Integrity in Science Watch|
Week of 03/02/2009
Nuke Workers Protest Conflicts on Comp Committee
The government panel that reviews health compensation claims by nuclear weapons workers has several members with financial ties to either the Department of Energy or private contractors that
managed the facilities, a workers' advocacy group charged last
week. In a letter sent to the Health and Human Services
inspector general Daniel R. Levinson, the Alliance of Nuclear
Worker Advocacy Groups (ANWAG) claimed at least three members of
the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health
(NIOSH)'s Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health had
conflicts of interest that should have disqualified them from
participating on the committee, which reviews claims by workers
exposed to allegedly harmful levels of radiation.
"The legislation requires that the Board reflect a balance of
scientific, medical and worker perspectives, not the employers
wrote Harry Williams, president of the Oak Ridge, TN-based Coalition for a Healthy Environment and a spokesman for ANWAG. "The Board was intended to function independently, which it demonstrably has not." Congress established the board in 2000 to review the compensation claims of nuclear weapons workers. The
board reviews the scientific validity of individual "dose
reconstruction" studies conducted by NIOSH.
Among the review committee members that ANWAG opposes is James
Lockey, a professor of environmental health at the University of
Cincinnati College of Medicine. He served as a paid DOE expert
witness in a lawsuit brought by residents of Fernald, Ohio,
where the government once ran a uranium production facility. The
plant's closure and cleanup cost the government $4.4 billion.
ANWAG also cited a newspaper account that claimed the son of board chairman John Poston, a professor of nuclear engineering at Texas A&M, was employed by a NIOSH contractor that conducts dose reconstruction studies for NIOSH. The group also protested the inclusion of Wanda Munn, a retired nuclear engineer for Westinghouse, which runs the DOE's Hanford facility in Richland, WA. According to the letter, Munn also worked with Oak Ridge Associated Universities, which contracts with NIOSH and DOE to conduct dose assessments.
NIOSH, which commissioned the radiation and worker health review
board, defended the use of conflicted advisers. "I can get you a
non-conflicted board, but then what good would their opinion
be?" senior scientist Lewis Wade told the Center for Science in
the Public Interest. The board needs to employ scientists and
physicians with ties to industry because of their expertise, he
claimed. The NIOSH website reveals that all but one member of the 11-member committee received conflict-of-interest waivers in 2006-2007. ANWAG's Williams said NIOSH could find advisers without conflicts of interest if it looked for them.
House Committee Urges TSCA Reform
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is considering changes in the Toxic Substances Control Act that will beef up the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate toxic chemicals. The current law requires the EPA prove a chemical is a potential risk before ordering manufacturers to conduct new tests. Environmentalists say that shifts the burden of proof from industry to the agency, which is inadequately staffed to conduct those scientific investigations. Since 1976, the agency has required manufacturers test just 200 out of more than 80,000 chemicals in commercial use. It has placed restrictions on only five.
At last week's hearing, the Government Accountability Office,
which has the EPA chemical risk assessment program on its
troubled program watch list, called for the U.S. to adopt a system similar to the European Union's Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH). Europe has placed the burden on manufacturers to prove that chemicals used in commerce are safe.
Device Maker, Pharma Offer Lax Disclosure Policies
The medical device firm Medtronic will begin disclosing payments
to physicians on Jan. 1, 2010, but only if the payments are
larger than $5,000, according to a company
press release. Recent voluntary disclosure policies announced by
Pfizer and Eli Lilly said those firms will report payments to doctors that are greater than $500. Other drug-makers, such as Merck, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, have also hinted they will soon announce voluntary disclosure policies. The Physician Payment Sunshine Act, introduced by Sen.
Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) and pending in
the Senate Finance committee, would require disclosure of
payments over $100 beginning in 2011.
Inspector General Investigating Emory, Nemeroff
The Health and Human Services inspector general last week
launched an investigation into allegations that Emory University
failed to inform the National Institutes of Health about all of
the conflicts of interest of psychiatry professor Charles
Nemeroff. The Atlanta-based university may also have
misrepresented the kind of work that Nemeroff did for
GlaxoSmithKline, the Wall Street Journal reported. The probe's announcement came shortly after Sen.
Charles Grassley (R-IA) wrote a letter to the inspector general revealing new information about
Nemeroff's relations with Glaxo. Nemeroff recently stepped down
from chairing the psychiatry department. The university
announced Nemeroff won't apply for more NIH grants for at least
Odds and Ends
Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-NY) has asked the Food and Drug Administration's Janet Woodcock to explain why the agency excluded Los Angeles cardiologist Sanjay Kaul of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute from the Feb. 3 advisory committee that reviewed Eli Lilly's prasugrel for acute coronary syndrome.
Kaul, who had previously authored articles criticizing the drug,
was removed for having an "intellectual bias." Last week, the
FDA admitted it made a mistake in excluding Kaul from the
meeting, which unanimously approved the drug. ... A Government
Accountability Office report on the Department of
Labor's Whistleblower Protection Program said the program is
plagued by inefficiencies and inaccurate recordkeeping, leading
the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to overstate the number of whistleblower cases that are decided in favor of the whistleblower. ... The chair of the Environmental Protection Agency's Scientific Advisory Board, Deborah L. Swackhamer of the University of Minnesota, applauded incoming EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's "deep commitment to scientific integrity" and urged the agency to "establish its environmental priorities for the next five to ten years and to provide the necessary science and research to support and implement cross-media approaches to protecting human health and the environment." ... Documents unsealed last week in a Florida court case reveal drugmaker AstraZeneca told its sales representatives to tell doctors that its psychiatric drug Seroquel didn't cause diabetes despite warnings by a company physician that some individuals would develop the condition, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Cheers and JeersCheer to Tara-Parker Pope of the New York Times for disclosing that Elvira Lang, an associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, consulted for a firm that trains medical personnel in patient communications. Lang told Pope that waiting for biopsy results can raise women's health risks and recommended hospitals improve communication skills and offer psychological services to women awaiting their diagnosis.
Jeer to Charles Raison and CNN.com for failing to disclose that
Raison, a CNN.com "Expert Q&A" author who is also an assistant professor of psychiatry at Emory University,
sat on the advisory board and worked on the speakers bureaus of Wyeth, Eli Lilly and Schering-Plough. Raison suggested using Lilly's antipsychotic drug Zyprexa as an antidepressant.