EPA, Business Chummy


Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 31, 2008 at 4:42 p.m.

The American people cannot have faith in the decisions that are made by EPA science advisory panels if panel members are paid by the industry involved.

So it's encouraging to see the House Energy and Commerce Committee look into potential conflicts of interest of eight scientists who were either consultants or members of EPA advisory panels assigned to assess the health effects of toxic chemicals.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who chairs the committee, opened the inquiry March 17 with a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, The Associated Press reported.

Dingell reminded Johnson that last summer the EPA removed toxicologist Deborah Rice from an advisory panel after complaints from the chemical industry.

Rice, a scientist who works for the state of Maine, was opposed by the American Chemical Council because she advised her state to ban a flame retardant used in electronic equipment. She was on a panel that was looking at the chemical.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a report documenting 84 examples of political interference in 24 federal agencies. The instances occurred over a period of six years, beginning in 2001.

The "A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science" also found that nearly 2,000 scientists working for nine federal agencies have reported that they fear retaliation for openly expressing concerns about the mission-driven work of their agencies.

Dingell wrote in his letter to the EPA, "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."

If advisory panels are tainted, Americans need to know. And the past work of those panels would need to be reviewed.

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