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Corporate Control of Chemical Regulation

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In These Times has an excellent essay on the corporate control over chemical regulation, including the chemical companies pioneering modeling systems that allows “testing” that provides almost no information on how chemicals will actually affect workers, consumers, or the ecosystems, as well as the EPA openly relying on corporate studies on chemical safety. This of course leads to a disastrous situation where we don’t actually often know just what the impact of chemicals are on people and even if we do have a really good idea of it, even the EPA isn’t really equipped to do anything about it. An excerpt:

A close look at the authors of studies produced by these industry-linked research groups reveals a web of influence traceable to Wright-Patterson (see chart on following page). At least 10 researchers employed at or contracted by Wright-Patterson in the 1980s went on to careers in toxicology at CIIT/Hamner, for-profit consulting firms or the EPA. About half have held senior positions at Hamner, including the co-authors of many of the early Wright-Patterson PBPK studies: Melvin Anderson, now a chief scientific officer at Hamner, and Harvey Clewell, now a senior investigator at Hamner and principal scientist at the consulting firm ENVIRON. “I’m probably given credit as the person who brought PBPK into toxicology and risk assessment,” Andersen told In These Times.

A revolving door between these industry-affiliated groups and federal regulators was also set in motion. More than a dozen researchers have moved from the EPA to these for-profit consultancies; a similar number have gone in the other direction, ending up at the EPA or other federal agencies.

Further blurring the public-private line, CIIT/Hamner has received millions of dollars in both industry and taxpayer money. The group stated on its website in 2007 that $18 million of its $21.5 million annual operating budget came from the “chemical and pharmaceutical industry.” Information about its corporate funders is no longer detailed there, but Hamner has previously listed as clients and supporters the American Chemistry Council (formerly the CMA, and one of the most powerful lobbyists against chemical regulation), American Petroleum Institute, BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow, ExxonMobil, Chevron and the Formaldehyde Council. At the same time, over the past 30 years, CIIT/Hamner has received nearly $160 million in grants and contracts from the EPA, DOD and Department of Health and Human Services. In sum, since the 1980s, these federal agencies have awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to industry-affiliated research institutes like Hamner.

But the federal reliance on industry-linked researchers extends further. Since 2000, the EPA has signed a number of cooperative research agreements with the ACC and CIIT/ Hamner. All involve chemical toxicity research that includes PBPK modeling. And in 2014, Hamner outlined additional research it will be conducting for the EPA’s next generation of chemical testing—the ToxCast and Tox21 programs. Over the past five years, Hamner has received funding for this same research from the ACC and Dow.

Meanwhile, the EPA regularly contracts with for-profit consultancies to perform risk assessments, assemble peer review panels and select the scientific literature used in chemical evaluations. This gives these private organizations considerable sway in the decision-making process, often with little transparency about ties to chemical manufacturers. The upshot: Experts selected to oversee chemical regulation often overrepresent the industry perspective.

These cozy relationships have not gone unnoticed; the EPA has been called to task by both its own Office of Inspector General and by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. “These arrangements have raised concerns that ACC or its members could potentially influence, or appear to influence, the scientific results that may be used to make future regulatory decisions,” wrote the GAO in a 2005 report.

Asked for comment by In These Times, the EPA said these arrangements do not present conflicts of interest.

This is a classic case of regulatory capture and in an environment with a badly underfunded EPA, not to mention other regulatory agencies like OSHA, it’s hard to see what else the EPA is likely to do here, even though the problems are vast and the cost to workers and consumers high.

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