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    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
    Washington Post
    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
    bisphenol A.

    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
    corporate contracts.

    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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