EPA Convenes Panel To Strip Safety Standards That Protect Kids From Cancer-Causing Chemicals
WASHINGTON – Three weeks after the launch of a major Congressional investigation into conflicts of interest compromising EPA expert review panels and the revelation that EPA, at the request of the chemical industry, had fired a career public health professional as chair of an important chemical safety review panel, EPA convened yet another panel with members linked to polluting industries. The panel members are charged with reviewing a controversial new EPA document that would weaken safety standards put in place to protect children from carcinogens.
The panel is set to review a controversial new EPA proposal that would weaken current health safeguards for carcinogens that were originally put in place to protect children. Oil and chemical companies stand to save millions if they can weaken EPA safeguards for carcinogens.
Since 2003 EPA guidance has required the agency to strengthen health standards by a factor of up to 10 to protect children from chemicals that are toxic to DNA, and are well established as compounds likely to cause genetic mutations, a critical step in the evolution of cancer in an individual. In their new, revised framework the agency has proposed to limit dramatically the application of this additional children’s protection to only those cases in which studies are available to definitely prove that a carcinogen to which a child is exposed causes cancer by mutating DNA. But federal law for industrial chemicals, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, does not require that companies conduct such tests, or any studies to establish if their products are safe or not. EPA’s new proposal to consider chemicals innocent until proven guilty is a giant disincentive for voluntary testing.
To review their proposal, EPA has placed on its advisory panel scientists with ties to companies that manufacture and use some of the same cancer-causing chemicals that would be impacted by EPA’s roll-back of the agency’s children’s health protections.
“EPA’s controversial reversal of a precautionary policy to protect children’s health deserves a rigorous review by independent experts,” said Sonya Lunder, Senior Analyst with Environmental Working Group. “Instead of wheeling and dealing to justify removing safety factors that protect children, the EPA review panel should be working to expand the scope of the Cancer Guidelines to make sure that children are protected from all carcinogens, regardless of how they cause cancer.”
The Agency’s proposed rollback is not consistent with a large base of science showing that chemicals that are toxic to DNA pose risks for mutations and cancer, and is not consistent with policies in place at FDA and internationally. EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee recommends that EPA’s guidelines be redrafted to state that standards will be strengthened to protect children unless data are available to definitively show that such protection is not merited. If EPA’s draft guidelines become policy, they could allow companies to use greater amounts of carcinogens and could increase children’s exposures to carcinogens.
EWG reviewed the professional background of the panelists and found 2 individuals with ties to industries that would benefit from weakened cancer standards, including the panel chair.
Bette Meek (chair) is a long-time collaborator at ILSI's Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (ILSI-HESI). Meek is a member of the Risk Assessment Methods Technical Committee (ILSI-HESI 2007a), which explores many issues related to EPA's proposed changes for mutagenic chemicals. The organization lists participant organizations on this committee that include government agencies as well as a number of chemical companies who could potentially benefit from a relaxation of cancer standards for chemicals that bind to DNA, including Bayer CropScience, Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil, Procter & Gamble, and Syngenta (ILSI-HESI 2007b).
ILSI Health and Environmental Sciences Institute is a 'not-for-profit' organization whose work is primarily sponsored by industry (ILSI-HESI 2007c). In 2006, ILSI was restricted from developing risk standards for food and water at the World Health Organization due to industry funding (Lougheed 2006). One of Dr. Meek's 6 ILSI-sponsored publications concerning risk assessment methods examined EPA's cancer guidelines (Anderson 2000). In addition to funding from the US and Canadian governments, the publication was funded by the Chlorine Chemistry Council, American Forest and Paper Association, The Chlorine Institute, ILSI Health and Environmental Sciences Institute’s Water Quality Technical Committee, and ILSI Risk Science Institute.
In the interest of ensuring transparency on potential conflicts of interest, EWG requests that ILSI and all affiliated organizations, committees and groups fully divulge funding sources for all work. Publicly available information suggest that the relationship between Meek and ILSI-HESI involves work related to EPA's proposal to alter the cancer guidelines for mutagenic chemicals, making ILSI's funding of critical concern.
Jerry M Rice has previously served as a consultant for the American Petroleum Institute on benzene, a potent mutagen. Rice is also a consultant for the law firm of Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann that represents chemical companies that manufacture mutagenic chemicals. Rice should fully and publicly disclose his work for companies who could benefit from weaker standards.
Rice has criticized ‘public interest’ scientists who hold a more precautionary viewpoint about risk assessment for mutagens, all of whom have been excluded from the panel (Rice 2004). “The EPA must make decisions and implement policies without undue influence or pressure from the chemical industry by removing panelists with conflicts of interest from all advisory panels. Until this is done, the external peer review of EPA’s decisions cannot be considered a valid process,” added Lunder.
An earlier version of this press release stated that Dr. Meek was a member of ILSI-HESI's Biological Significance of DNA Adducts Project Committee. This is incorrect. The material has been updated to reflect Dr. Meek's participation in the Risk Assessment Methods Technical Committee, and industry participants have been updated.
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