Great Lakes and regulation

OMB Watch caught this item and reports:

After significantly delaying the release of a report that identifies alarming toxic health risks for the Great Lakes region, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now reportedly planning to release a substantially modified document.

Originally, Public Health Implications of Hazardous Substances in Twenty-Six U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern was slated for release in July 2007, but Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Director Dr. Howard Frumkin objected to the report and stopped its release. Additionally, shortly after lead author Christopher De Rosa demanded the report be published on time, Frumkin had him removed from his position, raising questions about retaliatory employment actions. The report is the conclusion of a multi-year research project by CDC and the International Joint Commission (IJC). The IJC, an independent organization that negotiates boundary water issues between the U.S. and Canada, has also called for the report’s immediate publication.

While the CDC has not yet officially released the report, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) obtained a copy of the 400-page document. The original report linked toxic chemical exposure to increased infant mortality and cancer rates, raising serious concerns for the nine million people living in the eight Great Lakes states. Environmental data isolating “areas of concern,” or toxic hot spots, was crossed with regional health data to identify any significant correlations.

Frumkin’s main complaint is that the report implies that pollutants are the cause of elevated health risks, but the data do not support such conclusions. However, Dr. Peter Orris, who independently reviewed the report, contends that the report did not indicate causality, but was clear that the role of the pollutants was an area for future research. In a December 2007 letter to ATSDR, Orris reportedly described the report as “the most extensively critiqued report, internally and externally, that I have heard of.” Under review since 2004, the report has been scrutinized by dozens of experts across government agencies, state governments, and academic institutions.

De Rosa, who was demoted from his position as ATSDR chief of toxicology, a position he held for 15 years, to an assistant position, claims that Frumkin illegally retaliated against him and is seeking to be reinstated as chief.

This is not the first time De Rosa has spoken up for people’s right to health and safety information. With thousands of families living in emergency trailers in the Gulf Coast, De Rosa was adamant that residents must be appropriately warned about the long-term health risks associated with formaldehyde gases present in the substandard trailers. The CDC testing results of occupied trailers confirmed his concerns, with average levels of formaldehyde at least three times higher than the recommended level.