Sign up to receive email updates, action alerts & health tips from EWG. [Privacy]

Bush Admin. stymies added protections

Lead Astray: Bush Admin. stymies added protections

May 3, 2004

The Bush administration's proposed 2005 budget cuts $35 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)'s lead poisoning prevention program, a 20 percent reduction from the previous year. The program pays for expert home evaluations and repairs to prevent young children from being exposed to lead-contaminated dust, soil and paint chips (Washington Post 2004). Primary prevention is the key to ending future lead poisoning and the related personal and social costs. Cuts to this program serve only to perpetuate unnecessary lead poisoning of future generations.

This is not the first time that the Bush administration has hindered lead poisoning prevention efforts. In 2002, in a move that catered to the interests of the lead industry, the Bush Administration shuffled the appointments to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention, replacing reputable public health and pediatric lead experts with panelists with a history of defending the lead industry in the courts.

The Committee's charge is to assess scientific data on lead and recommend changes to CDC policy to prevent childhood lead poisoning. The Committee also advises CDC on its blood lead level limit standard for children. In the summer of 2002, just weeks before the Committee was due to begin its latest review of scientific data to determine if a revision of the federal lead-poisoning standard was necessary, the Bush Administration stepped in, drastically changing the composition of the Committee.

Anticipating that the current committee would likely rule in favor of lowering the level of concern for elevated blood lead, Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), removed respected pediatric lead experts from the panel, and rejected the nominations of scientists with established expertise in the health effects associated with childhood lead poisoning. Newly vacant seats were then filled by individuals with direct ties to the lead industry, clear financial conflicts of interest, and limited expertise on the issue of childhood lead poisoning. The resulting shift in the composition of the panel contributed to the CDC's recommendation not to lower the level of concern for elevations of blood lead below 10 µg/dL, even as the Center acknowledged research that has confirmed serious, permanent cognitive and academic defects at blood lead levels below 10 µg/dL (CDC CLPPP 2004).

Below is an overview of the panel changes that replaced childhood lead poisoning experts with lead industry-connected scientists:

Nominated Advisors with Conflicts of Interest

  • Dr. William Banner, expert witness for the lead industry who stated that lead is harmful only at levels that are 7-10 times as high as the current CDC blood lead levels of concern. Testified on behalf of lead companies in lead poisoning-related litigation (The Nation 2004, Markey 2002a, Markey et al. 2002b). During the course of a deposition in this litigation, Banner testified as follows:

    Q. (Attorney for State of Rhode Island) "I'm asking you for your expert opinion in this case. Do you believe that any of the epidemiological studies have established any relationship between lead ingestion and adverse cognitive, behavioral, or emotional status?

    A. (Dr. William Banner) "No." (Markey 2002c).

  • Dr. Joyce Tsuji, principal scientist for Exponent, 31% of whose clients have a financial interest in the deliberations of the CDC Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. (Markey 2002c). Exponent's corporate clients include ASARCO, which is currently disputing EPA's assumptions that ASARCO is the source of elevated lead and arsenic in residential soils in El Paso and fighting Superfund designation, and King and Spalding, a DC law firm representing several large lead firms (Markey 2002c).
  • Dr. Kimberly Thompson, Assistant Professor of Risk Analysis and Decision Science, Harvard School of Public Health, affiliated with the heavily industry-funded Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. HCRA has over 20 corporate funders with a financial interest in the deliberations of the CDC Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and less stringent lead regulations. Three of these funders have Superfund sites with lead contamination Ð Monsanto, FMC Corporation and Ciba-Geigy Corporation (Markey 2002c).
  • Dr. Sergio Piomelli, Professor, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, researcher who reportedly criticized the CDC Lead Advisory Committee when it decided to lower the elevated blood lead level of concern from 25 ug/dL to 10 ug/dL. Reports indicate that Piomelli and another appointee, William Banner, were first contacted about serving on the committee by lead industry representatives (The Nation 2004).

Childhood Lead Poisoning Experts Removed from the Panel or Whose Nominations Were Rejected

Removed from Panel:

  • Dr. Michael Weitzman, Department of Pediatrics, University of Rochester, and Pediatrician in Chief, Rochester General Hospital, member of the panel since 1997 and the author of numerous peer-reviewed publications on lead poisoning (Markey 2002a). Shortly before Secretary Thompson rejected his reappointment, Weitzman was told by CDC staff that they planned to nominate him to chair the committee (UCS 2004).

Nomination Rejected:

  • Dr. Bruce Lanphear, Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati, Ohio, currently the Sloan Professor of Children's Environmental Health, conducted epidemiological studies of lead-contaminated house dust and residential soil, and studies confirming severe adverse cognitive and academic effects associated with blood lead levels below 10 mg/dL (Markey 2002a).
  • Dr. Susan Klitzman, Associate Professor of Urban Public Health at the Hunter College School of Health Services, author of numerous peer-reviewed publications on lead poisoning (Markey 2002a).

