Industry Has Too Much Influence in Process, Undermining Research Credibility, NRDC Says

Chemical industry-federal government partnerships that fund research on toxic chemicals do not have proper guidelines to avoid conflicts of interest, according to a Government Accountability Office report to be released tomorrow. The report found that government agencies and an industry trade group designed two partnerships with no public oversight and failed to document how or if they addressed potential conflicts. (The report number is GAO-05-191.)

These potential conflicts call into question the validity of the partnerships, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), a leading national conservation group.

The report analyzed two public-private partnerships. The first, which started in 2001, is between the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry trade group. The second, between the Environmental Protection Agency and ACC, began in 2003.

The ACC-NIEHS partnership funded scientists to study how chemicals affect reproduction and development. Nearly three-quarters of the funding -- $3.75 million -- came from NIEHS. ACC provided a $1.05 million "gift." ACC then helped draft the partnership's request for proposals, which stated that scientists "should" sign a letter allowing NIEHS to "share" their proposals with ACC before NIEHS awarded funding.

"Corporate funding of independent scientific research should not come with strings attached," said Dr. Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at NRDC. "These research agreements could undermine the independence of federally funded science. They provide an opportunity for the chemical industry to steer federal funds for research benefiting corporate interests at the expense of public health."

GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, found that NIEHS's policy for potential financial conflicts "is extremely broad, and it lacks clarity and consistency." Worse, NIEHS has no requirements to document any conflicts of interest. The report recommended that the National Institutes of Health and EPA "develop formal policies for evaluating and managing conflicts of interest when entering into an agreement with nongovernmental partners, particularly those representing a regulated industry, and that NIH revise its gift policy to require conflict of interest evaluations and documentation of decisions."