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Press Releases :: December 2, 2004

Science Committee Democrats Question EPA Administrator about Chemical Industry Role in Pesticide Exposure Study

On Tuesday, three senior Members of the Science Committee sent letters to the Administrator of EPA expressing their concerns regarding a cooperative research agreement between EPA and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) - an entity funded by the chemical industry - that would study the effects on children of exposures to dangerous chemicals.  Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN; ranking Member on the Committee), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX; ranking Member on the Research Subcommittee) and Representative Mark Udall (D-CO; ranking Member on the Environment, Technology and Standards Subcommittee) were all signatories.

The first letter poses ten questions to EPA regarding the study design and review process of the proposed project.  The study design, which would observe the exposure of young children to possibly dangerous pesticides and chemicals, has been criticized on ethical grounds by both EPA’s own scientists and external reviewers.  As reported in a Washington Post story on November 10, the study has been postponed pending yet another review board’s examination of the design.  The letter seeks assurances that this review board will meet subject to the sunshine provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, assuring transparency in the review process.

The second letter addresses issues regarding the involvement of the chemical industry as a sponsor of this EPA project.  The American Chemistry Council, a research entity supported by the chemical industry, has contributed $2.5 million of the projected $9 million EPA devoted to developing a better understanding of the mechanisms by which dangerous chemicals enter the bodies of children.  This information will be used to add greater realism to the risk assessment models EPA uses in drawing up regulations.

This second letter seeks further information regarding the role the ACC will play in the research design, its execution and in the access to data and results.  While an EPA representative was publicly quoted as saying that this was a "no strings attached" gift, the text of the cooperative research agreement specifies an ACC employee will serve as a Principal Investigator in the research.  Traditionally, a person in such a role would have full participation in all aspects of the research and analysis of data collected.  This creates a conflict of interest, as the industry that would be subject to regulations that might result from this research would have immediate influence over the direction the research takes, how it is conducted and what results would be published.  Reps. Gordon, Johnson and Udall particularly sought assurance that personal medical information would be protected from uncontrolled release to industry sources.

Member Comments:

Bart Gordon : "While there are times when government-industry cooperation is to be encouraged, I think the public has a right to get answers when that cooperation involves a regulator, a regulated industry and a research project that may change the way that industry is regulated.  I really question whether it is in the public interest to let industry look over EPA’s shoulder while EPA is collecting data on children’s health risks and developing new models for protecting children."

Eddie Bernice Johnson : "I am concerned that the children in this proposed study may be harmed while government and industry researchers sit back and do nothing.  The centerpiece of this research design - observing children’s exposures to pesticides and dangerous household chemicals - must be rigorously reviewed in a way that is transparent to the public before this is allowed to go forward."

Mark Udall : "An agency responsible for protecting public health should answer only to the public.  But the public knows that the one paying the piper calls the tune.  So, it’s a serious mistake for an agency to take money from a regulated industry to pay for developing regulatory tools.  It leads to suspicion that the agency will put special interests ahead of the public interest."

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