ANCHORAGE, Alaska—An Alaska State Lawmaker is angry after learning that testimony which may have influenced important health-safety legislation was actually false.
Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchoratge) was talking about he testimony of a respected Washington Burn-Unit Surgeon, David Heimbach.
It was a compelling case that the health risks from the chemical Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers are worth it. Except for one problem, the six week old baby, the unprotected crib, the 75% burns over most of the body, did not actually refer to a specific incident.
An investigation by the Chicago Tribune found that Dr. Heimbach had cobbled together isolated parts of stories from his long career to make a compelling case on behalf of the chemical industry. And it sounded really convincing to lawmakers, until they learned after the Tribune Story that Dr. Heimbach was not referring to any specific baby in a single, real-life circumstance.
And that was troubling to Senator Wielechowski. He blames Dr. Heimbach's tactics in part for Alaska's failure to join 12 other states and ban P.B.D.E's.
"He testified about a specific case. " Wielechowski said. "He testified about a child that got burned in a crib and he claimed it was because of the lack of fire retardants in the mattress, when we find out now that the story was a complete fabrication."
On April 2nd, Wielechowski tried to get his fellow lawmakers to vote to ban P.B.D.E's in Alaska. "The negative health effects of these chemicals are well-documented," Wielechowski said on the Senate Floor in Juneau, "and cause mental problems and thyroid issues."
His bill to ban the use of the flame retardant in new products passed the Senate, but died in the House.
Wielechowski is now hopeful he can reintroduce the measure next year if he's reelected.
Alaska firefighters were disappointed by the legislature's failure to ban P.B.D.E's as well. Although firefigthers where a self-contained breathing aparatus whenever they enter a burning building, toxic chemicals can be absorbed through their skin. Firefighters have a higher rate of cancer than the rest of the population. They are anxious to see the number of dangerous chemicals they are exposed to reduced.
If Wielechowski has anything to do with it, the 28th Alaska Legislature will take-up the issue again in 2013.