Friday, July 29, 2011

NOAA Issues Draft Scientific Integrity Policy for Public Comment

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a draft scientific integrity policy for public comment.  It joins a similar release by the Department of the Interior in February as a response to President Obama's executive order requiring federal agencies to provide guidance on how they will ensure scientific integrity. NOAA would like interested parties to provide feedback by August 20, 2011.

The policy, which can be read in full here, establishes Codes of Conduct and Ethics and identifies eight "Principles of Scientific Integrity."  They include such things as how NOAA employees conduct, publish, and communicate research and results, and the benefits and limitations of NOAA scientists' participation in professional organizations, as well as rules for receiving awards. The primary goals are to ensure transparency, maintain the highest of levels of scientific integrity, and assist in the accurate communication of scientific findings to the public and policy-makers. 

To support this policy, among other things, NOAA will facilitate the free flow of scientific information online and in other formats, document the scientific findings considered in decision-making, and ensure selection of scientific staff "based on a candidate's integrity, knowledge, credentials, and experience relevant to the responsibility of the position." 

The new draft policy was welcomed by at least one scientific organization, the American Geophysical Union, which issued a press release.

The link for the NOAA scientific integrity policy, and instructions for providing feedback to the Agency, can be found here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Environmental and Health Organizations Say "Fully Fund the National Children's Study"

A group of national and state environmental and health organizations have written a letter to the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations calling for full funding of the National Children’s Study.  The study was "authorized by the Children’s Health Act of 2000," and is "one of the most comprehensive national efforts to study environmental, social and genetic influences on children’s health, including air, water, diet, noise, family dynamics and community and cultural influences."  Unfortunately, it has never been properly funded.

According to a press release by the Environmental Working Group, one of the 24 organizations that signed the letter, it includes:
“There are great and growing concerns about the increased rate of chronic and acute disease in the United States, and the National Children’s Study is designed to help all Americans have a better understanding of the links between those diseases and our environment. However, to ensure the study’s success, it is critical that it continue to receive the necessary funding throughout each and every stage. No study has ever followed children from before birth to age 21, but to do so the National Children’s Study must receive sufficient and consistent funding.”

Further, the letter says that "the study will examine how the events and exposures of early life can lead to specific outcomes including birth defects, asthma, obesity, diabetes, and mental health disorders among other possible outcomes." It suggests that "science continues to emerge and show that early exposures, especially those during vulnerable times of development, are linked to future adverse health effects."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

EPA Gives Advance Notice - Wants Input on Whether to Require Toxicity Testing on Bisphenol A

The USEPA is considering a rulemaking in which they would require additional toxicity testing on bisphenol-A, known commonly as BPA.  Yesterday EPA published an "Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" asking for public comment on whether and/or how they should require testing "to determine the potential for BPA to cause adverse effects, including endocrine-related effects, in environmental organisms at low concentrations."  The notice is subject to a 60-day comment period.

According to the Federal Register notice, BPA is a high production volume (HPV) chemical and "is a reproductive, developmental, and systemic toxicant in animal studies and is weakly estrogenic."  The concern is that while there have been quite a few studies conducted, many of these have what some believe are significant flaws, thus calling into question their validity and/or ability to be used for regulatory purposes.  BPA is a common ingredient in plastics and has come under intense scrutiny for its potential to be an endocrine disruptor.  Given the disagreement over the scientific evidence and the significant ramifications of a BPA ban (and the similarly significant ramifications of a lack of BPA should the potential adverse effects be demonstrated), EPA is seeking to conduct definitive testing to settle the science.

In addition to toxicity testing, EPA is also considering environmental monitoring to determine the levels of BPA in "surface water, ground water, drinking water, soil, sediment, sludge, and landfill leachate in the vicinity of expected BPA releases."  At present, the advanced notice is focused "only  toward the environmental presence and environmental effects of BPA."  While EPA continues to work with the Department of Health and Human Services on potential human health issues, it "is not considering any additional testing specifically in regard to human health issues at this time."

The full Federal Register notice can be viewed here.  The deadline for public comment is September 26, 2011.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Inspector General Says Voluntary Children's Chemical Safety Program Failed to Protect Children

As I noted back in December 2010, EPA's Inspector General's office had launched an inquiry into the Voluntary Children’s Chemical Evaluation Program (VCCEP) program because of complaints that it was ineffective.  The IG has now completed their report and the findings are not good.  In it's report released on July 21, 2011, the IG found that the VCCEP pilot program "did not achieve its goals to design a process to assess and report on the safety of chemicals to children."  Further, the IG found that the design of the VCCEP pilot itself was flawed, and "did not allow for desired outcomes to be produced."

Specific problems include "a flawed chemical selection process" and a "lack of an effective communication strategy."  The IG also specifically pointed at the lack of industry effort, "who chose not to voluntarily collect and submit information," as well as EPA's "decision not to exercise its regulatory authorities" under TSCA to "compel data collection."

The IG report recommends that EPA should design and implement a new process that:
  • identifies the chemicals with highest potential risk to children
  • applies the TSCA regulatory authorities as appropriate for data collection
  • interprets results and disseminates information to the public, and 
  • includes outcome measures that assure valid and timely results.
In a response from EPA included in the report, EPA concurred with the IG's findings and indicated that work was ongoing in the existing chemicals program in an attempt to address the IG's concerns. The IG wasn't necessarily satisfied with EPA's response, and stressed the importance of having a workable program to protect children from chemical exposure.

The full report from the EPA's Inspector General can be downloaded here.