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Press Releases :: April 28, 2009

ATSDR Withdraws Scientifically Flawed Public Health Document

(Washington, DC) –Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) applauded the withdrawal of the public health assessment of Camp Lejeune’s drinking water system by a federal agency, but questioned whether there were assessments for other sites that should also be withdrawn.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a sister agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced this morning that it was withdrawing from its Web site the 1997 public health assessment at Camp Lejeune stating that it could no longer stand behind “the accuracy of the information concerning the drinking water exposure pathway evaluation.”
 
“This is a welcome step. But it took more than 10 years, pressure from Camp Lejeune activists, numerous press articles and Congressional hearings for this to happen,” said Miller. “Our military families have suffered needlessly because of ASTDR’s flawed work. But our hearings have revealed other sites for which questionable public health assessments were done.”
 
The Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee held two hearings based on concerns with ATSDR’s public health documents, ranging from its failures to appropriately access the dangers of formaldehyde in travel trailers used by survivors of Hurricane Katrina to its inadequate evaluation of exposures to depleted uranium by residents living near a depleted uranium plant in New York.
 
Chairman Miller called for the agency to review those other health assessments and withdraw those that could not stand up to a rigorous scientific review. 
 
“Other steps are necessary to ensure that the agency’s future public health assessments are scientifically sound, achieve valid public health conclusions and are based on the most current set of data and information available,” said Miller. “Unfortunately, the Subcommittee’s investigation of ATSDR over the past year has found that is often not the case.”
 
For years, Camp Lejeune community activists have claimed ATSDR’s 1997 report used flawed data to support its conclusion that exposure to the detected levels of volatile organic compounds, including perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), as well as other toxic chemicals, such as benzene, would not pose a health hazard for adults. It was difficult to review ATSDR’s findings because, as detailed in a Subcommittee staff report released last month, ATSDR had lost many of the critical scientific documents and data upon which the agency had based its 1997 public health assessment. 
 
“Over the past year, the Subcommittee has been examining how ATSDR permits the production of such scientifically flawed documents in the first place, and, frankly, we haven’t come up with a credible answer,” said Miller. “I hope that the agency’s decision to rescind the public health assessment on Camp Lejeune is a sign that the leadership of ATSDR is now willing to acknowledge the agency’s past mistakes and take measures to protect the public’s health in the future. While this is an encouraging sign, the administration and Congress need to be vigilant in overseeing this agency so that it implements its goal of protecting the public’s health.”
 
For more information, including on the Committee’s work on ATSDR, please visit the Committee’s website.
 
 
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