For 22 years the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH) was the leading scientific journal on global health hazards, and on criticizing the corporate manipulation of science and policy. But a new publisher appears to be transforming it into a mouthpiece for industry consultants.
In 2015 the IJOEH publisher, Maney, was taken over by a larger publishing company, Taylor & Francis (T&F), which then told the Editor-in-Chief, Dr. David Egilman, in February 2016 that it would not be renewing his contract which ran out at the end of that year, December 2016.
Without consulting anyone on the editorial board of the journal, T&F hired chemical industry consultant Andrew Maier as the new Editor-in-Chief. Maier works with industry consulting firm TERA, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment. TERA has been at the center of public and Congressional fire recently, over the work of its founder, Michael Dourson, and TERA on behalf of Dow Chemical, CropLife America, the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute, Koch Industries and other clients to weaken the science and undermine regulation of toxic chemicals that are poisoning people all over this country. Dourson is the Trump nominee to run the toxics office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the work of TERA runs afoul of EPA’s mission to regulate and reduce pollution (see details of TERA’s misdeeds documented in reports by Sharon Lerner for The Intercept). In addition to Democrats, some Republican Senators are also opposing Dourson, “With his record and our state’s history of contamination at Camp Lejeune as well as the current GenX water issues in Wilmington, I am not confident he is the best choice for our country,” StarNews quoted Senator Burr (R-NC) as saying.
The IJOEH journal editorial board wrote a letter identifying its concerns with Maier (direct link to letter in RetractionWatch). As an example of Maier’s work with TERA for corporate clients the editorial board cited the case of diacetyl, an artificial butter flavoring linked to severe lung disease in exposed workers. “Dr. Maier and his co-workers at [corporate consulting firm] TERA recommended a limit of 200 parts per billion in air, based on a study in which 15 mice were exposed up to 30 hours/week for 12 weeks. Dr. Egilman and co-workers criticized the TERA authors for discarding epidemiologic data and recommended 1 ppb or less in their analysis including extensive human data. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH] recommended a limit of 5 parts per billion in air. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists [ACGIH] recommended 10 ppb.” Maier’s recommended limit is 40-times less protective than recommendation of NIOSH, and 20-times less protective than the ACGIH.
In addition to replacing Egilman with Maier, in March 2017 T&F announced that it was withdrawing an article published by Dr. Egilman in IJOEH in 2016. The article is called, “The Production of Corporate Research to Manufacturer Doubt About the Health Hazards of Products: An Overview of the Exponent Bakelite™ Simulation Study” (Full article here). Bakelite™ was an asbestos-containing plastic produced and sold by Union Carbide for decades starting in the 1930’s, and widely used for making telephones, radios, and other electronic equipment. In the normal course of its use, workers would cut, saw, and drill the plastic, creating airborne asbestos. Union Carbide has since been sued by hundreds of workers that have developed deadly cancer linked to occupational exposures to Bakelite dust.
Infamous chemical industry consultant Dennis Paustenbach, with consulting firm Cardno ChemRisk, conducted a study that cost over a million dollars (presumably paid by Union Carbide) to conduct exposure simulation studies on Bakelite (such studies are listed as one of his ‘key services’ for clients). This is not the first time that Paustenbach was paid to minimize asbestos hazards in products on behalf of companies fighting injury claims by workers and their families (see 2016 detailed report by the Center for Public Integrity: Ford spent $40 million to reshape asbestos science) The studies provided evidence useful to Union Carbide in defending liability lawsuits. Paustenbach’s study was published in 2005, concluding that, “…assuming an exposure scenario in which a worker uses power tools to cut and sand products molded from BMMA-5353 [Bakelite] and similar products in the manner evaluated in this study, airborne asbestos concentrations should not exceed current or historical occupational exposure limits”. In other words, whatever levels of asbestos the exposed workers may have been exposed to from Bakelite products, it was within the legally allowed workplace limits.
Dr. Egilman’s article observed that the bandsaw cutting speed in the simulated study would incorrectly minimize asbestos exposures. Egilman writes, “Exponent increased the time denominator by starting the clock minutes before any activity commenced, and by performing the work process at a farcically slow pace...Paustenbach took 14 min and 29 s to make five 4″-long cuts in the reformulated Bakelite™ pieces that were 6″ wide. No worker could work this slowly and not get fired”. By using an artificially slow saw speed the simulation would produce less airborne dust, leading to an artificially low amount of exposure to the deadly asbestos dust.
The IJOEH editorial board repeatedly corresponded with corporate executives at T&F regarding both Maier’s appointment without the knowledge or involvement of any editors, and the unexplained retraction of the Bakelite paper. In mid-November 2017, after being stonewalled by the publisher, all 22 members of the IJOEH editorial board wrote to the National Library of Medicine requesting that the journal be de-listed from the online library for all issues published after 2016. De-listing would make it less publicly available, and therefore reduce its ‘impact factor’, a standard measurement of how useful and well-respected a scientific journal is.
The events were reported in ProPublica and Confined Space this week. ProPublica reported that it obtained an email from T&F stating that Paustenbach, “has been in touch to request that we retract Egilman’s [Bakelite] article”, although Paustenbach denied this in an email to ProPublica.
This week the entire editorial board resigned in protest (see RetractionWatch). At a time when the chemical industry has taken over the EPA, we can’t afford to lose one of the few independent scientific journals willing to publish peer reviewed critiques of industry practices. The corporate takeover of this intrepid journal will dim the light of truth about toxic chemicals causing illness and death in the workplace.