (think about the pharmaceutical companies and ACA). And should we lose net neutrality, our ability to organize to push back will disappear.

IF we do not rein in such corporate excesses, what is the point of a government that is supposed to be of We the People? How do we have the ability to protect ourselves against such corporate economic power and abuse?

Let them squirm. Perhaps maybe they should feel shame. Where possible, perhaps we should boycott the products and services provided by such abusers.

Methinks this is an important documentary.

Sadly, it will expose only one of many problems our almost unrestrained corporate power is unleashing upon the rest of us.

Still, we should push back where we can.

This documentary seems like a good place to do such pushback.

So we should watch it, and encourage others as well by passing on Kristof's column.



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