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February 17, 2009

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 02/17/2009

NAS Perc Panel Still Has Members with COI

A National Academies of Science panel looking into the effects of the chemical tetrachloroethylene, also known as perc, has at least two members who have taken corporate funding, a Center for Science in the Public Interest investigation has revealed. Panel-chair Samuel Kacew, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Ottawa, authored a 2005 report funded by the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry trade group. The report, published (subscription required) in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, concluded that "there are very few chemical exposures at low levels for which sufficient data exist to state with confidence the link between levels of environmental chemicals in a person's body and his or her risk of adverse health effects."

In 2006, panel-member Bruce Alexander, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, authored a study published (subscription required) in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology on the insecticide chlorpyrifos and the impact the chemical has on farm workers and their families. Funding for the study came from Dow, DuPont and the American Chemistry Council. Dow and Dupont both manufacture perc.

In September, CSPI sent a letter to NAS regarding the conflicts of interest of Richard A. Corley, a laboratory fellow at the Pacific Northwest Laboratory in Richland, WA. Corley previously disclosed he had taken funding from the American Chemistry Council and from the consulting firm Arcadis, which provides technical assistance to firms remediating the effects of perc, which is believed to cause damage to the central nervous system, kidney, liver and possibly the reproductive system. Corley was removed from the committee in October.

After NTP Review Shows Styrene Probable Carcinogen: Senators Go to Bat for Industry

The National Toxicology Program's Board of Scientific Counselors will meet Feb. 24 to discuss whether the chemical styrene is potentially carcinogenic to humans. In early December, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) sent a letter to then-director Samuel Wilson of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences requesting that the panel postpone the styrene debate until an industry-backed study could be completed and submitted as part of the review process. The study was forwarded to NTP in mid-December.

In June 2008, the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), an Arlington, Va.-based organization with a board of directors composed of representatives from Shell, Chevron, Nova and Dow Chemical, wrote Wilson a letter requesting that the panel postpone a meeting scheduled in July. Jack Snyder, executive director of SIRC, claimed the panel was using outdated evidence; that SIRC was planning on contracting its own study of the chemical; and wanted the study included in the panel's deliberations. The NTP panel moved forward with the meeting, and in September released its profile of the chemical, which was open for public comment until October 23. In that profile, the panel recommended that styrene be listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."

After Senators Specter and Voinovich sent their letter to Wilson Dec. 5, SIRC sent another letter with a copy of its study. Led by Paolo Boffetta, a coordinator of the Lifestyle, Environment and Cancer Group at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, the SIRC-funded study claims that it found "no consistent increased risk of any form of cancer among workers exposed to styrene." The International Agency for Research on Cancer, meanwhile, considers styrene to be a possible human carcinogen.

Styrene, a synthetic chemical used to manufacture plastics, rubber, and resins is already known to affect the central nervous system; exposure symptoms include headache, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, drowsiness, malaise, difficulty in concentrating and a feeling of intoxication, according to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration website.

DC Water Study Controlled by Utility

A report on water quality published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) that assured District of Columbia residents that they had not been harmed by lead in their water is under investigation because of allegations that the author gave the city's water authority, which funded the report, final approval over release of data in the paper, the Washington Post reported. Lead author Tee Guidotti, who was a paid consultant for the DC Water and Sewer Authority and until recently a department chair at George Washington University's school of public health, was contractually bound by DC WASA to give the agency final approval over any material that "might have been proprietary," EHP editor-in-chief Hugh Tilson explained in a phone interview with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Publication or teaching of information specific to DC WASA, specifying DC WASA by name and directly derived from work performed or data obtained in connection with services under this Agreement, must first be approved by WASA in writing," the contract stated. Tilson asserts that if the allegations are proven, the agreement is a violation of the journal's policy on competing interests.

As a result, EHP will hold a meeting of its advisory board March 24 to determine the next step, which may include retracting the study. While Tilson asserts that EHP does not accuse Guidotti or DC WASA of manipulating the study data, and that Guidotti in fact disclosed he had a contract with the utility, there was no mention of controlling interest and, Tilson asserted, the guidelines for authors, which are published on the journal's website, clearly state that "authors must disclose potential competing financial interests."

The results of the study, which claimed there had been no health impact from the unprecedented concentrations of lead in the city's water from 2001 to 2004, has been challenged by another study published (subscription required) recently in the journal Environmental Science & Technology by another group of researchers who concluded that lead had spiked to harmful levels in the blood of hundreds of D.C. children and that thousands more children could have been harmed.

Pfizer to Publicly Disclose Payments to Doctors

Pfizer, the world's largest drug company, announced last week that it will start disclosing its payments to doctors for consulting, speeches and research, the Wall Street Journal and the trade press reported. Pfizer will report all payments to doctors of more than $500 for consulting and speaking arrangements and will also make public the money it pays them to participate in its clinical trials. This comes as momentum builds for the Physician Payments Sunshine Act of 2009, a bill Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) introduced last month which would require companies to report payments to doctors over $100.

Odds and Ends

Despite being touted as only a draft, a two-page report on the Medical School's conflicts of interest policy has been submitted to the University of Minnesota's ad hoc oversight committee for final review, according to the Minnesota Daily. Medical school dean Deborah Powell acknowledged that the final recommendations "will not please all," according to the Daily. ... Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced last week that he will begin to revamp the process for writing a new five-year plan for oil and gas exploration on the outer continental shelf and consider proposals for offshore wind farms alongside the plans for new drilling, the Washington Post reported. ... The same article reported that the Environmental Protection Agency will reconsider a Bush administration rule that made it easier for industrial plants, refineries and paper mills to expand operations without applying for new pollution permits. The rule said that when plants that were expanding or modernizing calculate their emissions to determine whether they need to install new pollution-control measures, they were not required to include emissions from unrelated activities at the same plant.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Cheer to the Archives of Internal Medicine for correcting an error in its Dec. 8/22 issue. The original article failed to disclose the financial interests of several of the authors of the influenza vaccine study.

  • Jeer to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute for failing to disclose in the Feb. 4 issue that Paolo Boffetta, a coordinator of the Lifestyle, Environment and Cancer Group at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, has received funding from the Styrene Information and Research Center for research on the effects of the synthetic chemical styrene (See NTP story above).

  • Jeer to the New England Journal of Medicine for failing to disclose in a perspective on "Reforming Medicare's Physician Payment System" that author Gail R. Wilensky serves on the board of directors of UnitedHealth Group, Cephalon, Gentiva, Quest Diagnostics and SRA International, all health-care related firms. (Tip of the hat to the Health Care Renewal blog.)