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Press Releases :: February 7, 2008

Gordon, Miller and Lampson Issue Call to Protect Whistleblower and Question Recent Actions of Public Health Agency

(Washington, DC) House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), and Subcommittee Chairmen Brad Miller (D-NC) and Nick Lampson (D-TX) demanded yesterday that Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and also the Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), take steps to protect Dr. Christopher De Rosa, former director of ATSDR’s Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine from what appears to be retaliatory actions by senior ATSDR management for his whistle blowing. 

“I cannot understand how an agency charged with protecting the public’s health is attempting to muzzle one of its own scientists for bringing forth critical issues that impact the health and safety of the public,” said Chairman Gordon.  “This Administration has pledged to ensure that federal scientists have free and unfettered access to the public and the media.  This certainly has not happened in the case of Chris De Rosa.  We need to ensure that retaliation against Dr. De Rosa for blowing the whistle on important public health issues stops today and that he is protected from further retribution.”

Last February, Dr. De Rosa raised concerns with the director of ATSDR, Dr. Howard Frumkin, regarding the scientific integrity of a Health Consultation the agency conducting for FEMA regarding formaldehyde sampling of FEMA provided travel trailers for victims of Hurricane Katrina and Rita.  Despite the fact that he was intentionally by-passed from the normal Health Consultation process for raising previous concerns about long-term exposure to formaldehyde, once he learned of the February 2007 Health Consultation, Dr. De Rosa informed Dr. Frumkin that he believed it was incomplete and misleading since it did not address long-term exposure risks to formaldehyde, including cancer and reproductive health risks from exposure.  As a result of Dr. De Rosa’s efforts the agency issued a “Revised Health Consultation” last October. 

Last July, after a report on environmental contamination and human health conditions in the Great Lakes Basin was abruptly cancelled by Dr. Frumkin, once again Dr. De Rosa told the director of ATSDR and his deputy that their actions have “the appearance of ‘censorship’ of science….”  In 2001, a bi-national U.S.-Canadian commission on the Great Lakes requested that ATSDR prepare a report looking at the potential public health impact of environmental contamination in specific geographic “areas of concern” (AOC) in the Great Lakes Basin, which includes 40 million residents in eight states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.  The report titled: “Public Health Implications of Hazardous Substances in the Twenty-six U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern,” culled together human health and environmental data from multiple data sources in order to help guide future epidemiological investigations and study.  The report did not substantiate cause and effect relationships between human health conditions and the release of environmental pollutants.  Still, the data in the report identified some disturbing potential public health issues.

The data showed for instance, that compared to “peer counties” and the national average, 21 of the 26 AOCs had elevated infant mortality rates, 17 AOCs had elevated breast cancer mortality rates, 16 AOCs had elevated rates of colon cancer, 12 AOCs had elevated rates of lung cancer, 6 AOCs had elevated rates of low birth weights and 4 AOCs had elevated rates of premature births.

But the report was inexplicably cancelled days before its intended release last July.  While ATSDR gave assurances that the report would be released last fall, the Committee has learned that the report has been undergoing extensive editing and that much of the health related data is being removed. 

“The core mission of the ATSDR is to serve the public by using the best science, taking responsive public health actions, and providing trusted health information to prevent harmful exposures and disease related to toxic substances," said Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Miller.  "While senior managers at ATSDR seem to have forgotten its core task and mission, Dr. De Rosa has upheld those values in his efforts to protect the public from potential harm. He has been retaliated against and demoted for his efforts. We will continue to investigate these issues until we are satisfied they have been resolved.  We will not tolerate federal scientists being muzzled or critical public health data being buried.”

Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Lampson added that, “As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment I am particularly troubled by the fact that this agency has been intentionally withholding and is now diminishing a key report that could lead to a better scientific understanding of the public health implications of environmental contamination.  This report has been thoroughly vetted and reviewed by dozens of individuals both within ATSDR and from other agencies.  It needs to be released in its entirety without further delay.”

Last December, the U.S. and Canadian co-chairs of the commission that requested the report wrote to Dr. Frumkin requesting that he release the report.  They said the report would serve as a guide to help “further important public health work needed in the Great Lakes Basin.”  Some of the non-ATSDR scientists that have “peer reviewed” the study have also recently called for the report’s release.

Read the full letter to the CDC under the "Related Items" area on the left side bar of this page.

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