EDF Health

Selected tag(s): conflict of interest

Of foxes, henhouses and TSCA implementation: The chemical industry burrows into EPA’s toxics office

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

The lead article in this past Sunday’s New York Times is titled “With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and ‘No Transparency’.”  It features several prominent examples of recent political appointments of industry representatives and industry lobbyists to key policy positions where they are now charged with or involved in reviewing or crafting the very same agency regulations and policies that were the focus of their paid private sector work just prior to their appointments.

Add EPA’s implementation of the newly amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to the list.

Dr. Nancy Beck has just been appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and reportedly started in that position on Monday, April 17, 2017.  Dr. Beck is moving into her new position at EPA directly from her job as Senior Director, Regulatory Science Policy, Division of Regulatory & Technical Affairs at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a position she has held since January, 2012.  ACC is the main trade association for the chemicals industry, with a membership of more than 150 chemical companies, including such behemoths as BASF, Dow, DuPont and ExxonMobil.

In her new job, Dr. Beck is expected to play a key role in implementing the new reforms made to TSCA, including in critical decisions that EPA will be making literally any day now, many of them driven by firm statutory deadlines.  These decisions will directly affect the financial interests of the companies represented by ACC.  And they will involve deciding whether or not the agency should take positions for which Dr. Beck has advocated on behalf of her former employer, as recently as last month.  Any reasonable person would see a conflict here, one sufficient to seriously question whose interests Dr. Beck will be representing in playing such a role in TSCA implementation.  But as the Times article indicates, this Administration appears to have little concern about the fox guarding the henhouse.

Nor does this situation bode well for the prospect of creating a credible federal system capable of restoring public and market confidence in the safety of chemicals – which was the key reason that such strong bipartisan and stakeholder support gelled behind the major reforms made to TSCA just last June.  Placing a key chemical industry player in a position where she will now have direct and major influence over the direction that reform will take raises serious new doubts about the industry’s claims that it supports providing EPA with stronger, independent authority and resources to vigorously establish the safety of chemicals in and entering commerce.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, TSCA Reform / Also tagged | Comments are closed

Towards Safer Food Additives

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director.

EDF strives to make safer food available by partnering with companies to reduce and eliminate potentially unsafe chemical food additives and supporting efforts to fix a broken regulatory system.

For many years this blog has focused on the safety of chemicals and nanomaterials used in industrial and consumer products.  Most of these substances are regulated federally by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  But we also encounter chemicals in other ways, including those present in or added to food.  Such chemicals are regulated under a different law, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA), administered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  This blog introduces EDF’s “Safer Food Additives” initiative to get unsafe and questionable chemicals out of our food by using dual levers of change—corporate leadershIFIC Charts - 5-16-16ip and public policy.   Making our food trustworthy demands leadership in both the private sector and the FDA.

The food market is changing rapidly as manufacturers work to keep up with consumer concerns about what’s in our food. And it’s not just about added sugar, salt and trans fats, or whether the food was grown locally or with or without pesticides. Public campaigns increasingly put the spotlight on many chemicals commonly used in food and food packaging—food additives—with growing scientific evidence questioning the safety of their use.

A respected industry survey released in May 2015 showed that 36% of consumers rated chemicals in food as their most important food safety concern – greater than pathogens, pesticides, animal antibiotics and allergens, and up from 23% in 2014 and 9% in 2011. These concerns translated into action; 23% of consumers reported changing their buying habits (corrected from 45% on May 16, 2016). Read More »

Posted in FDA, Food, Health Policy, Markets and Retail / Also tagged , , , | Comments are closed

EPA IRIS program requests conflict-of-interest disclosures by commenters

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.  Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst

EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) is now requesting that persons who make oral comments at its bimonthly meetings or submit written comments on its documents disclose whether they have “financial relationships … with any organization(s) or entities having an interest in the assessments or issues under discussion,” and, if so, to identify the nature of that relationship, (e.g., consulting agreements, expert witness support, or research funding).   Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence / Also tagged | Comments are closed

EDF’s recommendations for IRIS conflicts-of-interest disclosures, and the strong precedents for them

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.  Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst

Our last blog post was quite lengthy and some readers may not have gotten to the recommendations we provided to EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) governing disclosures of conflicts of interest.  In that post, we also cited the numerous strong precedents for requiring such disclosures.

