2009.03.xx – Federal Agency Fails to Protect People


Federal Agency Fails to Protect People from Toxic Pollution, Critics Say
Scientists and congressional investigators are taking aim at a federal agency for failing to protect people from toxic dumps, industrial pollution, and other environmental hazards.

Rather than cracking down on repeat offenders and focusing on gross polluters who expose people to benzene and other toxic compounds, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry would “deny, delay, minimize, trivialize or ignore legitimate health concerns,” said a new report from the House Science and Technology investigations and oversight subcommittee.
The head of the agency, a branch of the federal Health and Human Services Department, is scheduled to testify before Congressional subcommittee this week.
The agency has reached findings that were challenged by outside scientists and failed to give people a clear picture of the dangers of industrial pollution and polluted air, according to the critics. Others say the agency is guilty of using out-of-date science and data to reach its conclusions, costing it the trust of communities is charged with protecting and the respect of the scientific community.

Toxic Exposure is a Major Problem
Exposure to toxic industrial compounds through the air, ground, and water is a major factor in thousands of deaths and illnesses every year. The improper handling, storage, and disposal of industrial chemicals are linked to many deadly cancers, respiratory disorders, and other severe illnesses that could be avoided with stricter enforcement of federal rules.
When the federal agency charged with enforcing laws for handling toxic materials is accused of dropping the ball, the already severe danger of environmental toxic pollution is only increased.
Examples of Agency Mishandling Noted
In one case, the agency quieted the findings of a New York researcher who detected a high incidence of a blood cancer in northeast Pennsylvania while working with the health agency’s scientists. The research found an elevated incidence of polycythemia vera, a bone marrow abnormality, including four cases on a single, mile-long stretch of road near a former toxic waste company. The agency later forced the researcher to withdraw from a 2007 seminar, where he was to present his findings, according to the report.
Another example cited by critics of the agency is its handling of findings of uranium exposure in residents in Colonie, N.Y., where military weapons containing uranium were made. The researcher who detailed the exposure recommended that the agency reexamine his findings and was told that the amount of uranium in people’s bodies would be so small it wouldn’t cause a health hazard. The agency determined that no further work on the issue was warranted, critics say.
In yet another case, agency bosses minimized the health risk of formaldehyde in trailers provided for survivors of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, according to the report.