Center for Science in the Public Interest

For Immediate Release: December 15, 2008

Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 12/15/2008

FDA Says Higher Fish Consumption Okay

The Food and Drug Administration sent a draft report to the Office of Management and Budget last week that raised the amount of fish considered safe to consume, the Washington Post reported. The report would increase the allowable level for women and children to more than 12 ounces per week, claiming that the health benefits (reduced risk of heart attacks due to the omega-3 fatty acids) of eating fish outweigh the health implications of exposure to mercury. Environmental Protection Agency scientists called the report "scientifically flawed and inadequate," the paper reported.

EPA and FDA are supposed to work together, EPA having authority over pollution in fish caught recreationally, and FDA having authority over fish sold commercially. In 2004 the two agencies released a joint health guideline advising pregnant women, women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children not to eat more than 12 ounces of fish per week. But in developing this latest proposal, the FDA did not consult EPA until the document was nearly completed, according to the Post. Recent studies have suggested that mercury may also pose a health risk for adults, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Feds Stick Lumps of Rubble in W. Va. Stockings

The agencies charged with protecting the nation's public lands used industry-funded studies to justify a new rule that eliminates the requirement that mining companies spare a 100-ft buffer zone around streams when dumping the waste from mountaintop removal operations. The rule change will allow coal mining operators to dump their waste within the protective buffer zones as long as they explain why it is necessary. The Interior Department's Environmental Impact Statement justified the rule change by citing several industry-funded studies. The Environmental Protection Agency signed off on the rule even though its July 2008 analysis said debris dumping from coal mining operations had been found to be "strongly related to downstream biological impairment."

One of the studies underpinning the EIS was funded by the University of West Virginia's Coal and Energy Research Bureau, which "enjoys strong industrial support," according to the university website. The report also relies on a 2003 coal consulting firm study, which was sponsored by the Office of Surface Mining. The study was used to dismiss more stringent regulations because of the economic impacts they may cause.

Coal industry officials viewed the decision as a huge victory. "This rule establishes clear guidelines and should reduce legal challenges to permits applications, which will protect the livelihoods and careers of thousands of working West Virginia coal miners," said West Virginia Coal Association president Bill Raney.

Environmental groups, on the other hand, warned that the midnight Bush administration rule change will "eliminate forever more of our headwater streams." An estimated 400 Appalachian mountaintops have already been stripped of trees and flattened, leaving 1,200 miles of mountain streams buried under rubble. The new rule could widen the devastation to an area the size of Delaware.

NAS Calls on EPA to Overhaul Risk Assessment

A National Academies panel has recommended that the Environmental Protection Agency overhaul its analysis of toxic chemicals, warning that "decision-making gridlock" has bogged down efforts to protect public health, Scientific American reported. Among the recommendations in the 478-page document was a call for more coherent, consistent and transparent risk assessment processes. The National Research Council panel, chaired by Thomas Burke, an associate dean and professor of health policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, explained that risk assessment "is at a crossroads, and its credibility is being challenged."

Green Cleaning Committee Stacked with Industry

A new committee charged with making recommendations for "green cleaning" of Missouri's public schools has seven members with financial ties to the cleaning products industry. A recent state law required Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to use environmentally sensitive cleaning products. But the committee chosen to write guidelines included Bill Balek, a lobbyist for Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association, and Douglas Troutman, a lobbyist for the Soap and Detergent Association. According to the Missouri Kids Health Coalition, the chemicals in cleaning products, fragrances and air fresheners have been linked with asthma and developmental and behavioral disabilities. The group is urging Missouri's governor to open the committee's membership to experts in children's environmental health and indoor air quality.

Science Integrity Panel Funded by HP, ExxonMobil

A panel of 13 government, nonprofit, academic, and industry representatives will gather at the Bipartisan Policy Center next month to discuss government use of scientific information in decision making. The panel will examine federal advisory boards, conflict-of-interest policies and the role scientists play at regulatory agencies, according to David Goldston, the former Republican staff director for the House Science and Technology Committee who is running the project. The panel is being financed by the Hewlett and Packard Foundations and ExxonMobil, according to a Science magazine blog.

Grassley Investigates Wyeth 'Ghostwriting'

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), ranking member of the Senate Finance committee, sent letters to the pharmaceutical company Wyeth and DesignWrite, a medical writing firm, requesting disclosure of payments related to the preparation of journal articles and the activities of doctors who were recruited to sign them for publication, the New York Times reported. "Any attempt to manipulate the scientific literature, that can in turn mislead doctors to prescribe drugs that may not work and/or cause harm to their patients, is very troubling," Grassley wrote Friday to Wyeth's chairman and chief executive, Bernard Poussot.

Odds and Ends

Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) issued a statement Friday condemning the news that the Environmental Protection Agency is exempting animal feeding operations from air emission rules, calling the action "nothing more than a giveaway to Big Agribusiness." Last week Integrity in Science Watch published a story showing that the study EPA used to support the decision was funded by the pork, dairy and chicken industries. ... A study on the plant hormone abscisic acid has been retracted from the journal Nature after the results could not be duplicated, according to (registration required). Nature published (subscription required) a story on the retraction the following day that pointed out the study "has been cited 120 times and is the most highly cited study among the 95 results for 'abscisic acid receptor' in the past three years." ... A commentary in Nature that advocated use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy was authored by Barbara Sahakian, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, and Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School's department of health care policy, both of whom disclosed taking funding from "a number of pharmaceutical companies." ... Claiming endangered polar bears were protected by other laws, the Fish and Wildlife Service last week eliminated some Endangered Species Act protections for the species, environmentalists said.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Cheers to the Washington Post for disclosing that a study on an experimental bone marrow cancer drug was funded by Cytopia Research of Australia, which makes the drug.

  • Cheers to Marilynn Marchione of the Associated Press for disclosing that a study on the breast cancer drug Zometa was funded by Novartis, the maker of the drug.

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