The union representing international firefighters yesterday accused plastics makers of keeping information from the public about the "extreme danger" plastics pose during a fire.
The International Association of Fire Fighters said that the plastics industry has tried to block a union film for television about the toxicity of PVC -- polyvinyl chloride -- in a fire.
The union film indicting plastics, however, was produced and mostly funded by Atcor Inc., which manufactures a competing product -- metal conduit and pipe. The Harvey, Ill., company gave between $30,000 and $50,000 to the firefighters union to produce the film, the union said.
"The plastics industry doesn't want this film shown because they don't want you to know the truth about some products which are very dangerous," said John A. Gannon, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. "In a fire, it takes only a small amount of PVC to give off toxic gases that can kill everyone inside an average hotel room in 10 to 15 minutes."
The plastics industry has filed a motion with the Federal Trade Commission to block the film's showing and has pressured television stations to stop its airing, the union said. The film, "The Burning Issue," covers hazards of fumes from plastics and their part in the MGM Grand Hotel fire in Las Vegas, the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in Kentucky and a fire aboard an Air Canada plane.
The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., which has asked the FTC to investigate the film as anti-competitive, said yesterday that the union film was misleading and deceptive partly because it was produced by the metal-pipe maker in an attempt to persuade viewers to oppose use of plastic materials in building construction.
"It is not a public service film," said Ronald G. Bruner, spokesman for SPI. "It is marketplace-motivated because one of the sponsors is a producer of competing material. They have used the film to place arbitrary restriction on the plastics product which they compete with under the guise of public safety."
The industry's complaint to the FTC also charges that the film contains unsupported allegations about the involvement of plastics in the fires. Plastics commonly are used in the construction of homes and commercial buildings such as offices and hotels in floor tile, molding, wire insulation, and plumbing and conduit pipe because plastics are lighter, easier to handle and usually less expensive than other materials, according to the union.
"It can be a deadly way to save money," Gannon said. "Both firefighters and the public face a grave danger from the threat of burning plastic. Combustion byproducts, including plastic fumes, are the major cause of fire-related deaths in the country."
Being practical, Gannon said, firefighters know they cannot get plastics banned. But they want information available on the toxins produced so they, architects, builders and the public will be aware of the hazards and how to cope with them.
The U.S. fire death rate is the highest of all industrialized countries, according to the firefighters union About 80 percent of fire deaths result from the inhalation of smoke or hot gases rather than burns, the union said.