A scientist in favor of banning a chemical was taken off an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chemical safety board, while others in the chemical industry, in favor of not banning similar chemicals, remain on similar boards.
American toxicologist Deborah C. Rice was the chairperson of an Environmental Protection Agency scientific panel that was assisting the EPA in determining the appropriateness of the brominated compound deca-BDE (deca), a flame retardant widely used in the plastic housings of electronic equipment such as television sets. Deca is a type of PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether).
Rice was appointed in 2007 to the EPA scientific panel to consider the chemical deca, but was removed in August 2008.
Rice has studied low doses of deca in the past as part of scientific research studies and experiments. She reported neurological effects in laboratory animals. Rise testified before the Maine Legislature (as a scientist for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services), stating that she is in support of a state ban on the compound [deca] because scientific tests show it to be toxic.
The American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group for chemical manufacturers, complained to the EPA that her appointment had "the perception of a potential conflict of interest."
Under the EPA's handbook for advisory committees, scientific peer reviewers should not "have a conflict of interest" or "appear to lack impartiality.
Lobbyists with the chemical industry say that, “she is a biased advocate who has compromised the integrity of the EPA's review of the flame retardant”.
Her removal is a clear case of manufacturers trying to influence the outcome of the review, and a case of EPA caving to pressure from industry, according to the environmental group. The group cited examples of industry scientists serving on similar panels.
The EPA is expected to release a new safety standard for deca exposure next month.