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January 7, 2008

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 01/07/2008

EPA Seeks to Exempt Feedlots from Toxics Reporting

In a sop to large feedlot operators, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed exempting livestock farms from reporting dangerous air pollution from animal waste. The proposal would waive reporting requirements for pollutants such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that originate from animal waste, but would maintain the requirements on other sources of these chemicals. The requirements, in place since the 1980s as part of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), mandate the reporting of releases that exceed 100 pounds per day.

This is "a huge favor for this industry," said Ed Hopkins of the Sierra Club, noting that the health risks from air pollutants are the same regardless of their source. Feeding operations may emit these pollutants at levels that far exceed the reporting threshold. According to Hopkins, the industry largely ignores the reporting requirements and pushed for the exemption after the Sierra Club successfully sued Tyson Foods over toxic air pollution from a chicken production facility in 2003. The EPA’s Jon Scholl, who worked with the Illinois Farm Bureau for 25 years before joining the agency as policy counselor, said that the reporting requirements are "unnecessary, impractical, and unlikely" to protect public health. Public comments on the proposed change are due March 27 and may be emailed to superfund.docket@epa.gov.

UK Scientists Decry New Nuke Plans

A group of British scientists and academics last week condemned the government's plan to rapidly expand nuclear power, which would involve the construction of twenty new reactors by private firms. The Nuclear Consultation Group, made up of nineteen experts on environmental risk, radioactive waste management, and energy policy, reviewed the public consultation process used by the government to arrive at its decision and called the process a failure. The group issued a report that accuses the government of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown of presenting biased and inaccurate information to the public during the consultation period, and of failing to address risks from radiation, disposal of nuclear waste and vulnerability to terrorist attack.

The scientists and some environmental organizations also accused the government of asking the public loaded questions in order to arrive at the desired mandate for nuclear expansion, and alleged that the market research firm contracted by the government to do the consultation broke the government's code of conduct. "We are profoundly concerned that the government's approach was designed to provide particular and limiting answers," said Paul Dorfman of the University of Warwick, who edited the report. Greenpeace has threatened to sue when the government formally announces the results of the consultation next week.

White Shoes, Not White Coats, Predominate at Rx Firms

The U.S. pharmaceutical industry claims that it spends more on scientific research than sales and promotion, but a new estimate by two Canadian researchers in the current issue of PLoS Medicine contends the industry spent $57.5 billion on marketing in 2004, which was 94 percent more than its R&D expenditures. Previous estimates, touted by the drug industry, have relied on company surveys. The new estimate included physician survey data, which showed direct-to-physician marketing (known as "detailing") cost $20.4 billion or nearly three times what companies previously reported. "Companies may not report some types of detailing, for example, the use of sales representatives for illegal off-label promotion; whereas doctors are not likely to distinguish between on- and off-label promotion and would report all encounters with sales representatives," wrote Marc-Andre Gagnon of University of Quebec at Montreal and Joel Lexchin of York University in Toronto. Drug companies spent nearly one of every four dollars they generated on marketing in 2004, or an average of $61,000 per physician, according to this latest estimate. "Promotion predominates over R&D in the pharmaceutical industry, contrary to the industry’s claim," the authors wrote.

Yellowstone Threats Report Faulted

The National Park Service released a draft report on threats facing Yellowstone National Park that conservationists and retired park officials said ignores the latest scientific information on the state of the park's environment. The report was prepared for the United Nation's World Heritage Committee, which put the park on its endangered list in 1995. The Bush Administration removed Yellowstone from the list in 2003, but the World Heritage Committee requested that the park provide biennial progress reports on the threats responsible for the original listing. According to former National Park Superintendent Bill Wade and other critics, the government's latest report failed to acknowledge the threats posed to the park by global warming, sprawl, snowmobile use, and ranching interests in the park's vicinity, which have prompted the slaughter of bison to prevent brucellosis transmission to livestock.

According to Wade, the report found no problem with the levels of snowmobile use, even though scientists believe recently authorized levels will damage air quality and wildlife in the park. Similarly, the park's brucellosis eradication strategy-and the draft report's failure to critique that strategy-"continues to ignore the science of bison and brucellosis management, in favor of catering to livestock interests in Montana and Wyoming," according to Stephanie Seay of the Buffalo Field Campaign.

Odds and Ends

California and 15 other states sued the Bush Administration last week, seeking to overturn the EPA's denial of a state request to place tighter restrictions on auto greenhouse gas emissions. . . . Following just four healthy behaviors - not smoking, regular exercise, moderate drinking, and eating five fruits and vegetables daily - adds 14 years of life compared to people who follow none of those behaviors, a new study in PLoS Medicine shows. . . . Most of the free samples that drug companies hand out to physicians wind up in the hands of well-off and well-insured patients, not the poor and uninsured as often claimed by the industry, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health.. . . Lancet editor Richard Horton will head up the United Kingdom's Royal College of Physicians work group seeking better relations between doctors and drug companies. . . . The U.S. Institute of Medicine has set March 13-14 for its next public meeting in an ongoing study of conflict of interest in medical research, education and practice. Anyone who wishes to testify can sign up at the IOM website.