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15. Chemical Industry is EPA’s Primary Research Partner

Sources:
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, October 5, 2005
Title: “Chemical Industry Is Now EPA’s Main Research Partner”
Author: Jeff Ruch

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, October 6, 2005
Title: “EPA Becoming Arm of Corporate R&D”
Author: Jeff Ruch

Community Evaluator: Tim Ogburn
Student Researcher: Lani Ready and Peter McArthur

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research program is increasingly relying on corporate joint ventures, according to agency documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The American Chemical Council (ACC) is now EPA’s leading research partner and the EPA is diverting funds from basic health and environmental research towards research that addresses regulatory concerns of corporate funders.

Since the beginning of Bush’s first term in office, there has been a significant increase in cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs) with individual corporations or industry associations. During Bush’s first four years EPA entered into fifty-seven corporate CRADAs, compared to thirty-four such agreements during Clinton’s second term.

EPA scientists claim that corporations are influencing the agency’s research agenda through financial inducements. One EPA scientist wrote, “Many of us in the labs feel like we work for contracts.” In April 2005, EPA’s Science Advisory Board warned that the agency was no longer funding credible public health research. It noted, for example, that the EPA was falling behind on issues such as intercontinental pollution transport and nanotechnology.

Furthermore, in April 2005, a study by the Government Accountability Office concluded that EPA lacks safeguards to “evaluate or manage potential conflicts of interest” in corporate research agreements, as they are taking money from companies and corporations that they are supposed to be regulating.

According to Rebecca Rose, the Program Director of PEER, “Under its current leadership, EPA is becoming an arm of corporate R&D.” She also notes that the number of corporate CRADAs under the Bush administration outnumbered those entered into with universities or local governments, adding, “Public health research needs should not have to depend upon corporate underwriting.”

In October 2005 President Bush nominated George Gray to serve as the Assistant Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development (ORD). At that time George Gray ran a Center for Risk Analysis at Harvard University where the majority of the funding came from corporate sources. Gray indicated upon nomination that he intends to continue and expand his solicitation of corporate research funds in his position with ORD.

PEER’s Executive Director Jeff Ruch warns, “Injecting outside money into a public agency research program, especially when it is tied to particular projects, has a subtle but undeniable influence on not only what work gets done but also how that work is reported.” He adds, “As what was one of the top public health research programs slides toward dysfunction, nothing about the background, attitude or philosophy of Mr. Gray suggests that he is even remotely the right person for this job.”

In 2004 & 2005, EPA was plagued by reports of political suppression of scientific results on important health issues such as asbestos and mercury regulation (see Censored 2005, Story #3). In response ORD launched a public relations campaign, entitled “Science for You,” using agency research funds to clean up its image.

Comments: George M. Gray was sworn in as the Assistant Administrator of Research and Development at EPA on November 1, 2005, with unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate.

UPDATE BY JEFF RUCH

This story illustrates how key environmental research is being diverted away from public health priorities in order to meet a corporate regulatory agenda. By enticing EPA into partnerships, entities such as the American Chemical Council (ACC), which is now EPA’s leading research partner, can influence not only what EPA researches but how that research is conducted, as well.

For example, long-term health monitoring studies drop off EPA’s list of priority topics because industry has no interest in funding such vital work—if anything, industry has an incentive to prevent such research from being conducted. By the same token, the industry push to allow human subject experiments to test tolerance to pesticides and other commercial poisons is precisely the type of research the industry desires to entice EPA into conducting, and thus legitimizing, despite an array of unresolved ethical problems.

A few updates since October 2005 worthy of note: a) A leading proponent of industry research partnerships, George Gray, has been confirmed as EPA Assistant Administrator for Research & Development. b) President Bush has proposed further cuts to EPA’s already shrinking research budget. (see http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=661). This growing penury makes EPA even more interested in using corporate dollars to supplement its tattered research program. c) EPA is in the first weeks of its human testing program. A specially convened Human Subjects Review Board is now struggling to approve industry and agency studies in which people were not given informed consent or were given harmful doses of chemicals.

The EPA page of our website has several updates on this and related issues

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