Chemical flame retardants are everywhere. Our furniture. Our homes. Our bodies. Yet they don’t seem to stop fires. They do, however, seem to make us sick.
TOXIC HOT SEAT takes an in-depth look at a nexus of money, politics and power – and a courageous group of firefighters, mothers, journalists, scientists, politicians and activists as they fight to expose what they assert is a shadowy campaign of deception that has left a toxic legacy in America’s homes and bodies for nearly 40 years.
Set against the backdrop of the award-winning 2012 Chicago Tribune investigative series Playing with Fire, TOXIC HOT SEAT tells an intricate story, detailing how chemical companies that produce flame retardants spend millions of dollars on lobbyists, publicists and influencers, and how Big Tobacco had a hand in convincing fire-safety officials to back a standard that, in effect, requires all furniture to be filled with toxic flame retardants.
Known as California Technical Bulletin 117, the 1975 law was meant to reduce the escalating death rates from house fires caused by cigarettes. It mandated that all fabrics sold in California needed to contain flame retardants. To streamline operations, furniture makers opted to use the fire-retardant chemicals in all polyurethane foam-based furniture sold in the U.S., not just those items intended for sale in California.
TOXIC HOT SEAT shows how a handful of large chemical companies ended up being accused of obscuring public-health risks and misrepresenting chemical safety data by paying “experts” to alarm legislators and the public about the risk of removing chemical flame retardants from homes. In addition, the film highlights the argument that the tobacco industry effectively colluded with chemical companies back in the 1970s, lobbying for the use of chemical flame retardants in furniture, rather than developing a self-extinguishing cigarette, at a time when fires ignited by cigarettes were the main cause of home fires in the U.S.