Dingell, Stupak Investigating Corruption of Science Panels at EPA
WASHINGTON, March 14 — Two powerful chairmen of the House committee that oversees the EPA are launching an investigation into the chemical industry’s undue influence on Agency panels that recommend critical public health safeguards for chemical pollutants. The inquiry stems from documents released recently by Environmental Working Group (EWG) showing that the EPA sacked a respected public health scientist from the Maine Centers for Disease Control as a panel chair, at the request of the chemical industry lobby group the American Chemistry Council.
The two chairmen are demanding an explanation for the double standard that allows individuals with direct financial ties to the companies making the chemicals under review to remain on scientific advisory panels while excluding public health scientists whose professional opinions differ from the views of the chemical industry.
Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI/1st), chair of the committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee sent a strongly worded letter [PDF] to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, demanding answers.
“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,” wrote the lawmakers.
Last summer, EPA removed Dr. Deborah Rice of the Maine Centers for Disease Control as chair of an expert peer review panel charged with setting safe exposure levels for Deca, a neurotoxic toxic fire retardant that contaminates human blood and breast milk, according to documents obtained by Environmental Working Group (EWG).
EPA fired Rice after a complaint from the American Chemistry Council, which said her testimony before the state legislature in favor of tighter regulations on Deca was evidence of bias.
EPA complied with ACC’s demands and stripped her testimony from the public record, which could result in weaker safety standards for the chemical. At the same time, an EWG investigation found 17 instances of scientists with direct financial or other ties to industry serving on EPA external review panels.
"After seven years of helping industry consultants weaken health protections and distort science, the corruption of science at the Bush EPA may finally be exposed,” said EWG Executive Director Richard Wiles. "Today's action by Chairmen Dingell and Stupak sends a strong message to EPA: The agency’s duty is to protect public health, not the interests of the chemical industry.”
EWG’s review of 7 external review panels found 17 reviewers with potential conflicts of interest, including employees of companies who make the chemicals under review or scientists whose work was funded by industries with a financial stake in the panel’s outcome, and scientists making overreaching public statements about chemical safety.
The EWG report, and related documents are available at http://www.ewg.org/reports/decaconflict
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.