Health advocacy groups this week called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove two scientists from its “short list” of candidates for the advisory committee that will evaluate the health risk posed by a chemical used in making Teflon.
The two scientists either did studies or worked for DuPont, which still makes the chemical, or 3M Corp., which manufactured it until 2001.
In a letter sent to EPA administrator Michael Leavitt and the staff organizing the committee, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Environmental Working Group called for removing Michigan State University professor John P. Giesy, who four years ago conducted 3M’s $1.3-million study of the toxicity of the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The groups also called for removing Pfizer chemist John C. Cook from the panel. Prior to working for Pfizer, Dr. Cook spent many years working for DuPont, which still makes PFOA to use in its Teflon manufacturing plants.
PFOA is one of the most durable synthetic chemicals known to man. It is showing up in increasing concentrations in the blood of humans, with concentrations higher in children than in adults. Recent studies have shown that low doses of PFOA harm lab animals—at estimated blood levels lower than those found in some children.
The advisory committee will be evaluating the EPA’s draft assessment of the risks associated with exposure to PFOA. This risk assessment could determine if the chemical should be more tightly regulated or even removed from the market.
“Anyone with relevant conflicts of interest must be eliminated from the panel,” Merrill Goozner, director of the Integrity in Science project at CSPI, and Dr. Timothy Kropp, chief scientist at the Environmental Working Group, told the EPA.
“Dr. Giesy fails the test of financial independence from parties with a financial stake in the outcome of this committee’s work,” they wrote. And while Dr. Cook no longer works for DuPont, the health advocacy groups pointed out that “his inclusion on this committee would taint the committee’s final work product since his long tenure with DuPont may lead some to ‘perceive’ a conflict of interest, whether it exists or not.”
One of the rationales for the conflict of interest section of the Federal Advisory Committee Act is to eliminate not just actual conflicts, but the perception of conflicts of interest on scientific advisory committees. That way, the public can be assured that the government is receiving a fair and balanced outside review of its work.
CSPI and EWG also pointed out to EPA officials that seven other scientists on the proposed panel either work for companies that manufacture chemicals or work with non-profits with close ties to the chemical industry. On the other hand, there were seven scientists on the EPA short list that the groups felt could fairly evaluate the environmental risks associated with PFOA. The two groups cautioned EPA that it must ensure the final committee is balanced, which is also a requirement of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.For more information, contact: Center for Science in the Public Interest