Our regular readers may remember that back in March, environmental advocates raised concerns about the National Toxicology Program contractor preparing a draft report on bisphenol A, because the contractor had ties to companies that manufacture this particular chemical. (Read past posts on the issue.) After investigating the allegations, the NTP fired the contractor, Virginia-based Sciences International.

Now, Susanne Rust of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the NTP has conducted an audit and found no imporpriety in the preparation of the report, which will provide background material for an expert panel evaluating the chemical’s safety. Evironmental advocates interviewed say the audit findings don’t put their concerns to rest. From the article:

The [NTP] then audited the contract. The Virginia company’s duties, in this case, were to search for studies related to bisphenol-A, provide summaries of these studies, and then prepare a draft report based on these studies, as well as from input provided by panel members.

On July 24, the toxicology program released the results of its audit. The government concluded Sciences International showed no impropriety.

“I feel vindicated,” said Herman Gibb, president of Sciences International. But, he said, “It would have been nice if they had done this before they terminated the contract instead of after.”

Others, however, are not swayed.

“It doesn’t put our concerns to rest,” said Anila Jacobs of the Environmental Working Group. The problem, she said, was not the literature search but the analysis provided by the firm.

Frederick vom Saal, a bisphenol-A researcher at the University of Missouri in Columbia, agreed.

He said the contractor not only misrepresented his studies in summaries they prepared but also included factual errors.

John Bucher, associate director of the toxicology program said the panel members will review the public comments and make corrections where needed.

The expert panel will evaluate and finalize the report next week in Alexandria.

It’s not just the report’s content that’s at issue; it’s also the NTP’s contracting process. Marla Cone addressed this in the LA Times:

“Frankly, we feel we’ve been unjustly treated,” said [Sciences International vice president Anthony] Scialli, who had been the federal center’s chief scientific investigator.

If the institute “felt it was necessary to have more stringent conflict of interest policies, they should develop them and make sure their contractors comply with them. But to end our contract because we didn’t comply with policies that didn’t exist doesn’t make sense,” he said. “If they want to hold us to standards, they should tell us what those standards are and we will cooperate.”

Scialli said his firm was fired because of political pressure from environmentalists, mainly the Environmental Working Group. Sciences International had one year left in a five-year, $5-million contract.

Institute spokeswoman Robin Mackar said the agency had no comment on the contract issue.

Court documents show that last year, Scialli was hired by 3M as an expert witness to testify in a lawsuit filed by Minnesota residents whose water was contaminated by a chemical that 3M formerly used in Scotchgard. The chemical has been detected in most people’s blood, and some studies suggest it can cause reproductive damage.

Scialli said he notified the federal health center that he was working for 3M but officials seemed unconcerned.

Environmentalists say that points to the need for the institute to develop a formal policy prohibiting conflicts of interest.

David Michaels summarized it this way in his post:

The issue is, and has been from the start, that NIH (or at least the National Toxicology Program) lacks the policies to deal with conflicts of interest – so when controversies like this arise, it is not possible to assure the public that the process and the scientists involved were unconflicted.

The audit may provide some closure for Sciences International, but it doesn’t address the underlying problem of NTP lacking adequate policies for addressing the issue of conflicted contractors.