Post: Canned Foods
Posted by Mike B. on 5/17/07
Try to remain calm.
NIH Will Review Contractor's Work On Chemical's Risk
Agency Fired Firm Over Ties to Industry
By: Lyndsey Layton
April 17, 2007
The National Institutes of Health says it will review the
work done on a chemical called bisphenol A by a contractor
hired to assess its health risks. The agency fired the
company because it was also doing work for the chemical
The Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization
that first raised alarms about a possible conflict of
interest, said the government needs to scrutinize the
entire body of work performed by Sciences International
Inc. for the federal government since 1998, including
analyses of 19 other chemicals.
When it was fired on Friday, the Alexandria-based company
was reviewing about 500 scientific studies on bisphenol A,
a chemical common in plastics that has been linked to
cancer and reproductive problems in animals. NIH had given
Sciences International a contract to prepare a summation
for a panel of experts responsible for determining whether
the chemical poses risks to human fertility or development.
Sciences International's corporate clients have included
Dow Chemicals and BASF, two companies that manufacture
Herman Gibb, the president of Sciences International,
called the firing "unfair." He said his company's work for
BASF predated its federal work on bisphenol A, and he
described an 11-employee firm where workers assigned to
federal jobs were unaware that other employees were working
for industry. None of the science was compromised by the
firm's business ties, he said.
"I don't ever believe in my heart of hearts there was a
conflict of interest," Gibb said.
Robert Chapin, the chairman of the expert panel selected by
NIH to determine whether bisphenol A poses health risks,
said Sciences International is being unfairly tarnished.
"On all of the panels of which I've been a member, SI has
presented nothing but balanced and scientifically rigorous
summations," said Chapin, who works for Pfizer, the
pharmaceutical company. "This is all just theatrics. This
has to do with a campaign by outside interests to hijack
the process. SI was doing a perfectly fine job."
Gibb acknowledged that his company was working for three
chemical trade associations at the same time it was
performing federal reviews of two chemicals linked to those
groups. He said he learned of those potential conflicts
last month when NIH asked him to review the company's
Allen Dearry at NIH said he and other federal officials
were sufficiently concerned to terminate the bisphenol A
contract, but the government will not revisit the company's
past work on other chemicals. "To the extent we could
evaluate the work that SI performed, we tried to assess it
and were satisfied," he said.
Dearry said the agency is taking steps to "ensure the
integrity of our work and science." For the first time, it
will require all current and future contractors to disclose
any potential conflicts of interest regarding their federal
work. In addition, the agency will convene an independent
panel of scientific experts to assess all contracts let by
the National Toxicology Project for conflicts of interest
and report its findings by July 1, he said.
Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental
Working Group, said the government must scrutinize all the
federal work performed by Sciences International.
"Every chemical where Sciences International was the lead
organization, all those need to be reopened," he said. "We
need to look at which ones present the greatest health risk
and whether a potential conflict of interest might have
affected the science."
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House
Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has begun an
investigation into the work the company performed for the
government. A committee staffer said Waxman wants an
independent review of Sciences International's work on
other chemicals to determine whether the contractor had
conflicts of interest and, if so, whether the conflicts
affected the federal work.
Since 1998, Sciences International has been working for the
Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, a
tiny federal agency charged with assessing potential
dangers to reproduction and newborns.
The company was in the fourth year of a five-year, $5
million contract. The agency has two federal employees;
Sciences International supplied the rest of its workforce.
Wiles said the situation points to a larger problem of the
federal government delegating too much authority to private
"There's no substitute for a government scientist who's
insulated largely from political pressures when they're
making these decisions," he said. "There are certain jobs
you can't farm out to contractors."
The federal contract represented about half of Sciences
International's income, and the company will be forced to
lay off employees, Gibb said. He said it is unclear whether
the company has legal grounds to challenge its dismissal.
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