The Flame Retardant Story the Chemical Industry Didn't Want You to Hear

In the mid-1970s, scientists discovered frightening news. Lab studies showed that a chemical widely used in every day products could cause genetic mutations. The chemical, chlorinated Tris, was used as a flame retardant by makers of children's pajamas, but the studies prompted action, and Tris was banned from pajamas in 1977.

So last week it shocked parents when our team at the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) announced our findings: This chemical, now known to cause cancer and linked to developmental problems and altered hormones, is still widely used in baby products and products for young children.

News reports on our findings began to raise the alarm. Following November news stories on a study that found Tris in couches nationwide, the national news media showed interest in CEH's baby products findings. The flame retardant industry was in crisis mode. What were they to do?

They tried one of their usual tricks: When they can't win on the facts, industry resorts to lying and smearing those working for children's health.

CEH was contacted by NBC for information on our findings. We provided the list of products and retailers, our legal notices and other information. We answered their questions over two days, and the story seemed ready to air.

Then early on Sunday morning, our communications director got a phone call from NBC. Their producer asked if CEH was subject of a congressional investigation (we're not). He said someone from the industry told him we were, because CEH refused to answer questions at a recent congressional hearing.

In fact, in the not-so-recent spring of 2011, CEH's Research Director Caroline Cox testified at a congressional committee hearing on lead in children's products. Caroline answered every question asked. Virtually every expert who testified at the meeting, including Caroline, was asked to submit written responses to additional questions some Congress members had. Caroline submitted CEH's written response to every question asked, and even included more information they didn't specifically request. In response, the Republican Chair of the Committee thanked Caroline with a letter stating, "I look forward to continuing our work together to ensure our children and families have the safe and secure futures they deserve."

In short, there is no congressional inquiry, and there never was.

Why would the industry make up such a bald-faced lie? To smear CEH, and by smearing our reputation, the industry hoped to scare NBC from airing a story that would tell millions of Americans about their cancer-causing products. And if a Sunday morning phone call had gone unanswered, their plan might have worked.

But fortunately it didn't. You can check the NBC Nightly News story and decide for yourself if you believe industry's public response to our findings. But consider, if they're willing to lie like this, what else are they lying about?