Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.
We’ve blogged here recently about how the American Chemistry Council (ACC) is seeking to hide the truth about the major changes made to the Safe Chemicals Act. And about its efforts to suppress the truth about chemicals linked to cancer. But its tenuous relationship with the truth doesn’t end there.
At the end of last month, the three main producers of brominated flame retardant chemicals – Albemarle, Chemtura and ICL Industrial Products – announced that they were pulling out of the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute, and shifting all of their advocacy efforts to the ACC’s North American Flame Retardant Alliance (NAFRA). There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors here: Those companies were the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute – they founded it and ran it and were its primary if not only members. If you needed any more evidence, consider that the entirety of the Institute’s website now consists solely of a single page – the companies’ announcement of their decision to move their advocacy over to ACC.
For its part, ACC welcomed the companies with open arms – a little odd, given that the same three companies are not only already ACC members, but also the sole members of the ACC’s NAFRA. The term “shell game” comes to mind.
One might think that this move signals the companies’ and ACC’s intent to end the shenanigans they have played on the American public for decades, documented in the Chicago Tribune’s in-depth investigation, “Playing with Fire,” published this past May. One would be wrong.
Business as usual continues
As recently as late last week, ACC was busy lobbying against restrictions on the use of toxic flame retardants in children’s products – the only opposition to such restrictions voiced at a September 6 hearing in the New York State Assembly. At least they’re being up front now about such lobbying. That wasn’t the case even in the recent past.
In a June 2012 letter from ACC President and CEO Cal Dooley to state legislators, ACC claimed that “ACC does not advocate with state legislatures or state regulatory agencies on behalf [of Albemarle, Chemtura and ICL Industrial Products] related to flame retardant chemistries.” In fact, however, ACC has conducted such lobbying for years: see here and here.
Remember ACC’s “Coalition for Chemical Safety”?
To expect a change would also require forgetting that ACC itself is no stranger to setting up front groups posing as citizens’ organizations. In 2009, shortly after reversing course and proclaiming its support for TSCA reform, ACC was the main founder and funder of the “Coalition for Chemical Safety,” a fake grassroots (or “astroturf”) group set up to carry the chemical industry’s water. I’m linking here to one of my earlier blog posts about the Coalition, as its own website disappeared after the group’s origins were exposed.
A chronic failure to disclose
Unfortunately, ACC’s pattern of failing to disclose its links to or funding of various organizations that advocate for its positions appears to be chronic. Just recently, I happened upon this post on ACC’s blog written by the senior director of ACC’s Regulatory and Technical Affairs Division, Dr. Rick Becker. The post was responding to Nicholas Kristof’s May 2012 column in the New York Times that drew attention to the flame retardant scandal and noted that these chemicals have been linked to endocrine disruption. That clearly had Dr. Becker upset.
But note in his blog post the two very prominent quotes from the “Institute of Population Health at the University of Ottawa” on which he relies for support. I was curious about the institute, so I followed the link he provided, which goes to a website called “EM<–>com” that describes itself as “the information site on endocrine disruption.” (I think “EM<–>com” is supposed to stand for “endocrine modulation: communication” or some such thing.)
The argument espoused on the site is that even eating your lunch causes changes (i.e., modulation) in your endocrine system – which is no doubt true. But the further suggestion is that maybe you needn’t worry about “modulations” caused, say, by a synthetic chemical coursing through your bloodstream. Indeed, “modulation” sounds so much nicer than “disruption.” Hmm, this is not a leap I’m willing to make. But that’s a topic for another day.
All of this piqued my interest, however, so I poked around a bit more on the website, and stumbled across this little note about where the project’s funding comes from:
“The EM-COM project also derives some funding from both US industrial associations (American Chemistry Council) and Canadian industrial associations (Canadian Chemical Producers Association, Canadian Chlorine Coordinating Committee, Dupont Canada Inc and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association).” (emphasis added)
So, as his evidence that Mr. Kristof got it all wrong, ACC’s Dr. Becker cites “educational material” drawn from a website and project that ACC funds – all without ever disclosing the connection!
See the ethical problem I have with this? If ACC is so sure it’s right about all this science, why would it go out of its way not to disclose that it funds the very project it cites as its authority? (To EM<–>com’s credit, at least it does disclose its funding sources.)
Anyone else see a consistent pattern here in ACC’s behavior in all these cases?