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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Teams Up with American Chemistry Council (formerly the Chemical Manufacturers Association) to Test Endocrine Disruptors
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Source: Stolen

Article below says that NIEHS is funding industry research on endocrine disruptors. This is bad, but not unexpected, news. I am sure that we will see much more of this in the near future. The groundwork was laid for this sort of partnering/"synergism" during the last administration when EPA began referring to polluters as clients. The EDF/EPA/CMA (chemical manufacturers association) partnership for the voluntary testing of HPV (high production volume) chemicals is the most recent (before this) large scale partnership. For more on the EDF/CMA partnership see:


The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the chemical industry trade association, American Chemistry Council, "to improve testing chemicals for potential human developmental and reproductive effects," according to a NIEHS press release dated 26 July.

ACC will provide $1 million and NIEHS $3 million to a $4 million fund that will support research "on the mechanisms of action of potential developmental toxicants using state-of-the-art tools, including genomics and genetic animal models."

At first blush this sounds great: more money for critical research that will help build scientific understanding of health risks caused by chemical contamination. A closer consideration of the arrangement, however, reveals that its main effect may instead be to undermine the independence and integrity of NIEHS science.

A key flaw in the arrangement is that it places ACC representatives on a panel that will select research to be funded. According to the press release from NIEHS:

" Scientists from NIEHS and the Council's LRI will be involved in screening applications for responsiveness to the RFA prior to an independent, NIH scientific peer-review process. Following that process, applications ranked of the highest scientific merit will be offered funding."

This implies that industry representatives will be directly involved in the selection of proposals to be forwarded to the peer review panels assessing scientific merit.

Predecessors of the ACC have a documented track record of repressing scientific data that threatened their products. There is no assurance that the ACC has changed its patterns of behavior. In fact, in a public debate following airing of Bill Moyers' "Trade Secrets" in March 2001, an ACC spokesperson continued to misrepresent the facts about what was known and not known about chemical threats to health.

While the arrangement calls for peer review of scientific proposals and that "applications ranked of the highest scientific merit will be offered funding," if the selection process has already screened out studies industry doesn't want done, or scientists industry doesn't want involved, then the procees is fundamentally flawed.

If industry-based scientists are also involved in the peer review process, then the program is in double jeopardy. Anyone who has been involved in peer review of proposals know how subtle lobbying can eliminate the most important research under consideration.

Imagine what would have happened to research on the health effects of tobacco smoke if tobacco company scientists were involved in directing federal research and federal funding on health effects.

This MOU is a really good deal for the ACC and a terrible arrangement for independent science. $3 million that NIEHS had to conduct independent research will now be influenced by the priorities of the ACC.

There is a second key flaw in this MOU. Not only does this give ACC inappropriate influence over the direction of research, it also provides them with early warnings on troubling findings. Scientists regularly put preliminary results into their research proposals. This arrangements creates a real risk that these preliminary results will now flow directly to the ACC and thence to lawyers and PR flacks preparing defences for their products. It may even make it less likely that scientists with challenging findings will seek NIEHS funding, because of fears of abuse of information by ACC.

A recent Government Accounting Office report found that industry had too much influence on EPA advisory board decisions. This MOU now threatens the NIEHS with a similar challenge.

Industry should fund this research but the selection of research questions and researchers should be completely insulated from industry biases.

In the NIEHS press release, ACC President Fred Webber commented: "We expect this is the beginning of a long -- and mutually beneficial -- relationship with NIEHS and other federal agencies that also seek synergistic collaborations with industry."

If this is true, it is a serious threat to the integrity of federally-sponsored health research in the United States.

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Michael R. Meuser
Data Research & GIS Specialist is an independent firm specializing in GIS project development and data research. We created the first U.S. based interactive toxic chemical facility maps on the internet in 1996 and we have been online ever since. Learn more about us and our services.

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