Integrity in Science Watch|
Week of 10/15/2007
Workplace Cancer Figures Found Underreported
In a new study with broad implications for the U.S., UK researchers claim that their government's 26-year-old figures on occupational cancer grossly underestimate both the numbers of workers exposed to cancer risks and the number who develop work-related cancers, the BBC reports. The existing figure, which estimates 6,000 work-related cancer deaths annually in the UK, are based on an influential 1981 study by Richard Doll and Richard Peto, commissioned by the now defunct U.S. Office of Technology Assessment. That study, later published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, has been cited in over 441 scientific articles to debunk claims that environmental causes are significant contributors to cancer. Critiques of the Doll and Peto study point to the authors' sole reliance on epidemiologic studies of workers in large industries and their failure to consider exposures in smaller workplaces, as well as the limitation of their analysis to deaths in those under age 65. Last year a group of European researchers revealed that Doll had financial relationships with a number of industries that manufacture cancer-causing chemicals, including Monsanto, the Chemical Manufacturer's Association, and Dow Chemical. The new study, led by Andrew Watterson of Stirling University in Scotland, estimates that UK work-related cancer deaths are between 12,000 and 24,000 every year. Watterson and one co-author have consulted with law firms representing workers involved in occupational cancer lawsuits.
Mining Magnate Backed Lawsuit Against Gore Film
The same papers announcing former Vice President Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming brought word that an English judge ordered schools showing the film to distribute student guides providing "balance." The Guardian (UK) reported over the weekend that the suit was financed by an obscure political party almost entirely funded by a mine owner, Robert Durward of Cloburn Quarry Ltd. Since 2004, Durward has donated nearly one million pounds to a non-profit called the Scientific Alliance, which challenges claims about global warming. In 2004, the group co-authored a report debunking climate science with the ExxonMobil-funded George C. Marshall Institute.
Fired Whistleblower Testifies on Farm Chemical
Paul Wotzka, a hydrologist who lost his job with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) earlier this year after attempting to speak out about rising levels of atrazine in stormwater runoff and streams, finally received his chance to testify last week at a state senate committee investigating scientific integrity. Wotzka was invited in March to testify before a legislative committee about atrazine levels in Minnesota waters by State Rep. Ken Tschumper, who planned to introduce a bill that would move pesticide regulation from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to the state’s Department of Health. A week after requesting permission to testify from his supervisor, Wotzka was put on leave. Six weeks later he was fired.
Atrazine, an herbicide used widely on cornfields, has been linked to breast and other cancers in humans and with developmental and reproductive abnormalities in amphibians. It has been banned for agricultural use in the European Union. Although several studies have shown no association between exposure to atrazine and cancer, these studies have received funding from the chemical's manufacturer, Syngenta. The Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its 2003 decision not to restrict the use of atrazine in the U.S. A March 2006 settlement agreement requires the agency to determine the herbicide's impact on 21 threatened and endangered species that use waterways contaminated with the compound.
Judge Orders Rabbit Review
Federal District Judge Edward Lodge of Idaho has ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service must review the endangered species status of the pygmy rabbit, a teacup-sized species native to the Great Basin states of the Western U.S. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit by Western Watersheds Project, which had filed a petition documenting the decline of the species' habitat and seeking endangered species status. The lawsuit charged that in refusing to review the petition, the agency had illegally ignored scientific information and failed to base its decision solely on science. The judge agreed and found that the agency "unlawfully solicited information from third-parties," including state wildlife agencies that oppose endangered species protections. "The Fish and Wildlife Service is in a deeply disorganized and incoherent state of operation," said Jon Marvel, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project: "The intention of the Bush Administration is to render them impotent . . . and to overcome their basic interest in supporting science."
Prominent Psychiatrist Suspended by Regulators
New York State has suspended the medical license of the former head of a Harvard-affiliated psychiatric hospital for having "inappropriate sexual contact" with a patient, the Boston Globe reports. Jack M. Gorman, a leader in the field of psychiatry, has received numerous grants to study antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs from drug companies and the National Institutes of Health. He cannot practice medicine for at least six months, according to a consent decree signed in late September. Citing "personal and medical reasons," Gorman resigned from his post at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA in May 2006 after just four months on the job. He subsequently reported his misconduct to medical regulators and attempted suicide, according to the report. He was previously affiliated with Mt. Sinai Medical School and Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Odds and Ends
More members of the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition are distancing themselves from the group's recommendations that pregnant women eat at least 12 ounces of fish weekly, USA Today reports; the March of Dimes and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have joined government agencies in backing guidelines that pregnant and nursing women's consumption of fish not exceed 12 ounces weekly, and that they stick to species low in mercury . . . In the wake of revelations that the Bush Administration censored the Surgeon General's office, an editorial in Science (registration required) by George Washington University health policy professor Fitzhugh Mullan calls on Congress to provide an independent budget for the position; require an annual report on the state of the nation's health; and, "essential to all else, insulate the Surgeon General from political interference" . . .
Last week's Integrity in Science Watch reported that the fishing industry-promoted recommendations that pregnant women eat at least 12 ounces of fish weekly were based on studies that included the October 2006 report by the Institute of Medicine entitled "Seafood Choices: Balancing Risks and Benefits." Although this study is one of only four listed as "supporting science" for the new recommendations by the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB), the IOM's conclusions - that pregnant women should eat no more than 12 ounces of low mercury-content fish per week - are consistent with EPA and FDA advisories and contradict the conclusions of the HMHB Coalition. We regret any confusion that may have been caused by the wording of our story.