Worker and Public Health Advocates Call for Agency to Reject Candidates with Conflicts of Interest

WASHINGTON (June 16, 2006) -- More than 20 worker and public health advocates have signed onto a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) letter asking the Environmental Protection Agency to reject industry scientists the agency is considering for an advisory board reviewing ethylene oxide. The chemical, a known carcinogen, is used as a pesticide and a medical equipment sterilizer, and to produce polyester, antifreeze and other products. (For the NRDC letter, go to: http://www.nrdc.org/media/docs/060616.pdf.)

"Advisory boards are supposed to provide credible, independent scientific analysis and advice," said Dr. Jennifer Sass, the NRDC senior scientist who wrote the letter. "They can't do that if they include scientists connected to the regulated industries that have a financial interest in the outcome."

Earlier this year, the EPA announced it was forming an expert panel to conduct a peer review of the agency's evaluation of the cancer-causing effects of ethylene oxide and called for nominations. On May 26, the agency posted a "short list" of 31 candidates and opened a comment period that ends today. EPA Scientific Advisory Boards are generally made up of 10 to 15 members.

The agency's short list included nine scientists with industry ties, according to NRDC: Harvey J. Clewell III, David Garabrant, Michael Gargas, Christopher Kirman, James E. Klaunig, Robert Schnatter, Thomas Starr, James Swenberg and Mary Jane Teta.

Gargas, Kirman and Teta, for example, have consulted for the American Chemistry Council's Ethylene Oxide Industry Council. (But neither Teta nor Gargas declared their connection with the trade group in their posted biographies on the EPA Web site.) Garabrant is currently working on a multimillion-dollar study for Dow Chemical, which is the world's largest producer of ethylene oxide. (But he failed to cite his connection to Dow in his posted biography.) Robert Schnatter, meanwhile, works for ExxonMobil. One main source of ethylene oxide exposure is vehicle exhaust from gasoline combustion.

NRDC and the worker and health advocates recommended five scientists who have no financial conflicts of interest for the board: John R. Froines, Peter Infante, Karl Kelsey, Franklin E. Mirer and N. Kyle Steenland.

Ethylene oxide is one of the most ubiquitous man-made chemicals in the United States, which accounts for about half of the world's production. Most of it is used to produce ethylene glycol. People generally are exposed to this chemical from vehicle and industrial air pollution, cosmetic and skin care product residue, and fumigated food, including spices, cocoa, flour and dried fruit. Breathing low levels of the chemical over months or years can cause eye, skin and lung irritation as well as headaches, nausea, vomiting, memory loss and numbness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At higher levels for shorter periods of exposure, the CDC says the problems the chemical causes "may be more severe."