A few weeks ago, we detailed some of the concerns about the review of the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) coordinated by the contractor Sciences International for the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR). The story broke shortly before an expert panel on BPA was scheduled to meet, when Environmental Working Group reported that Sciences International has worked closely with tobacco and chemical companies – including Dow Chemical, a BPA manufacturer. We noted that these were evidently previous clients of Sciences International, which is under new management and no longer works for the tobacco industry or BPA manufacturers, but that the NTP does not have an adequate process in place to identify and deal with such potential conflicts among its contractors.
After hearing from public health advocates about their concerns, the NTP announced that it would postpone the BPA decision and review the ties between CERHR and Sciences International. On Saturday, the News & Observer (NC) reported that NTP has suspended its work with Sciences International:
A U.S. center that evaluates health risks from chemicals has suspended a partnership with a Virginia research contractor that also works for chemical makers.
The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, based in Research Triangle Park, made its “stop work” decision after a nonprofit group alerted federal officials and members of Congress that the contractor had potential conflicts involving the chemical industry.
In a letter to Sciences International this month, Allen Dearry, interim director of the National Toxicology Program, said the evaluation center’s “integrity has been questioned because of its association with Sciences International, Inc.”
Dearry notified Sciences International that it must clarify any potential conflicts it has related to BPA and 20 other substances it has been involved with assessing, including soy formula, amphetamines and acrylamide.
Jennifer Sass and Sarah Janssen noted in their post on this topic that the potential for conflicts of interest in NTP’s contract work is widespread:
In fact, NTP is spending millions of dollars on contractors that also serve industries impacted by NTP reports and assessments. These contractual arrangements are not subject to “sunshine” laws include the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), that play a critical role in ensuring government accountability. When NTP outsources tasks without ensuring transparency, without adequate oversight, and without demanding public accountability, it has compromised public trust and the credibility of its products. To erode public trust, it matters not whether the conflicts are perceived or actual, and whether the product is scientifically sound or flawed.
If this latest announcement is the first step toward NTP exercising better oversight over its contracts, then it’s a step in the right direction.
Liz Borkowski works for the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.