EPA Short List Long on Candidates, Short on Disclosure
The Environmental Protection Agency has failed to provide adequate information for the public to discern whether conflicts of interest exist for more than half of its recently unveiled short list of 55 experts for a special panel that will reevaluate the health risks of particulate matter air pollution. The short biographies on the EPA website did not reveal that University of California at Irvine Professor of Community and Environmental Medicine Robert Phalen, who has written a book questioning the link between particulate air pollution and adverse health effects and arguing that tighter air pollution standards are premature, has received research funding from the Southern California Edison Company and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research arm of the utility industry. The announcement was also silent on Gradient Corporation employee Peter Valberg's consulting services to Carbon Black Manufacturers and an undisclosed mining company, and his critiques of EPA findings on health risks of air pollution for the Engine Manufacturers Association, and on the fact that Gradient Corporation is a product defense consulting firm that has received substantial sums from companies to write reports defending products such as cigarettes and the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A (see Cheers and Jeers, below).
The announcement did reveal that eleven nominees worked for or received research funding from the Health Effects Institute. But left unmentioned was the fact that this EPA-industry partnership receives half its funding from the automobile industry. Industry affiliations that were disclosed by EPA included four candidates who consulted with or received funding from EPRI and Fred Miller, an employee of the CIIT Centers for Health Research,, which is supported by member companies of the American Chemistry Council.
Send comments on the short list to firstname.lastname@example.org.The comment period ends July 20. Less than half will be named to the final committee. The EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee last year criticized the agency’s standard for particulate matter air pollution, citing “clear and convincing scientific evidence that significant adverse human-health effects occur in response to short-term and chronic particulate matter exposures at and below” the current EPA standard.
House Members Decry Cheney Role in Salmon Die-Off
In the wake of a Washington Post report, 36 House Democrats have written a letter calling for an investigation into Vice President Richard Cheney’s use of distorted science to undermine the Endangered Species Act. Hearings could put the National Academy of Sciences under the microscope. In 2002, after U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists found that diverting water to farms and ranches would harm salmon migrating in the Klamath River along the California-Oregon border, Cheney demanded that the National Academy of Sciences step in to review the finding. The resulting NAS report found "no substantial scientific foundation" for withholding river water from farmers and ranchers. The agency scientists were overruled and the water released, resulting in a die-off of 70,000 salmon in 2002—the largest adult salmon disaster in the history of the West.
In response to the letter, Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has announced that the committee will be holding further hearings on distortions of science in implementation of the Endangered Species Act. A hearing on the topic was first held in May over the Administration’s intervention in the recovery of the Northern Spotted Owl, as reported by Integrity in Science Watch.
Hearing Airs Rx Firm Influence over Prescribing, Medical Education
The Senate Special Committee on Aging last week held an oversight hearing on drug company gifts and payments to doctors, prompted by growing concerns among state officials that the payments may be influencing patient care. For instance, the state of Vermont, one of only two states requiring reporting of physician payments by drug companies, revealed that psychiatrists averaged $50,000 in drug company payments in 2006, according to The New York Times. The committee also considered the drug industry's influence over continuing medical education. The Washington Post reported drug and device companies now provide nearly two-thirds of the cost of the courses, influence what topics are covered, and may even encourage presenters to discuss unapproved uses of drugs. Public Citizen's Peter Lurie testified that “as companies with a clear conflict of interest in promoting a specific product continue to influence physicians, the result can be prescribing based on marketing, rather than science." Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) vowed to push for legislation that would create a national registry of gifts and payments to doctors by drug and medical device manufacturers, similar to the registries that now exist in Minnesota and Vermont.
Philip Morris to Study “Safer” Cigarettes at University-Linked Park
Philip Morris this month opened a new $300 million research and technology facility within the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park, a nonprofit whose board chairman is also the president of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). While ostensibly separate from the university, many of the current 50-plus corporate tenants in the park have collaborative research relationships with university researchers, where academic investigators are paid by the company to study its products or processes. The research agenda of the Philip Morris facility will be set by the company and will include the development of cigarettes that would be marketed as less harmful to human health and therefore likely to gain FDA approval if the agency begins regulating the industry. The vice president for research at VCU said no research deals have been formalized, and that rules governing control of research results and intellectual property derived from collaborative research projects with Philip Morris will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Odds and Ends
Environmental Health Perspectives, the NIEHS-run open access scientific journal which faced downsizing and has been in the news recently because of conflicts related to NIEHS director David Schwartz's alleged ethics violations, has received a new commitment of support from the NIEHS. The agency has reversed a previous decision to outsource the publication and promised full financial support.
Cheers and Jeers