Heimbach, a retired Seattle doctor and former president of the American Burn Assn., also said his anecdotes were not about different children but about the same infant. But records and interviews show that the baby Heimbach said he had in mind when testifying didn't die as he described and that flame retardants were not a factor.
After the Tribune confronted chemical executives with Heimbach's questionable testimony, he offered, through his lawyer, another explanation for why his stories didn't add up: He intentionally changed the facts to protect patient privacy.
Yet the most crucial parts of his testimony — the cause of the fire and the lack of flame retardants — had nothing to do with privacy. Instead, they served to bolster the industry's argument that chemical retardants save lives.
In the last quarter-century, worldwide demand for flame retardants has skyrocketed to 3.4 billion pounds in 2009 from 526 million pounds in 1983, according to market research from The Freedonia Group, which projects demand will reach 4.4 billion pounds by 2014.
As evidence of the health risks associated with these chemicals piled up, the industry mounted a misleading campaign to fuel demand.
There is no better example of these deceptive tactics than the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute, the industry front group that sponsored Heimbach and his vivid testimony about burned babies.
Citizens for Fire Safety describes itself as a group of people with altruistic intentions: "a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders, united to ensure that our country is protected by the highest standards of fire safety."
Heimbach summoned that image when he told lawmakers that the organization was "made up of many people like me who have no particular interest in the chemical companies: numerous fire departments, numerous firefighters and many, many burn docs."
But public records demonstrate that Citizens for Fire Safety actually is a trade association for chemical companies. Its executive director, Grant Gillham, honed his political skills advising tobacco executives. And the group's efforts to influence fire-safety policies are guided by a mission to "promote common business interests of members involved with the chemical manufacturing industry," tax records show.
Its only sources of funding — about $17 million between 2008 and 2010 — are "membership dues and assessments" and the interest that money earns.
The group has only three members: Albemarle, ICL Industrial Products and Chemtura, according to records the organization filed with California lobbying regulators. Those three companies are the largest manufacturers of flame retardants and together control 40% of the world market for these chemicals, according to the Cleveland-based Freedonia Group.
Citizens for Fire Safety has spent its money primarily on lobbying and political expenses, tax records show. Since federal law makes it nearly impossible for the EPA to ban toxic chemicals and Congress rarely steps in, state legislatures from Alaska to Vermont have become the sites of intense battles over flame retardants.
Many of the witnesses supporting flame retardants at these hearings were either paid directly by Citizens for Fire Safety or were members of groups that benefited financially from Citizens for Fire Safety's donations, according to tax documents and other records.
Albemarle, Chemtura and ICL Industrial Products declined to answer specific questions about the group.
Tribune reporter Michael Hawthorne contributed to this report.