Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Industry Files Data Challenge To Block Cancer Review Of Widely Used Herbicide

Industry groups are citing Bush administration data quality guidelines in arguing that a key government panel should not proceed with plans to review whether the widely used herbicide atrazine causes cancer in humans. The groups, led by the industry-funded Center for Regulatory Effectiveness (CRE), say government reviewers are violating data quality laws and administration policies by allegedly failing to publicly describe their revised review process.

The groups’ allegations are contained in a petition filed June 28 in response to a decision in May by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) to review whether atrazine, as well as 20 other substances, causes cancer in humans. The atrazine decision was generally regarded as a surprise, and while the petition questions NTP’s overall review process, sources say the announcement to study the herbicide likely prompted the challenge.

The groups also say the panel's decision to review atrazine conflicts with recent findings by EPA, which examined the same data and determined the chemical was safe for continued use.

Atrazine is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States and is applied to corn crops across the Midwest.

Several farming groups, along with CRE, filed a “request for correction” to have NTP withdraw its list of nominated chemicals for review for its upcoming 12th Report on Carcinogens, which will be published in 2006. The NTP is part of the Department of Health and Human Services and issues an annual list that is considered the definitive word on what causes cancer in humans. The list is used by federal and state regulators in making decisions about environmental contaminants and in establishing public safety standards.

Farming groups, including the Kansas Growers Association and Missouri Corn Growers Association, have joined with CRE in opposing the NTP atrazine review, saying EPA last year completed its own review of atrazine, based on the same data, and concluded that it was safe for re-registration. According to the industry petition, NTP currently “states that two different, conflicting review procedures are simultaneously being used in the 12th Report on Carcinogens . . . [this] violates the objectivity standard” in the Information Quality Act and Office of Management and Budget guidelines implementing the law.

A CRE source says uncertainties in NTP’s review and listing process will make it difficult for industry to have meaningful input on the decisions about the carcinogenicity of chemicals. The source says it is unclear whether a substance can be dropped from review at any stage, or whether this will only be possible early in the process.

The controversy is the result of a decision last year by NTP to revise its procedures by allowing more public input, after receiving complaints from industry and other groups. After a meeting in January informing interested parties of the changes, NTP began using the revised approach for developing its 2006 report. But NTP is not expected to release final information about its revised process until later this year, which may be too late to affect the ongoing review of atrazine and the other chemicals.

But a source with NTP says the industry-backed petition arises from a misunderstanding about fairly minor revisions to the program. The upcoming review largely follows “the same process” as in the past, the source says.

According to this source, one change NTP is making is to develop a background scientific document on each chemical -- and solicit public comment on that document -- earlier in the overall review process. As a result, the opportunity to drop a chemical from review comes only early in the process, but only because the background document is also prepared earlier, the source says.

NTP is basing its decision to review atrazine on 1999 studies by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which found sufficient evidence to suggest carcinogenicity in animals.

The NTP source says the agency will review the same information as EPA did last year, adding that we want “to look at the [atrazine] data for ourselves.”

But the CRE source is criticizing that re-review, questioning the value of highlighting the potential carcinogenic effects of a chemical that EPA has already cleared for continued use.

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Date: July 6, 2004
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