Industry Study Withheld Data on Carcinogen: Report

   Industry Study Withheld Data on Carcinogen: Report


by Deborah Zabarenko
Published by Reuters.com
 

Workplace
watchdogs and industry advocates agree: too much hexavalent chromium —
the same chemical at the heart of the movie “Erin Brockovich” — puts
people at risk for lung cancer. But how much is too much?


The
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is set to rule on
that on Tuesday. But in the run-up to the decision, the journal
Environmental Health reported that industry-commissioned scientists
withheld data suggesting even small amounts of the known carcinogen,
which is used in the steel, aerospace, electroplating and industries,
can be deadly.


“We
think we have an example in which all of the standard elements of
scientific distortion are present: hiding behind the lawyers,
statistical manipulation, failure to publish … all that kind of stuff
which comes right out of the tobacco industry playbook,” said Dr. Peter
Lurie, one of the report's authors.


Kate
McMahon-Lohrer, an attorney at the firm Collier Shannon Scott and
counsel for the industry group Chromium Coalition, vehemently disagreed
with the Environmental Health report.


“That charge is absolutely and completely false and it's outrageous and libelous,” she said.

In
a telephone interview, McMahon-Lohrer acknowledged that hexavalent
chromium raises workers' cancer risk at high doses, but said there was
debate about the risk from low doses. She denied any industry-sponsored
research was withheld from OSHA.


David
Michaels, who heads the project on scientific knowledge and public
policy at George Washington University and was a senior author of the
report, said studies commissioned by a chromium industry group showed
even low doses elevate cancer risk.


“Industry
had commissioned a study which looked at newer facilities where
exposures were much better-controlled and that study showed that
workers with relatively low exposure to hexavalent chromium had greatly
increased risk of lung cancer,” Michaels said by telephone.


HIDDEN DATA

“Industry
criticized OSHA for not having data about the effects of low-level
exposure, when industry in fact had that data and was hiding it,”
Michaels said.


The
film “Erin Brockovich” focused on the dangers of contact with
hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium VI, through polluted water.
The current matter deals with airborne chromium VI that some 380,000
U.S. workers might inhale on the job.


At
present, there is no OSHA standard for how much chromium is acceptable
in American factories; the only standard that exists dates from 1943,
when the maximum on-the-job dose was set to prevent “nasal perforation”
and skin irritations.


That
63-year-old standard is 52 micrograms per cubic meter of air. In 2004,
OSHA proposed a standard of 1 microgram per cubic meter, and has been
collecting data on it since then, from industry and other groups. The
watchdog group Public Citizen asked for a 0.25 microgram per cubic
meter level.


OSHA
estimated that a 1 microgram level would cause two to nine excess
deaths for every 1,000 workers exposed during their lifetimes, above
the agency's target of one excess death per 1,000 workers.


If the level is raised to 5 micrograms, OSHA estimated it would cause five to 45 excess deaths for every 1,000 workers.

An
OSHA spokesperson declined to comment about what the decision might be,
except to say the agency expected to meet the Tuesday deadline, as
ordered by a federal court.


Michaels said the issue is broader than the chromium VI case.

“I'm
hoping that the entire system rethinks the role of industry in
providing scientific data,” he said. “I'd like to see rules that say
… if industry participates in regulatory proceedings, they have an
obligation to provide all relevant data, not just the data that
supports their position.”


 

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