SEATTLE — A burn surgeon accused of giving questionable testimony on legislation related to flame retardants has surrendered his Washington state medical license.
Dr. David Heimbach, a former chief of Harborview Medical Center's burn unit in Seattle, testified against bills in Washington, Alaska and California between 2009 and 2012 that would have restricted or banned the use of chemical flame retardants in some consumer products.
In March, the Washington Medical Quality Assurance Commission filed administrative charges against Heimbach, 75, accusing him of unprofessional conduct. The board alleged that he portrayed himself as an unbiased burn expert and did not disclose that he was a paid consultant for manufacturers of flame retardants.
Heimbach agreed to the board's findings and voluntarily surrendered his license, according to the order he signed May 3 that the state medical commission accepted last week. An attempt to reach Heimbach on Wednesday was unsuccessful.
Heimbach is retired from practice and has moved to Maui, said Michael Farrell, an attorney with the commission. He worked as burn center director at Harborview until late 2002, and he retired from the University of Washington School of Medicine in 2011.
When he testified, Heimbach told a compelling story about treating one particular burn victim whose injuries he claimed resulted from using products not treated with flame retardants. The victim actually died in a house fire caused by an overloaded extension cord, and the investigation made no mention of the absence of flame retardants, the board found.
Most of his "testimony, which he presented as documented facts, was fabricated," the board said.
The commission's investigation began after stories published by the Chicago Tribune in 2012 revealed Heimbach's association with a group called the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute.
The group portrayed itself as a coalition of doctors, educators and others interested in fire prevention and safety, but "this was not true," according to the order. The organization was created and entirely funded by three manufacturers of chemical flame retardants.
Flame retardants are used in many consumer products and are intended to slow the spread of fire. Some lawmakers have tried to limit their use over safety concerns.
In Washington, he told lawmakers that "a ban on flame retardants would cause more flame-burn injuries to poor children," the board said.
In Alaska and California, Heimbach testified about treating infants who were burned and suggested their injuries resulted from a pillow or crib material that had not been treated with flame retardants.