"Secret Science?": epidemiology, policy, business, politics...


#pesticide #chemicals & waste #policy #science #business

Association 3 Herissons noticed a recent report and analysis of the journey regarding the weight of epidemiology studies in the U.S. policy decision making, involving different stakeholders, epidemiologists, pesticide businesses, politicians etc.

Epidemiology studies are often very complex with lots variables to be considered and therefore can be of varying quality. The US E.P.A was reluctant in the past to give them as much weight as lab experiments on animals. But by the Obama administration's final months, the agency moved for the first time to ban a pesticide, chlorpyrifos, largely because of epidemiological research. But back in 1998, thirty-six college student volunteers and others from the Nebraska community were recruited through advertising and were paid $460 to drink gelatin capsules filled with the pesticide chlorpyrifos, at up to 300 times levels the E.P.A. considered safe, sponsored by Dow Chemical, without a full discussion of the risks. It was one of the last of its kind fortunately...

By 2015, the US E.P.A. decided to consult epidemiology more seriously in its evaluation of glyphosate, the world's most popular weed killer and the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. "This is a watershed event in our Program" "In the 35 year history of our program, this will be the FIRST time epi(demiology) studies are actively considered in the decision making." Carol Christensen, then an E.P.A. epidemiologist, wrote in a 2015 email to a colleague.

However, Monsanto, in emails with the E.P.A., was dismissive of critical epidemiological research related to Roundup, writing that "such studies are well known to be prone to a number of biases."

Dow Chemical said in reports submitted to the E.P.A. that "the evidence from these studies is insufficient" and called chlorpyrifos a "proven first-line of defense" against new pest outbreaks.

A month after taking over the E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt acted. He disregarded agency scientists and rejected the proposed chlorpyrifos ban, later calling for "a new day, a new future, for a common-sense approach to environmental protection." "The era of secret science at E.P.A. is coming to an end," as he proclaimed. He proposed the transparency regulation, which would ban many epidemiological studies, and other outside research, unless more data behind the studies was made public. The agency's new acting administrator, Andrew R. Wheeler, says he's moving forward with the proposal, as the agency re-evaluates a class of widely used insecticides, called organophosphates.

Academics have resisted previous requests to review their data, notably at Columbia University. In a 2016 letter to the agency, a university official wrote that it could not provide "extensive individual level data to E.P.A. in a way that ensures the confidentiality" of "our research subjects."

David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University's School of Public Health and head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration during the Obama administration, said Mr. Pruitt's plan was not about transparency but about discrediting studies that made pesticides look bad. "The underlying justification for this 'transparency' proposal is a caricature of how science really works," Mr. Michaels said at a recent hearing. "The cynical approach proposed by E.P.A. can be best described as 'weaponized transparency.'"

It is no coincidence, he said, that the term "secret science" was also used in the 1970s when the tobacco industry was trying to forestall critical research about smoking.

Ms. Eskenazi, worried about her study participants' privacy, alerted university lawyers. She is now concerned that the E.P.A. may try to undermine her study's repeated findings that some pesticides may be harming children.

"I knew this was going to come sooner or later," she said. "And here it is."

When science met politics ...

Please refer to the original New York Times report for more details.