(Beyond Pesticides, March 18, 2008) Congress on Monday opened an investigation into allegations of potential conflicts of interests among scientists appointed to panels that advise the EPA on the toxic effects of chemicals. Members of EPA’s science advisory panel have been linked to powerful chemical manufacturers and interest groups.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich), chair of the committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, have launched an investigation into the chemical industry’s undue influence on EPA panels. This investigation comes in light of last summer’s firing of Deborah Rice, PhD, a respected toxicologist from the Maine Centers for Disease Control, and a panel chair, at the request of the chemical industry lobby group, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), after she raised concerns about the flame retardant, deca-BDE or Deca, and urged the Maine state legislature to ban the chemical. The ACC complained that Dr. Rice “exhibited an appearance of a lack of impartiality.”
The two chairmen, in a strongly worded letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, are demanding an explanation for the double standard that allows individuals with direct financial ties to the companies making the chemicals under review to remain on scientific advisory panels while excluding public health scientists whose professional opinions differ from the views of the chemical industry.
“The routine use of chemical industry employees and representatives in EPA’s scientific review process, together with EPA’s dismissal of Dr. Rice raises serious questions with regard to EPA’s conflict of interest rules and their application,” said Rep. Dingell.
Cited cases include eight scientists who were members or consultants to advisory panels to assess the health effects of toxic chemicals. These scientists were also found to be receiving research support from the chemical industry on the same chemicals they were examining, while two were actually employed by the manufacturer or by a company affiliated with the manufacturer. One consultant, while on the panel, promoted his own industry-supported research arguing that the chemical under review was not carcinogenic. The letter also requests documents related to Dr. Rice’s dismissal, as well as records related the appointment of scientists with chemical industry ties.
Among the appointments questioned:
- An employee of Exxon Mobil Corp., who served on an expert panel assessing the cancer causing potential of ethylene oxide, a chemical also made by Exxon Mobil.
- A participant in a panel examining the risk to humans from a widely used octane enhancer in gasoline, who was employed by an engineering company working with makers of the chemical and major oil and chemical companies.
- A scientist who served on a panel examining the health impacts of ethylene oxide, a component in various industrial chemicals, who received research support from Dow Agro, one of the chemicals’ manufacturers.
An independent investigation of seven external review panels conducted by the Environmental Working Group, found 17 instances of scientists with direct financial or other ties to industry serving on EPA external review panels.
Source: Associated Press