Formaldehyde once was officially classified as a carcinogen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Then, Ronald Reagan was elected president. Now formaldehyde is not a carcinogen.
However, Dr. Peter F. Infante, director of OSHA’s Office of Carcinogen Classification, still felt it was a carcinogen, a position supported by numerous scientific studies. His concern earned him a letter of dismissal. But when U.S. Congressman Albert Gore, Jr., heard about it he called a congressional subcommittee hearing. He charged “This is a blatant attempt to rid the government of a competent scientist who happened not to agree with an industry whose profits are at stake.” Thanks to Gore’s intervention, Infante kept his job. Other scientists have not been so fortunate.
The first scientific casualty of the Reagan administration was Dr. Anthony Robbins who was fired as director of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on March 4, 1981. The firing came a few days after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce branded Dr. Robbins as being radically anti-business.
Dr. Melvin Reuber was head of the Frederick Cancer Research Facility at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) when he told California agricultural officials that malathion was a carcinogen. Four months later his successful 20-year career was destroyed by what he called a carefully planned and efficiently manipulated conspiracy by officials of the National Cancer Institute and the chemical industry.
For disagreeing with fellow EPA toxicologists who said permethrin (trade name Ambush) was safe, Dr. Adrian Gross, former chief of toxicology in EPA’s Hazard Evaluation Division, was demoted twice. “The next step,” Gross says, “is out the door.”
Hugh B. Kaufman, a toxic waste expert in EPA’s Hazardous Site Control Division and the government’s chief investigator in the Love Canal case, was secretly investigated by the government after criticizing the government’s hazardous waste program.
Reagan administration officials deny there has been any attempt to stifle scientific inquiry or debate. Nonetheless,. many researchers, demoralized by the pressure to keep quiet and worried about maintaining the integrity of their careers have left EPA, NCI, OSHA, NIOSH, FDA, and HHS.
It appears that under the Reagan administration carcinogens are being determined by political research and not scientific research and the American public should know about it.
THE NEW FARM, March, 1983, “The Next Step is Out the Door,” by Keith Schneider.