NIH Will Review Contractor's Work On Chemical's Risk

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The National Institutes of Health says it will review the work done on a chemical called bisphenol A by a contractor hired to assess its health risks. The agency fired the company because it was also doing work for the chemical industry.

The Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that first raised alarms about a possible conflict of interest, said the government needs to scrutinize the entire body of work performed by Sciences International Inc. for the federal government since 1998, including analyses of 19 other chemicals.

When it was fired on Friday, the Alexandria-based company was reviewing about 500 scientific studies on bisphenol A, a chemical common in plastics that has been linked to cancer and reproductive problems in animals. NIH had given Sciences International a contract to prepare a summation for a panel of experts responsible for determining whether the chemical poses risks to human fertility or development.

Sciences International's corporate clients have included Dow Chemicals and BASF, two companies that manufacture bisphenol A.

Herman Gibb, the president of Sciences International, called the firing "unfair." He said his company's work for BASF predated its federal work on bisphenol A, and he described an 11-employee firm where workers assigned to federal jobs were unaware that other employees were working for industry. None of the science was compromised by the firm's business ties, he said.

"I don't ever believe in my heart of hearts there was a conflict of interest," Gibb said.

Robert Chapin, the chairman of the expert panel selected by NIH to determine whether bisphenol A poses health risks, said Sciences International is being unfairly tarnished.

"On all of the panels of which I've been a member, SI has presented nothing but balanced and scientifically rigorous summations," said Chapin, who works for Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company. "This is all just theatrics. This has to do with a campaign by outside interests to hijack the process. SI was doing a perfectly fine job."

Gibb acknowledged that his company was working for three chemical trade associations at the same time it was performing federal reviews of two chemicals linked to those groups. He said he learned of those potential conflicts last month when NIH asked him to review the company's corporate contracts.

Allen Dearry at NIH said he and other federal officials were sufficiently concerned to terminate the bisphenol A contract, but the government will not revisit the company's past work on other chemicals. "To the extent we could evaluate the work that SI performed, we tried to assess it and were satisfied," he said.

Dearry said the agency is taking steps to "ensure the integrity of our work and science." For the first time, it will require all current and future contractors to disclose any potential conflicts of interest regarding their federal work. In addition, the agency will convene an independent panel of scientific experts to assess all contracts let by the National Toxicology Project for conflicts of interest and report its findings by July 1, he said.

Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, said the government must scrutinize all the federal work performed by Sciences International.

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