Flame Retardant Furniture Won't Save Your Imaginary Baby

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The Chicago Tribune has a big story out about the decades-long lobbying campaign for fire retardant products that has ignored their health hazards while pushing products that don't actually... retard fire. The whole piece, by Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe, is quite good (and part of a series called Playing With Fire), but the best part is the way Callahan and Roe strip down their opening anecdote, about Dr. David Heimbach, a frequent witness for the industry, who has given testimony several times about a babies that died when a candle fell onto an untreated pillow. Turns out, despite repeated detail-flecked retellings, there's no baby, no pillow, and no candle. Here's a sample of the step-by-step way reporters Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe take apart his 2010 testimony about an infant from Washington state who died when a candle landed in her crib, which lacked fire-retardant material:

In his testimony last year, Heimbach stated the baby was in a crib on a fire-retardant mattress and on a non-retardant pillow. The upper half of her body was burned, he said.

But public records show there was no crib — she was resting on a bed — and no pillow. And, Makela said, flame retardants played no role in the pattern of her burns.
And that's just one of the many anecdotes that don't hold up against their reporting. For us, the article hit the sweet spot of essential public service that also provides for a read as entertaining as a Law & Order episode. 
The whole thing can be found at The Chicago Tribune.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.