So we’re reposting here our recommendations and discussion of precedents.   Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence / Also tagged , | Comments are closed

Time to come clean: IRIS needs to require stakeholders attending its meetings to disclose their conflicts of interest

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.  Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.  

EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) has been implementing a number of changes in the last couple of years, in response to criticism and concerns coming at it from all sides.  As stated on its website:  “These enhancements will improve productivity and scientific quality in IRIS assessments and help EPA meet the goal of producing IRIS assessments in a timely and transparent manner.”  IRIS has noted that increasing “stakeholder engagement is an essential part of the enhancements.”

Simultaneously pursuing these lofty goals of increasing throughput, scientific quality, transparency and stakeholder engagement in IRIS assessments is challenging, to say the least.  EDF has and will continue to emphasize the need to strike a balance between these goals, given that overemphasis on one can actually exacerbate the problems aimed to be addressed by another.

In this somewhat lengthy post, we’ll examine one such serious problem – skewed participation in IRIS’ bimonthly meetings.  We’ll look at steps EPA has taken to partially address the problem, and argue that the lack of adequate disclosure by participants of conflicts of interest remains a major unaddressed contributing factor.  We’ll discuss our recommendations for full disclosure and point to the strong precedents for such disclosures in other venues.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence / Also tagged , | Comments are closed

Doublespeak is alive and well in the ACC-backed “SAB Reform Act”

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

George Orwell would be proud

Yesterday a Senate copycat of a House bill called the “EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013” was introduced.  The Senate bill has yet to be made publicly available, but that didn’t stop the American Chemistry Council (ACC) from sending out its own release strongly supporting the bill, literally within minutes of the issuance of a press release by the bill’s main sponsors.

Assuming (as stated in the release) that the Senate bill is the same as the House bill, H.R. 1422, no wonder ACC loves this bill: 

  • Tired of having your companies’ scientists and hired consultants excluded from SAB panels because of conflicts of interest?  Write a bill that eliminates such a pesky rule, and then say the bill “eliminates conflicts of interest.”
  • Frustrated by the time limit placed on comments from the army of industry commenters that typically show up at SAB panel meetings?  Bar the setting of any time limit so you can stack the deck, and then say the bill “promotes fairness” and “strengthens public participation.”
  • Unhappy with how many independent academic scientists are seated on SAB panels?  Require not only that panel members be willing to devote their time to review lengthy EPA documents, but that they respond in writing to every public comment received – a massive expansion in the workload placed on panel members, given the flood of industry comments typically provided – and then say the bill “promotes transparency.”
  • Upset with academic scientists on SAB panels that receive government grants not always supporting the industry position?  Claim that they are the ones who have conflicts of interest, single them out for disclosure of their grants and contracts – with no mention of industry consultants – and then say the bill “increases disclosures” related to potential conflicts.  (An earlier version of the bill would actually have set a 10% quota for government-funded scientists on SAB panels; happily that was removed after an outcry.)
  • Want to slow down the pace of EPA risk and hazard assessments?  Require that every single such assessment be sent to SAB for review, exponentially expanding the SAB’s workload and adding months or years to the process of finalizing assessments, and then say the bill merely “enables SAB reviews” of such documents.

Despite its grand claims, the EPA SAB Reform Act is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by ACC and its Hill allies to heavily stack the deck in its favor when it comes to independent scientific reviews of EPA work products.

When the House bill was introduced earlier this year, more than a dozen of the country’s premier public health scientists weighed in strongly opposing the bill, as did a group of prominent environmental NGOs.  See those letters for more details.

While the bill clearly parrots the talking points of the chemical industry when it comes to peer review of government chemical assessments, it should be noted that the bill would apply to any and all aspects of SAB’s work, not just that on chemicals.  So scientists in all fields of endeavor relating to protection of health and the environment ought to be concerned.


Posted in Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence / Also tagged , | Comments are closed