Newspaper article

Minnesota Legislators among Those Questioning Lobbying Tactics on Flame Retardants

Newspaper article

Minnesota Legislators among Those Questioning Lobbying Tactics on Flame Retardants

Article excerpt

Three Minnesota legislators were among 21 current and former state legislators from 10 states who sent a letter [PDF] to the American Chemistry Council (ACC) June 4, asking the national trade association to expel three of its member companies for unethical behavior.

The letter was in direct response to a scathing four-part investigative report that ran in May in the Chicago Tribune. It described in jaw-dropping detail the ethically questionable practices that the three companies -- Albemarle, Chemtura and ICL Industries -- have used for several decades to keep state and federal officials from limiting the use of brominated flame retardants in furniture, electronic products and other consumer goods.

The legislators wrote that the "worst tactics outlined in the Chicago Tribune series -- which we each saw some of firsthand in our states -- included: deliberately misrepresenting the science around flame retardant chemicals relating to both their effectiveness and their health risks; employing an expert witness who repeatedly invoked a phony story of a child dying in a fire in order to justify flame retardant mandates; creating a front group called 'Citizens for Fire Safety' to counter the opposition to flame retardants among firefighters and health organizations; and using racial profiling to mislead community leaders about the impacts of toxic flame retardant chemicals."

The ACC's president and CEO, Calvin Dooley, sent a letter back to the legislators [PDF] on June 5. In it, Dooley defends Albemarle, Chemtura and ICL Industries, saying each company intends "to dispel misinformation" raised by the Tribune articles and to "make available existing scientific information that supports the safety and efficacy of their products."

Dooley also stated that although the three companies are long- time members of ACC, the organization itself "does not advocate with state legislatures or state regulatory agencies on their behalf related to flame retardant chemistries."

'Totally untrue'

"That's totally untrue," said Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, in a phone interview with me on Tuesday. She was one of the three Minnesota legislators, along with Sen. Sandra L. Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, who signed the June 4 letter to the ACC.

Clark, who has spent two decades shepherding legislation through the Minnesota House to reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products, said she has personally had conversations with ACC lobbyists on the issue of flame retardants. She has also watched and listened, she added, as ACC lobbyists distorted the science regarding flame retardants to her colleagues.

"It's just astounding that they would think that we would not remember or not know what happened," Clark said.

Kathleen Schuler, co-director of the Minnesota-based Healthy Legacy campaign, which advocates for the removal of toxic chemicals from everyday products, agrees. Her organization has been working for several years in support of legislation to ban toxic flame retardants in furniture and other household items. Two such chemicals -- penta-BDE and octa-BDE -- were banned in Minnesota in 2007. Legislators also passed a bill the following year that would have phased out a third brominated flame retardant, deca-BDE, but that bill was vetoed by then Gov. Tim Pawlenty (a veto he let stand even after he acknowledged that the original reasons he cited for vetoing the bill contained inaccuracies and factual mistatements).

Lobbyist forms list ACC

In a phone conversation earlier this week, Schuler said she remembers ACC lobbyists working in Minnesota against these bills. On Tuesday, her office sent me the lobbyist disclosure forms for four employees of the Minneapolis law firm Best & Flannagan. On the forms, each said he or she was representing ACC, and in the space where the lobbyists note the issue they're working on are the words "flame retardants."

I called one of those employees, attorney David Johnson, who is a partner at Best & Flannagan. …

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