Who is Elizabeth Perrott?

postcard_finalLast week EWG published a groundbreaking study showing that levels of chemical fire retardants in the blood of 20 U.S. toddlers and preschoolers were typically three times higher than in their mothers' blood. It's an important finding, because it shows that not only are young children's developing bodies more susceptible to the effects of toxic chemicals, but that they are exposed to higher levels of household toxins just by being kids – crawling on the carpet, jumping on the couch cushions, putting things in their mouths.

After the study was covered by NBC's Today show, and local TV stations and newspapers across the country, a curious press release was issued by a group called Citizens for Fire Safety :

California Mother Speaks Out Against Environmental Working Group Study

Mother Rejects Anti-Fire Retardant Groups and Embraces Fire Safety

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Sept 04, 2008 /PRNewswire --Elizabeth Perrott, mother and member of the medical community, spoke out against the Environmental Working Group's new study that discourages the use of fire retardants, because of the undetermined negative effects it may have on children. "As a mother, my children and their safety are my number one priority, which is why I am very concerned about the recent outcry toward fire retardants," said Perrott.

The press release itself was unremarkable. After most EWG reports exposing toxic chemicals in consumer products, the chemical industry puts out a release dismissing our findings as junk science or worse. This one suggests that we'd sacrifice kids' lives for a ban on harmless amounts of a lifesaving chemical. Truth is, we think the smart alternative is to follow the lead of the many manufacturers who are finding that redesigning their products can do more to prevent fires than dousing products in toxic chemicals. (For that matter, most deaths from furniture fires happen because the victim fell asleep while smoking, but the tobacco companies continue to resist making self-extinguishing cigarettes. The tobacco and chemical industries share a certain worldview.)

It didn't take much digging to find that Citizens for Fire Safety, which purports to be "a coalition of fire professionals, educators, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders," is a front group for the flame retardants lobby, the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum. Citizens for Fire Safety has a Sacramento phone number but a Washington, D.C. address. Through the Washington-based lobbying & PR firm Burson-Marsteller, they spent more than $417,000 in Sacramento in the first 6 months of this year working to weaken, and eventually kill, a bill that would have effectively banned most chemical flame retardants in California.

But who is Elizabeth Perrott?

California Mother . . .

OK. Where in California? Sacramento? How old is she? How many kids does she have?

Member of the medical community . . .

A doctor? A nurse? EMT? Pharmacist? Dental hygienist?

Spoke out against the Environmental Working Group's new study . . .

Just how (other than the press release) did she speak out? Did she call up Citizens for Fire Safety out of the blue? Send them an email? Know someone who works there? Write a letter to the editor? Maybe she works for the American Chemistry Council, which employs one of the same lobbying firms as Citizens for Fire Safety.

In 18 years in the environmental movement, I've never seen a corporate press release so deliberately vague, so transparently phony. Citizens for Fire Safety have every right to tell their side of the story, but if they're going to put their spin in the mouth of a "California mother," they owe us a little more detail if they expect us to believe it. Hint to PR department: You're supposed to make it sound like it's not made up.

Maybe I'm being unfair. But I ran a Google search for Elizabeth Perrott. I got nothing but the press release and genealogical records of people who died 100 years ago. There's someone by that name on Facebook, but she apparently lives in England. She's not on MySpace, LinkedIn or any other network anyone here could think of. She's not listed as a licensed physician or osteopath in California. That proves nothing, but someone doesn't usually appear in a press release on a hotly debated issue of public policy without leaving some prior trace.

So here's an invitation: Elizabeth Perrott, if you're out there, let us know; we'd welcome the chance to talk with you about your concerns. Citizens for Fire Safety – whose email address returned a "not found" message, and whose 800 number reached a recording saying "no one is available to take your call" – if you can help hook us up, that'd be great.

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