On 14th May, industry representatives gave oral witness to the Environmental Audit Committee's Inquiry into toxic chemicals in everyday life. The second session included representatives from FIRA, the British Furniture Confederation and Lanxess (ex-Chemtura). The key questions put to them by the EAC were:
- Why is the UK alone in insisting on a [Furniture Regulations] match test (which doesn't work) for its furniture flammability regulations when the rest of the world agrees that a cigarette/smoulder test alone provides fire safety and which requires no flame retardants?
- What are your industries doing about reducing/removing harmful flame retardants from furniture?
- What have you been doing about getting the Furniture Regulations updated since 2014?
You can read the session transcript here: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/environmental-audit-committee/toxic-chemicals/oral/102212.pdf
Or watch the video recording here (second session starts at around 11:26:00): https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/2322b527-3fbc-45c6-ba06-eda9e872118e
It's no exaggeration to say that all three performed very poorly, offering no substantive answers to the Inquiry's questions at all. Indeed, they were often outright misleading and evasive, with some statements which can only be described as lying.
Gareth Simkins and I will be submitting a full analysis on this session to the EAC. In the meantime, there is a short extract below.
By the way, Lanxess was represented by my old friend K, who in a neat circular fashion features in the very first blog post on this site. Then, I wrote about how he'd phoned in May 2012 to tell me that he'd heard we were planning to change the match test, even though Steve Owen and I had not discussed it with anyone else at that stage. Seven years on and K has certainly been successful in ensuring that massive amounts of his company's toxic products remain in our sofas. Big bonus every year, no doubt.
While we were waiting outside the EAC meeting room last week, I introduced Gareth to K. We asked K what his company was doing about removing the millions of kgs of the now banned flame retardant, decaBDE, still in millions of sofas and mattresses in UK homes (that Lanxess has made a fortune from). His reply was odd: he said that never has there been a death in a hospital that was diagnosed as being caused by a flame retardant chemical. Well, that's all right, then.
Extract from the EAC session with commentary:
Kerry McCarthy: The other thing is the allegations of corruption that were made against officials at what was then the BIS Department and the suggestion that there was interference with the process. Does anyone have any views on that?
Kasturirangan Kannah: Can I go first again?
Kerry McCarthy: That was evidence from Terry Edge and Gareth Simkins.
Kasturirangan Kannah: Yes, there was one allegation made about an ex-Fire Services Chief, and the Chief of Merseyside was named. Our company—it was Chemtura then—had sponsored the Fire Safety Platform, as it was then. It has now moved on to the European Fire Safety Alliance. We completely refute any suggestion of corruption, totally.
Kerry McCarthy: In terms of your involvement in that, could you say a little bit more about what your involvement was in that process?
Kasturirangan Kannah: Sure. The Fire Safety Platform’s objective was fire safety in the home. They talk about smoke detectors, they talk about vulnerable populations, they talk about unsafe furniture and so forth. That was their job. At no point did the Fire Safety Platform ever speak up on behalf of flame retardants. It made it very clear at the beginning that it would not do so. We respected that. We said as long as there is a spectrum of fire safety solutions, that is fine. That is exactly what it did. In terms of the specific allegation, I think the gentleman concerned has to respond to the allegation, but in our understanding there was no such impropriety, no corruption at all.
Chemtura (and the other FR companies) did indeed fund Mike Hagen's Fire Safety Platform (and his subsequent ventures). However, Hagen always claimed he was independent of them. But it's certainly not true that he never spoke out in favour of flame retardants. Hagen attended several BIS workshops and that is precisely the line he often took: that flame retardants equal fire safety.
It may be worth looking a little closer at Mike Hagen's Fire Safety Platform's response to BEIS's 2014 consultation. He describes the FSP thus:
"The Fire Safety Platform is a non-profit association with a mission to reduce the risk from fire. It is an independent body that does not support any fire safety product, technology or commercial organisation. Support is welcome from all individuals and organisations concerned with fire safety. Currently, the Platform receives financial support from Albemarle, Busworld, Chemtura, the European Flame Retardants Association, ICL Industrial Products and Sprue Safety Products. Burson-Marsteller [PR company for flame retardant producers] acts as the secretariat to the Fire Safety Platform."
Given Burson-Marsteller's and Chemtura's etc deep involvement with trying to block fire safety changes to the California standard, it's a little hard to believe that Mike Hagen's attempts to do the same with the UK's proposals are independent of the same companies' aims here.
In his response, Hagen sets out his pro-FRs position pretty clearly:
"There is a danger to the safety of UK and US citizens if 'scaremongering' [about the dangers of flame retardants] rather than balanced, risk-based arguments is allowed to prevail. For instance, the strong UK environmental lobby against such chemicals forced change in California which is widely accepted to be leading to a reduction in fire safety standards [hardly 'widely – only the FR industry and its supporters are claiming this]."
Hagen also claims that BIS's proposals are the sole work of Steve Owen who, he says, 'BIS has presented . . . as their 'guru' in these matters.' And concludes that Mr Owen's proposals do not appear to have 'been peer-reviewed nor subject to scrutiny by technical experts' – see above [earlier in our full commentary for the EAC] for proof that the opposite is the case. I perhaps should point out that Mr Owen was appointed as official technical advisor by his line managers, which followed his company (Intertek) winning an open tender to develop proposals for a new match test.
In 2018, Anna Stec told me that she was being incredibly frustrated in her efforts to obtain data about cancers in UK firefighters, chiefly by Mike Hagen and Dave Sibert who sit on all the relevant BSI committees and government-appointed bodies. She has since been commissioned by the FBU to look into such cancers, shortly after which Matt Wrack of the FBU told her that Dave Sibert (then fire safety officer for the FBU) had been sacked for 'colluding with the flame retardant industry'.
Earlier in the session, the Chair of the EAC pointed out that Chemtura had been responsible in the USA for setting up false citizens' safety groups to advocate for more flame retardants in products, and other lobbying activities; she said:
Chair: I am challenging you on your covert lobbying in the US. Does any of that go on here?
Kasturirangan Kannah: I cannot comment on what happened some years ago in the States, but I can find out more detail. You are saying it is covert lobbying on the part of Chemtura along with other companies. You need to—
Kannah's wording is interesting here, i.e. "what happened some years ago in the States." Lobbying by the flame retardant industry is still very much alive in the USA. See this article in today's Guardian, for example: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/24/massachusetts-flame-retardants-firefighters-safety-cancer- about how lobbying from the American Chemistry Council is blocking bills to remove flame retardants in a lot of US States. Kannah's company, Lanxess, is a member of the ACC, as are the other two huge flame retardant producers, ICL and Albemarle.
K goes on to deny that any kind of similar lobbying has gone on in the UK where changes to the Furniture Regulations are concerned. However, as this blog has recorded, the three FR companies and their PR outfit, Burson Marsteller frequently lobbied me and always to press me to keep up the high levels of flame retardants in UK furniture. Flame retardants equals fire safety, they often chanted. Well, this EAC session showed that they do not have the faintest bit of evidence to support that claim; indeed, all the actual evidence points the other way.