The compromise in the integrity of the lead advisory committee is just one example in a series of industry-biased scientific appointments made by the current administration. The Federal Advisory Committee Act, 5 U.S.C. App. 1, mandates that scientific committees "not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or by any special interest, but will instead be the result of the advisory committee's independent judgment." Despite this mandate, the Bush Administration has faced a firestorm of criticism for stacking scientific panels and advisory boards with industry-biased appointments. On February 18, 2004, over 60 leading scientists - including over 20 Nobel laureates, leading medical experts, former federal agency directors, and university chairs and presidents - released a letter voicing their concern over the "misuse of science by the Bush administration" (UCS 2004a). The letter states that the administration had disbanded scientific advisory committees, placed unqualified appointees on panels, censored reports that presented scientific conclusions that conflicted with administration positions, and abandoned the pursuit of scientific advice (UCS 2004a).

In an editorial in Science magazine, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, this trend was referred to as an "epidemic," in which scientific committees "are shut down and reassembled with new members, and candidates are subjected to loyalty tests," rather than being judged based on objective criteria such as training, ability and performance (Science 2003). In November 2002, the American Public Health Association (APHA) released an official policy statement objecting to "recent steps by government officials at the federal level to restructure key federal scientific and public health advisory committees by retiring the committees before their work is completed, removing or failing to reappoint qualified members, and replacing them with less scientifically qualified candidates and candidates with a clear conflict of interest," arguing that "such steps suggest an effort to inappropriately influence these committees" (APHA 2002).

In response to a September 2003 Office of Management and Budget proposed rule which would set up peer review panels to screen all use of science in drafting federal regulations, Representative Edward Markey, Senior Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, issued a letter along with eight other Members of Congress, criticizing the administration for purportedly "stacking review panels with industry-funded scientists and asking them to review regulatory science for their own industries." Under the original version of the rule, the peer review panels would exclude scientific experts who receive grants from the federal agency performing the review, but would allow candidates who receive funds from industry, even those potentially affected by the regulations. An April 15, 2004 revision to the rule provided more authority to individual agencies in determining ethical and conflicts of interest standards for the peer review process.

Industry-Biased Scientific Panel Staffing Decisions:

  • CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, which reviews research and makes suggestions on a range of public health policy issues, was completely gutted and replaced with industry-biased appointees, including Lois Swirsky Gold, who denies many of the links between pollutants and cancer, and Dennis Paustenbach, an expert witness who testified for Pacific Gas & Electric in the well-known Erin Brockovich court case involving the contaminant Chromium 6. Committee chair Dr. Thomas Burke learned that fifteen of the panel's eighteen members were going to be replaced, including him. "In the past, HHS had asked Burke for a list of recommendations; this time, it had its own list, and Burke was not on it" (The Nation 2004).
  • Several members of Congress concerned about the integrity of science advisory committees issued a letter to Secretary Thompson questioning the propriety of the collaboration between chemical-industry association, the American Chemistry Council, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences on a testing program of high production volume chemicals (Markey 2002b).
  • The Office of Management and Budget, under the leadership of John Graham, head of Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), proposed to require agencies to subject to peer review "any scientific or technical study that is relevant to regulatory policies." Graham began his tenure with a much-criticized agency-wide memo in September 2001 urging staff to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of any proposed regulation of industry. Graham is former head of the industry-funded Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and many public statements prior to his appointment by President Bush. In a speech to the Heritage Foundation in 2000, Graham reportedly asserted that "[e]nvironmental regulation should be depicted as an incredible intervention in the operation of society" (Congressional Quarterly 2004).

REFERENCES

American Public Health Association (APHA). (2002). "Ensuring the Scientific Credibility of Government Public Health Advisory Committees." Association News. Policy Statement LB02-2. Washington, DC. Accessed online April 22, 2004 at http://www.apha.org/legislative/policy/policysearch/
index.cfm?fuseaction=view&id=291.

Congressional Quarterly. 2004. "Dueling Science," March 20, 2004.

Markey, Rep. E.J. (2002a). "Lead Poisoning Advisory Panel Weighed Down by Lead Industry's Friends." October 8, 2002. Available online at: http://www.house.gov/markey/Issues/iss_environment_pr021008.pdf.

Markey, Rep. E.J., Pelosi, Rep. N., et al. (2002b). Letter to The Honorable Tommy G. Thompson, Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services. October 8, 2002. Available online at: http://www.house.gov/markey/Issues/iss_environment_ltr021008.pdf.

Markey, Rep. E.J. (2002c). "Turning Lead into Gold: How the Bush Administration is Poisoning the Lead Advisory Committee at the CDC." A report by the staff of Rep. Edward J. Markey. October 8, 2002. Available online at: http://www.house.gov/markey/Issues/iss_environment_rpt021008.pdf.

The Nation. (2004). "The New Scopes Trials," by Eric Alterman and Mark Green. February 27, 2004.

The New York Times. (2004). "At the Center of the Storm Over Bush And Science," by James Glanz. March 30, 2004.

Science. (2003). Editorial: "An Epidemic of Politics; Choice of Government Scientists Plagued by Political Bias," by Donald Kennedy. January 31, 2003.

The Washington Post. (2004). "Bush Budget Would Cut Lead Prevention Funds," by Avram Goldstein. April 11, 2004.

Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). (2004). "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An investigation into the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science" by Seth Shulman. March 2004. Available online at: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_environment/rsi/page.cfm?pageID=1322.

Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS 2004a). Statement, Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policymaking. February 14, 2004.

CDC Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CDC CLPPP), Frequently Asked Questions, "Why Not Change the Blood Lead Level of Concern at this Time?" http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/spotLights/changeBLL.htm (last visited, April 23, 2004).