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ACC responds to Chicago Tribune story on flame retardant research

At ACC, we believe in the importance of science and we value the scientists that produce the studies and analysis that advance safety and help inform public policy debates.

However, based on the Chicago Tribune’s recent story on flame retardants, it appears the Tribune is more interested in attacking the credibility, character, and work of individual, highly-respected scientists who are now engaged in flame retardant research, rather than looking at how and why flame retardants have saved lives since they were introduced more than 30 years ago.

In defense of the role of science, we want to clearly discuss whose research the Tribune has called into question in their most recent article on flame retardants.

Dr. Matt Blais, Director of Fire Technology at the Southwest Research Institute, is a technical advisor to the North American Flame Retardant Alliance. Dr. Blais holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Clark University and a master’s degree and doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His previous research has focused on high energy and high temperature ignition.

Independently, Dr. Blais recently analyzed data derived from a U.S. Department of Justice arson study so he could examine the effectiveness of flame retardants used in furniture foam that meets the California furniture safety standard. Dr. Blais found that the flame retardants present were effective at the point of ignition in slowing the peak heat release and delaying the time to flashover – the dangerous burst of flames that engulfs a room and makes it much more difficult to escape – providing valuable escape time.

Fire safety is an incredibly important issue and one we take very seriously. Driven by what seems to be its own agenda to discredit the effectiveness of flame retardants, the Chicago Tribune has selectively focused on narrow aspects of Dr. Blais’ analysis, ultimately missing the most relevant aspect of this piece of work.

The study was meant to examine the relative fire safety of a fire-protective system at point of fire initiation. The critical and most relevant variable tested was flame retarded foam that is covered with a non-fire protective cover. Importantly, the data cited by Dr. Blais supports that flame retarded foam by itself is slow to ignite, thus providing greater fire protection from small open flame sources, such as matches, lighters, and candles. Depending on the size of the ignition source, the flame retardant in the foam can also delay burning, providing valuable escape time.

We are disappointed that the Tribune is set on a clear path to question the work of qualified experts on flame retardants. Dr. Blais has produced important work that should be considered as the issue of fire safety in the home is re-examined. Every minute counts in a fire, and extra time for first responders can help save lives.

Updated February 14, 2013

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