Overview: 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 dollar to uphold a standard that requires all furniture to be filled with toxic flame retardants. This documentary shows just 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.
Expectations: Out of all the documentaries in the Fall Series I am the least knowledgeable about this one. In fact, for the longest time all I knew about it was it topic was toxic chemicals. I somehow got the perception that it was about industrial pollution wreaking environmental havoc. It was not until I watched the brief yet concise trailer (the same one as shown below) that I realized the story hit closer to home; literally closer. The toxic pollution in question is literally in our homes. Now with the topic in focus I can formulate my thoughts accordingly.
I expect the piece to be informative yet irritating. Surely, the film itself is not the irritating factor but the content is. I’ll admit just based on one 46 second promo that I am already annoyed. For one, I am not a fan of bigwig corporations out for greed whatever the cost. Nor am I enthused with big government being tangled up in every issue. It looks like that is just what we are facing in this examination of the toxic components in flame retardant materials. I hope I am not overly pissed off to skew my review into something you won’t want to read. We’ll see, but first, check out the promo for yourselves first.
Gut Reactions: Flat out, this was a well done documentary. It was a great topic and it was explained well. If you are not a person who is a firefighter or someone who does not know what toxins are in your body or have never lost everything in fire and just have not been made aware of fire retardant chemicals you would never know that this topic was a hot debate. I never gave it much thought until now and my eyes are open. I say thank you filmmakers James Redford and Kirby Walker for an insightful and impactful story.
One aspect of the film that caught my attention was the tone of the piece. When I got on track with the subject matter and watched the trailer I thought that this was going to be a forum for angry citizens and activists railing against the injustices of big business and corrupt government. Instead what we get is calm, rational, methodical and reasonable assembly of persons objectively and logically minded in their diligence to discuss and challenge the problem at hand. Each and every person interviewed was a levelheaded individual taking us through the process calmly and the soundtrack help solidify that tone. It was a very nice and consistent way to handle the issue.
And some of the quotes from them were priceless. The questioning of the notion that you think we should trust the safety standards endorsed by our government still has me pondering. Then there is the whole idea that the chemical industry created a fake organization to support their agenda; I guess that wicked tactic happens more than we would want it too. More such surprise statements such as these are throughout the film. They linger with you or at least they do with me.
One other nice element of TOXIC HOT SEAT was that the people won in the end. If you haven’t seen it yet I guess I just spoiled it but it was such a significant turning point in the story that I must blurt it out. Big business takes a hit and the people battling in the trenches prevail. Even though I divulged that kernel of information does not diminish the journey these advocates took to get the government to reexamine the standards for flame retardant chemicals. I declare a job well done all around. Both the diligence of the persons involved in this fight and the way the story was presented in this documentary bring to light to those of us not paying attention an important concern for us all and a great story with a promising ending.
In Conclusion: In conclusion, hey, I’m not pissed. In fact, apropos to this November holiday, I am thankful. I am so to the warriors in this film taking the challenge to force legislation to examine the deadly toxins harming us. Now if you will excuse me I need, out of sheer curiosity, to check out the tag attached somewhere to this sofa.
If you haven’t seen this exposé please do so. It airs again on 12.01 at 8:30am, 12.03 at 1:45pm and 12.07 at 4:15pm. It find it onHBO2 and HBOGo