Megan Tady, The New Standard, March 2, 2007
A private firm that may have ties to chemical companies is helping to run a US government agency tasked with investigating how chemicals adversely affect reproductive health.
The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) – an arm of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences – is actually managed, in part, by Sciences International (SI), a private consulting firm. SI provides scientific and administrative support. The company also oversees the nomination of chemicals for review and of panel members who evaluate the chemicals.
An investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that SI may have “a close working relationship with, and financial ties to, companies that manufacture the very chemicals SI is charged with reviewing for CERHR.” According to SI’s web site, fully half of the company’s clients are private-sector companies, though no names are divulged.
In 2004, Anthony Scialli, the vice president of SI and principal investigator for CERHR, co-authored a scientific paper with a Dow Chemical Company employee on birth-defect research. The report was funded by the European Chemical Industry Council, which represents 29,000 chemical companies.
Since the late 1990s, SI has helped the tobacco company RJ Reynolds fight stricter regulations on a toxic pesticide proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Scientists who serve on CERHR panels to assess chemicals are required to sign conflict-of-interest forms. But according to a letter to EWG from CERHR director Michael Shelby, “no specific [conflict of interest] restrictions are placed on [SI].”
Shelby did not answer a request from The NewStandard to clarify his statement to EWG.
In a letter sent this week to the director of the CERHR umbrella agency, the Environmental Working Group asked for clarification of SI’s policy on conflicts of interest, and for the company to disclose any potential conflicts.
SI would not release the names of its private-sector clients to The NewStandard. Requests for a comment on the EWG’s allegations were referred to CERHR’s parent agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. A spokesperson for that agency said the director is preparing a response for EWG but declined to comment further.
The EWG said disclosure is particularly important as a CERHR panel prepares to review a report next week on the chemical bisphenol A, written with the help of SI staff. The panel is discussing whether the chemical is hazardous to humans. Dow Chemical is a major manufacturer of bisphenol A.