The Seattle burn doctor who helped kill off bills in Juneau to ban toxic flame retardants has surrendered his medical license for failing to disclose his ties to the chemical industry.
The Washington State Department of Health announced Wednesday that David Heimbach agreed to settle charges of dishonesty and violating patient privacy by retiring from the profession and agreeing to never practice again.
Heimbach admitted that when he testified before state legislatures in Alaska, Washington and California between 2009 and 2012, he was secretly in the employ of the leading manufacturers of chemical flame retardants.
Heimbach falsely asserted he was testifying on behalf of an organization of physicians, firefighters and other burn professionals, and invented heart-rending stories of burned infants and children, according to the settlement. The organization, Citizens for Fire Safety, was made to sound like a grass-roots organization but was in fact a lobbying arm of the manufacturers, Heimbach admitted. The companies paid $17 million into the organization between 2008 and 2012, Washington health officials found.
In Juneau, he testified three times between 2010 and 2012 against bills introduced by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, to restrict fire retardants added to furniture foam, electronics and other household products. The bills died in legislative committees.
Health experts said the retardants are at best of marginal value in slowing flames but increase the risks of cancer and other diseases for people who sit in the furniture or who put out house and office fires. Children are particularly vulnerable when their crib bedding contains chemical retardants.
At the time he testified against the bills, Heimbach was the retired burn center director at the University of Washington's Harborview Medical Center -- and being paid $120,000 a year plus expenses by the chemical industry, the charges said. He failed to disclose the payments to the university and to the legislatures where he testified, he admitted.
In agreeing to the settlement, Heimbach said he will never seek reinstatement of his license.
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com or (907) 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER