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The $23 million question

June 25, 2012

Turns out you can put a price on nefarious influence in California: $23 million.

And in regards to toxic flame retardants California, I am now watching for what happens and doesn't happen. In political theater, this is the time to watch.

That's because Gov. Jerry Brown has called for reform of TB 117, the state regulation that governs fire retardants in furniture, and it's possible to get the good, the bad and the ugly show all at once during these times. It will be interesting to follow what reforms will happen, if any take place at all, and to see who wields influence during any rewriting of the rules.

The California State Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials will hold an informational hearing on June 26 on the topic

I give a lot of credit to the Chicago Tribune for its cranium cracking four-part series that came out in May (and subsequent follow up coverage), but I also want to note another individual who recently shed light on this story.

Liza Gross, a reporter for Environmental Health News noted in a November 2011 story that five bills were killed in California that would have paved the way for flame retardant reform and revision of TB 117.

TB 117 is a state rule that has required an open flame test for foam, and thus, the use of flame retardants to pass that test. Gross noted the correlation between $23 million taken by state lawmakers and agencies from chemical interests during those years to buy influence.

That was spent to lobby legislators, officials from at least six state agencies, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and 85 legislators, nearly equally Democrats and Republicans, in three election cycles, according to Gross.

Think about that: Chemical interests could have spent $23 million trying to make something right in the midst of a lot of wrong. During the last decade studies routinely described the toxic effects of some flame retardants.

Instead they spent a fifth of 1% of an estimated $4.6 billion in flame retardant sales to keep lawmakers from acting. 

I'm still not impressed with the silent response from Albemarle, ICL Industrial Products and Chemtura, the big suppliers of FR chemicals. Nor the National Association of State Fire Marshals, or the American Chemistry Council, nor the silence of Citizens for Fire Safety for not responding to legitimate points raised in the Tribune series.

What also bothers to address the $23 million question in California. The governor? State legislators? The state agencies? The state fire marshal?