WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 — A federal agency that evaluates the causes of birth defects and other reproductive problems is run by a consulting firm with ties to companies that make chemicals the agency is charged with reviewing, according to an investigation by Environmental Working Group (EWG).
The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) — an agency under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health — is actually run by Sciences International (SI) of Alexandria, Va. EWG found that Sciences International has collaborated with Dow Chemical Co., a major manufacturer of a widely used industrial chemical the agency will evaluate next week, and has also worked for the tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds.
"It's true that federal agencies often contract with consulting firms, but we don't know of any other instance where nearly all the functions of a public health agency have been outsourced to a private company with a serious conflict of interest," said Richard Wiles, executive director of EWG. "Should government health assessments be managed by private consulting firms with ties to the industry that manufactures the chemicals under review?"
EWG wrote today to Dr. David A. Schwartz, director of toxicology of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, demanding that SI and its employees disclose all its industry ties prior to a March 5 meeting at which a CERHR expert panel is scheduled to evaluate the reproductive hazards presented by bisphenol A (BPA). The panel will base its decision on a 300-page report prepared by SI.
BPA is a heavily used industrial chemical that is integral to the production of hard plastics and is found in the liners of metal food cans and in hard plastic containers. More than 200 animal studies show that BPA is toxic at very low doses, while the Centers for Disease Control has found BPA in 95 percent of people tested at levels that raise health concerns. The peer—reviewed science suggests that BPA may be contributing to increases in many adverse health conditions in the human population including breast cancer, prostate cancer and insulin resistance.
"The arrangement between CERHR and SI raises serious ethical questions that demand immediate disclosure of financial and research ties to chemical manufacturers and other industries that make or use substances under review by the CERHR," Wiles wrote to Schwartz. "Questions about the objectivity and adequacy of this review process and the reviewers must be resolved before a final decision on BPA is reached." (The letter is available at www.ewg.org).
EWG's investigation found:
- Anthony Scialli, an SI employee who is the manager of CERHR, in 2004 co-authored a scientific paper with an employee of Dow Chemical Company on how animal test results can be applied to human health risk. The study was funded by the European Chemical Industry Council.
- In its BPA study, SI fails to disclose industry funding sources and author affiliations for two major studies by scientists who often work for the the European Chemical Industry Council and the Society of the Plastics Industry, both of which have member companies who manufacture or use BPA.
- SI scientists collaborated with R.J. Reynolds in 1998 on a study and lobbying effort that persuaded the Environmental Protection Agency not to tighten regulations on a tobacco pesticide.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C., that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.