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October 27, 2008

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 10/27/2008

Advisors' Biz Ties Fuel DOE's Nuke Reprocessing Policy

The Department of Energy - with strong backing from an outside advisory panel dominated by scientists with ties to the nuclear power industry - recently released a draft environmental impact statement that wholeheartedly endorsed stepped up reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, which critics claim isn't needed and will raise the risk of nuclear proliferation. The statement, now open for public comment, flies in the face of a 2007 National Research Council (NRC) recommendation that called for scaling back the government's program, which has been dubbed the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) because it promotes the technology's use in the U.S. and abroad.

The 17-member NRC panel last October called for downsizing the program because "the technologies required for achieving GNEP's goals are too early in development to justify DOE's accelerated schedule for construction of commercial facilities that would use these technologies." The National Academies panel also found no economic justification for the project and no evidence that the nation's nuclear facilities will eventually need a second waste repository, whose elimination is one of stated goals of the DOE program. "There has been insufficient peer review of the program," the NRC report charged.

Yet the DOE's new draft EIS claims "all domestic programmatic alternatives (to nuclear fuel reprocessing) would require the development of additional geologic repository capacity, in excess of the statutory capacity limit for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository." The draft EIS also asserts that while recycling spent fuel would expose the public and workers to higher radiation doses than the existing program, it would still "be within established regulatory limits."

The GNEP has drawn strong support from the DOE's Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee (NEAC), 11 of whose 12 members spoke out in favor of the program at recent meetings. Seven members of the committee have close ties to the nuclear power industry, including Marvin Fertel of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry trade group; William Martin of Washington Policy and Analysis, which consults for the industry; and Michael Corradini of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who resigned from another DOE panel in late 2003 after Public Citizen questioned his ties to the Nuclear Energy Institute. Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council is the sole opponent to GNEP on the committee. "When you're a minority of one, it's tough to get any opposition [to GNEP] registered," he said.

The committee's make-up and its lack of balance flouts Office of Government Ethics guidance requiring agencies to screen scientists serving as technical advisers for conflicts of interest. It also ignores the spirit of a 2004 Government Accountability Office report blasting the DOE and other agencies for appointing constituency "representatives" to advisory committees that offer scientific advice. Science committees are supposed to hire "special government employees" without conflicts of interest. The DOE response to the GAO report was to change the designations of most of the members of NEAC from "representative" to "special government employees" without either making significant changes to the roster or seeking out independent advisers.

Consultants Helped Write BPA Safety Report

The Food and Drug Administration's determination that the chemical bisphenol-A is safe was based on a report largely written by the plastics industry, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week. This comes shortly after the same newspaper reported that the Center for Risk Science at the University of Michigan, which the chair of the FDA advisory committee looking into the health effects of BPA runs, received $5 million from a retired businessman who considers the chemical "perfectly safe." According to the story, the FDA draft assessment of BPA incorporated reviews of the chemical conducted by ICF Consulting, a firm working for the American Chemistry Council. The newspaper based its story on reports the consulting firm sent to the FDA between 2000 to 2007. The reports included reviews of government and industry studies on the effects of BPA on animal health. Neither the FDA nor ICF answered questions about the newspaper's report.

Industry's role in FDA's decision is already the subject of a congressional investigation. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce's subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation asked FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to appear for an interview by committee staff to explain the agency's decision-making on BPA. In a letter to the commissioner, the committee also requested "all records of communication between FDA and ICF Consulting related to [the companies'] BPA work for the agency." The request asks the commissioner to submit the documents by this Wednesday.

CDC Advisors Axe Automatic Anthrax Vax

The Center for Disease Control's vaccine advisory committee, whose roster does not appear to have any financial conflicts of interest, according to a Center for Science in the Public Interest analysis, last week voted against vaccinating police, fire and rescue personnel for anthrax. "First-responder units may choose to offer their workers pre-event vaccination on a voluntary basis," the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said. But "the vaccination program should be carried out under the direction of a comprehensive occupational health and safety program."

The decision comes in the wake of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Levitt declaring earlier this month that a "public health emergency" exists due to heightened risk of an anthrax attack. The declaration gave blanket product liability immunity to vaccine manufacturers and public and private officials who oversee the production or distribution of the anthrax vaccine. There are about 3 million first responders nationwide. HHS recently placed a $404 million order for 14.5 million doses of BioThrax, a vaccine manufactured by Emergent BioSolutions of Rockville, Md.

UK Scientists Blast Agency for Touting Biz Science

The United Kingdom-based Scientists for Global Responsibility, which promotes science that contributes to peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability, has taken aim at a new government document promoting the virtues of industry-funded science. There is "no reason why the way science is conducted, governed, or communicated by the private sector should be or be perceived to be any different from the public sector," claimed the British Department for Innovations, Universities, & Skills in "A Vision for Science and Society." SGR charged the report showed "a lack of understanding of the practice of science" and that "the public has good reason to put greater trust in scientists who can clearly demonstrate a greater level of independence." SGR's 950 members include Stephen J. Hawking, professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge and author of A Brief History of Time and The Universe In A Nutshell.

Odds and Ends

The Wisconsin Medical Society’s new voluntary ethics policy calls on its 12,000 members to stop taking gifts from drug companies, and recuse themselves from formulary committees if they have ties to industry.... The National Institutes of Health reprimanded one of its scientists, Ned Feder, after he wrote to various publications suggesting that the agency require its grantees to publicly disclose money they earn from medical companies, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.... The Journal of the American Medical Association published an editorial last week supporting injured patients' right to sue drug manufacturers, which will be decided by the Supreme Court case Wyeth v. Levine.... Current spending and activity levels are nowhere near enough to achieve the necessary goals to establish carbon capture and storage technologies, the International Energy Agency said in a report last week.... New requirements for the nonprofit "990" federal tax form will require disclosure of a wide array of relationships, arrangements, and transactions involving conflicts of interest and independent decision-making by their governing bodies, the trade journal Mondaq recently reported....

Cheers and Jeers

  • Jeer to Susan Chandler of the Chicago Tribune for failing to disclose in an article on the health effects of pomegranate juice that Caroline Apovian of Boston University School of Medicine, who is quoted challenging its beneficial effect on cholesterol and blood pressure levels, has consulted for Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Pfizer, and Sanofi-Aventis, which manufacture drugs to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Cheer to Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for their ongoing work exposing industry influence on the Food and Drug Administration's handling of bisphenol A, the chemical plasticizer with estrogen-like qualities that is being phased out by many food packagers and in Canada because of its harmful effects on human health.