andrew schneider investigates

February 29, 2008

EPA bows to chemical lobby again.

At the request of chemical industry lobbyists, the Environmental Protection Agency removed the chair of an expert peer review panel charged with setting safe exposure levels for a toxic fire retardant that contaminates human blood and breast milk, this according to a report from the Environmental Working Group.

The panel was convened by EPA to report to the agency on environment and health concerns of Decabromodiphenyl or Deca. It is a spin off from chemical fire retardants and used in electronic components and other consumer products. The chemical has been shown to be a developmental neurotoxin.

It was the American Chemical Council, the industry’s major lobbyist, that pressured EPA to remove Dr. Deborah Rice from the panel.

Rice, retired EPA scientist, is credited by many in the public health community for doing the leading work in researching Deca’s toxicity to the brain and nervous system during development. Now with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Rice also spearheaded a regulatory review mandated by Maine law, to investigate the feasibility of replacing Deca with less toxic chemicals.

The lobbyists called her actions in Maine a conflict of interest and one of the reasons for her dismissal. However, EWG notes that “numerous scientists with direct financial ties to the manufacturers of chemicals under review, or with publications and public statements touting the safety of chemicals they are evaluating, remain as active participants on these panels.”

Not only did EPA remove Rice, but it edited out all of her comments from the report submitted by the panel.

EWG and two scientists in EPA with whom I spoke this morning, said the omission of the Rice’s comments from the review document could result in a significantly weaker safety standard for the chemical, which EPA intends to propose at the end of March 2008.

The two senior scientists said that Rice is just one of nine “leading authorities” that industry has forced off vital EPA panels in the past 18 months.


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