Corporate Junk Science: Corporate Influence at International Science Organizations

By Castleman, Barry; Lemen, Richard | Multinational Monitor, January-February 1998 | Go to article overview

Corporate Junk Science: Corporate Influence at International Science Organizations


Castleman, Barry, Lemen, Richard, Multinational Monitor


International scientific organizations have long been important sources of reports about toxic substances. With the globalization of trade and information, organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) find themselves with new authority and influence - and the subject of intensified industry lobbying campaigns. With the emergence of the World Trade Organization as a forum where governments can challenge other nations' occupational and environmental health regulations for not being based on "sound science," the pronouncements of these groups has taken on added significance. Their publications, long important for providing information especially to countries with scant public health resources, may now also be used to both misinform developing countries and to overturn worker and environmental protection measures in the industrialized world.

INTERNATIONAL PROGRAM ON CHEMICAL SAFETY

Industry has exerted especially strong influence at the International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS), a program located at the World Health Organization in Geneva and jointly sponsored by WHO, ILO and the United Nations Environment Program. Professor Andrew Watterson reported in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1993 that chemical manufacturers ICI, Hoechst and DuPont wrote the first drafts of IPCS reports on chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants and the fungicide benomyl. He raised concerns over undisclosed conflicts of interest by corporate consultants on expert task groups assigned to write IPCS documents and reported that industry "observers" usually present at IPCS task group meetings were rarely offset by representatives of non-industrial, non-governmental organizations.

The same year, U.S. government scientists found that the IPCS environmental health criteria document on methylene chloride was based on material drafted by officials from ICI and other manufacturers of the chemical. Scientists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) criticized the IPCS's failure to modify statements in the report to reflect opposing views within its expert panel. NIOSH decided to cease all participation in IPCS activities until IPCS established an objective process to develop criteria documents.

Also in 1993, Collegium Ramazzini, a respected international group of occupational health scientists, refused to review drafts of a IPCS criteria document on chrysotile asbestos which was prepared by "scientists with close ties to the asbestos industry." By refusing to become involved at a late stage in the process, the Collegium said in a letter that it intended to avoid associating itself with an IPSC report that was compromised by industry influence. The effort to issue a chrysotile report remained mired in controversy for years, and publication is finally expected this year.

In 1996, at the invitation of the German government, IPCS held a workshop in Berlin on Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), a condition which leaves victims subject to serious and disabling reactions to a wide range of chemicals. Led by corporate consultants and chemical industry "observers," the panel decided, by an unrecorded vote, to rename Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) "idiopathic environmental intolerances." Panel Chair Dr. Howard Kipen and Dr. Claudia Miller, both from the United States, .were among those who objected to the name change. After the conference, corporate consultants began representing the workshop's anonymous and unreferenced conclusions and recommendations as WHO policy at medical meetings, in court documents and in media announcements. The industry-funded Environmental Sensitivities Research Institute then paid for the publication of the recommendations in a supplement to the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, without the knowledge of IPCS, which still has not published the workshop report. Chemical industry consultants drafted a position statement for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, using the new chemical-free name of MCS and referring to the workshop as a WHO symposium. …

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