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Press Releases :: March 12, 2009

Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Examines the Failures of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Science and Technology Committee’s Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing to examine the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

“The Subcommittee has heard from many sources examples of jackleg science by ATSDR and their keenness to please industries and government agencies that prefer to minimize public health consequence,” said Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC).

Members heard testimony about ongoing problems at ATSDR, including specific cases where local community members, scientists and physicians were critical of the agency’s scientific methods, conclusions and lack of follow-up actions. Witnesses also included individuals who have either worked for or with the agency in the past, including the former ATSDR ombudsman, who provided their insight into the cause of systematic problems at the nation’s public health agency and potential remedies. The Subcommittee released a staff report prior to the hearing.

Last year, the Subcommittee held a hearing and released a staff report on how the agency came to issue a scientifically-flawed formaldehyde health consultation for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The flawed report and ATSDR’s botched response resulted in tens of thousands of survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita remaining in travel trailers laden with high levels of formaldehyde for more than one year longer than necessary.

“For the last two years, this Subcommittee has heard story after story about problems at ATSDR; problems that threaten the health and safety of the American public,” said Miller. “Fixing ATSDR requires a cultural shift of the agency. If ATSDR’s leadership doesn’t make changes and make them soon, Congress needs a ‘Plan B’ to protect the public health.”

Witnesses included a well-respected medical expert on a rare type of cancer, who testified that the agency has refused to acknowledge a link between a cancer cluster in Pennsylvania and environmental contamination despite persuasive evidence. Another witness criticized ATSDR’s investigation of asbestos that has been washing up on public beaches along the shoreline of Lake Michigan in Chicago. In addition, a British scientist described the flawed methods ATSDR used to investigate depleted uranium exposures among residents in Colonie, New York and how he and colleagues succeeded in discovering depleted uranium exposures among 20% of the resident population they tested there. A local resident from Midlothian, Texas, known as the cement capital of the world, explained how and why he and the local community have lost faith in ATSDR’s ability to independently and scientifically investigate the health problems that the town’s population, particularly its children and animals, have been suffering from that they believe have been caused by the one billion pounds of toxic emissions the town’s industries have unleashed into the environment since 1990.

Today’s witnesses included:
• Panel I
Mr. Jeffery Camplin, President, Camplin Environmental Services, Inc.
Dr. Ronald Hoffman, Professor, Tisch Cancer Institute, Department of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Professor Randall Parrish, Head, NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory, British Geological Survey
Mr. Salvador Mier, Local Resident, Midlothian, Texas, and Former Director of Prevention, Center for Disease Control
• Panel II
Dr. Henry S. Cole, President, Henry S. Cole & Associates, Inc.
Dr. David Ozonoff, Professor of Environmental Health, Boston University School of Public Health
Mr. Ronnie Wilson, Former Ombudsman, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
• Panel III
Dr. Howard Frumkin, Director, National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

For more information, please see the Committee’s website.

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