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May 21, 2007

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 05/21/2007

Health Advocates Want Biz Consultants off EPA Asbestos Committee

The former and current presidents of a consulting firm recently bounced off a government job for conflicts of interest are just one of a number of industry consultants on the short list of candidates for a new Environmental Protection Agency advisory committee that will consider the best way to measure the health effects of asbestos. The 65-member list has drawn fire from environmental activists, who are questioning the legitimacy of many of the consultants’ credentials. “Most of the industry nominees developed their asbestos publication record in the last five years, becoming ‘instant experts’ in the service of their corporate client,” said Senior Natural Resource Defense Council scientist Jennifer Sass, who filed comments on the short list late last week.

Among the contested nominees is Elizabeth Anderson, former president of Sciences International (SI), and Herman Gibb, current president of SI. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences recently dismissed the firm from running its review of bisphenol-A after learning it had already tested the chemical’s safety for industry. Another industry insider drawing protests is Bruce Case, who, while advising the EPA on the World Trade Center clean-up, failed to disclose he’d previously done consulting work for Mobil, Georgia Pacific, and Gypsum. The short list also includes long-time industry consultants Roger McClellan and Dennis J. Paustenbach.

The panel will review the methods the EPA used in determining the health impact of asbestos exposure that is contained in the agency’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). Those scientific judgments are used in setting air and soil cleanup standards and could be used to set workplace exposure limits. At issue is the controversial Berman-Comp method for measuring asbestos exposure, which separates asbestos particles into two categories, only one of which is considered carcinogenic. Public health advocates oppose the method since it increase allowable exposure limits. The public comment period ends May 24.

Some Medical Educators Skirt New Rules

A recently released Senate Finance Committee investigation found that nearly one-fourth of physician education seminars do not follow the new rules designed to limit drug industry influence over continuing medical education. The non-profit Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) in 2004 adopted new guidelines to limit the drug industry’s influence over the content of classes after Warner-Lambert (now part of Pfizer) paid $430 million to settle claims that it illegally promoted the off-label use of Neurontin. The company’s education grants were a major part of the scheme.

The Senate investigators, after surveying 76 continuing medical education (CME) providers and 23 drug companies late last year, found 18 providers which violated ACCME rules. Some CME providers had multiple violations, including promotion of the sponsoring company’s products but the exclusion of other firms’ products; allowing company influence over where and how many presentations were scheduled using its grant; and illegally influencing the selection of faculty for the education activity. Pharmaceutical and medical device firms contributed about half of the $2.25 billion spent on CME in 2005. Physicians are required by most states to take CME classes to maintain their licenses.

Did Politics Delist Arizona Eagles?

Local U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientists were ordered by the agency’s top regional official to invent data to support a political decision not to include the bald eagle on Arizona’s endangered species list, the Arizona Republic reports. According to documents obtained by The Center for Biological Diversity, the government scientists were ordered to remove the eagles from the list even though the biological field data didn’t support the decision. The Arizona-based environmental group opposed the inclusion of their state in the national delisting because they consider Arizona eagles a “distinct population segment” whose habitat was still at risk. The Center for Biologic Diversity has asked the U.S. district attorney to investigate

Safeguards Sought On $500 Million BP Grant

The non-profit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights has launched a campaign to slap controls on British Petroleum’s $500 million research grant to the University of California at Berkeley. The group fears the oil giant will influence the school’s research agenda and interfere with its objectivity, the Los Angeles Times
reports. The BP-Berkeley pact gave the oil firm exclusive rights to all scientific discoveries made with the grants. The consumer advocacy group wants the university to prohibit BP from conducting secret research at the school or using UC’s name in marketing campaigns without the regents’ approval. UC officials are opposed, calling the current arrangement optimal.

P.R. Ignores J&J Funded Vaccine Study

The University of Missouri-Columbia issued a press release last week touting a new study that found no link between autism and the vaccine preservative thimerosal. Whether or not the study is reliable, the press release didn’t disclose that the study, which appeared the American Journal of Medical Genetics, was funded by Johnson and Johnson. J&J is a leading manufacturer of a vaccine used in pregnancy that before 2001 used mercury-containing thimerosal as a preservative.

Odds and Ends

Tom Allen (D- ME) introduced a plan last week to spend $3 billion to fund comparative medical research. Allen said the plan will provide medical research based on evidence, not advertisements. The proposal will also prohibit industry stakeholders from influencing the research . . . Shell came under fire at its annual meeting last week from Dutch environmentalists, reportedThe Guardian. They protested Shell’s claims to be a leader in renewable energy when 99 percent of its plans for renewable power come from non-sustainable sources such as oil and gas

Cheers and Jeers

  • Jeer: To the California bus company Laidlaw, which ordered its employees to lie about the toxicity of bus emissions, according to the San Francisco Examiner. Clean air activists want the company to post huge signs on the buses warning students to avoid toxic bus exhaust.
  • Cheer: To Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) for calling on ExxonMobil to provide lawmakers with the amount and purpose of every corporate grant it awarded in 2006, along with other documents. A new Greenpeace report shows the company continues to fund climate skeptics, despite its CEO having recently admitted that global warming is real. "The company's support of climate skeptics, many of whom have no real grounding in climate science, appears to be an effort to distort public discussion about global warming," wrote Miller, who chairs the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology.