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Losing the Cancer War

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The U. S. National Cancer Institute

  • Using “Junk Science” to Justify Polluters
  • Industry-sponsored “toxicity” studies

The silence of NCI with regard to primary prevention is in large measure responsible for the continued denial of the public’s fundamental Right-to-Know of avoidable carcinogenic exposures, and for the faulty science on the basis of which regulatory decisions have become subverted by special interests. A battery of industry-funded and promoted think tanks, notably the Cato, Hudson, and International Life Sciences Institute, support industries responsible for avoidable carcinogenic exposures. They claim that particular carcinogens do not pose significant hazards. Additionally responsible are indentured academics and academic think tanks, notably the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, whose past Director, Dr. John Graham, is now the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget. These claims are based on a complex of "risk management" models, "risk benefit analysis", and highly questionable "risk assessment" of individual carcinogens that ignore additive or possibly synergistic interactions with other carcinogenic exposures. These claims are also based on spurious challenges to the human relevance of rodent carcinogenicity test data, and on the insistence on the commonality of their mechanisms of action before such data can be extrapolated to humans. Apart from longstanding contrary evidence, the December 2002 Mouse Genome Project findings are strongly supportive of the human relevance of data from laboratory tests in mice (p. 17). Guidelines developed by Graham, and incorporated in the December 2000 "Data Quality Act," effectively challenge and sharply limit the regulation of carcinogens, as well as a wide range of other public health hazards.

An equally ominous development is the growing influence of industry-sponsored journals, notably Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (RTP), published by the prestigious and reputable Elsevier/Academic Press. RTP is owned by the powerful industry-sponsored International Society of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (ISRTP), sponsored by major petrochemical and pharmaceutical companies and their trade associations. Not surprisingly, RTP’s editorial board is dominated by industry-affiliated lawyers and scientists, including former senior NCI staffers. RTP’s “peer-reviewed” publications are biased, and trivialize or dismiss the scientific evidence on the causal relation between avoidable exposures to industrial carcinogens and the escalating incidence of cancer. They also emphasize policies based on “risk management” rather than risk prevention.

NCI’s silence has become even more serious since the current Administration has appointed prominent industry consultants to key federal advisory committees dealing with environmental health, testing synthetic chemicals, and evaluating exposures to industrial carcinogens (35). Illustrative is the August 2002 appointment of Dr. Roger McLellan to a new 16-member National Center for Environmental Health Committee. McLellan, past Director of the Chemical Industry Institute for Toxicology, has made a career trivializing evidence for the carcinogenicity of proven carcinogens, including more recently diesel exhaust. Further illustrative is the broad restructuring, by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson, of Federal scientific and regulatory advisory committees, such as those of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP). Thompson has eliminated those committee members failing the Administration’s political litmus test and low priority for environmental concerns, and replaced them with handpicked candidates closely associated with industry stakeholders, whose goal is “regulatory paralysis--rather than the application of honest balanced science” (35). More ominous is the unprecedented political interference with the National Institutes of Health peer-review scientific study sections, which are also advisory committees under Federal law, by stacking them with members favorable to industry interests. All these concerns are exacerbated by the well-developed defensive strategies of the chemical industry, and by its major victories in recent Congressional races (Appendix IX).

In late October, 2002, Cong. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and 11 other members of Congress wrote to HHS Secretary Thompson, expressing strong concerns about "a pattern of events … suggesting that scientific decision making is being subverted by ideology and that scientific information that does not fit the Administration's political ideology is being suppressed." Thompson's reply was unresponsive.

More surprisingly, a recent publication has documented evidence that, since 1994, strong direct and indirect corporate pressures, conflicts of interest and procedural non-transparency have seriously jeopardized the independence and integrity of the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) programs for the evaluation of human carcinogenic risks. "Evidence for carcinogenicity provided by results of experimental bioassays has been disregarded on the basis of unproven mechanistic hypotheses, . . .very serious consequences for public health may follow"(36).

Excerpted from Stop Cancer Before it Starts: How to Win the War on Cancer, 2003 by Samuel S. Epstein M. D.


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