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Environmental Tests are Worthless

We rely on environmental testing to tell us if our water and soil is safe. Now it turns out test results are being manipulated to the extent that they are almost totally worthless. The Bush administration is putting people on scientific advisory committees who won't insist on spending a lot of money on testing and regulation. And both private and government labs are faking the results of tests contracted by big businesses.

"We've seen a consistent pattern of putting people in who will ensure that the administration hears what it wants to hear," says David Michaels, of George Washington University's School of Public Health. "That doesn't help science, and it doesn't help the country." Scientific advisory committees make the rules and regulations that govern clean air, clean water, food safety and pesticide use.

"The Clinton administration did not do this," says Lynn Goldman, of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. "They did not exclude people based on some sort of litmus test."

Michaels says the role of these committees is not to tell the administration what they want to hear, but to tell them what science has concluded about the issue under discussion. "You hire political appointees to move your political agenda forward," he says. "But the role of scientific advisory committees is quite different. It is to give advice to the agencies and to the public on what is the best science."

Members of the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention were replaced with people who have close ties to the lead industry, including Dr. William Banner, who believes lead is only harmful in levels 7 to 10 times higher than the current CDC blood lead levels. The CDC estimates some 890,000 U.S. children ages one to five have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Fifteen of the 18 members of the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Health Center for Environmental Health were replaced last year. This committee assesses the health impact of exposure to environmental chemicals. Among the new members is the former president of the Chemical Industry Institute for Toxicology.

Committees were dissolved that were charged with protecting human research subjects and overseeing genetic testing. Dr. David Hager was appointed to the FDA?s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee after he helped the Christian Medical Association. This announcement was made on Christmas Eve, when few people were paying attention.

Goldman says that scientific advisory committee members are never completely unbiased, but that their bias should be related to science, not political, economic or religious issues. She says, "For the past several months, again and again with this current administration, we've seen evidence of this occurring."

The January 22 New York Times reports that some private labs fake environmental tests on things like water, soil and underground storage tanks, so companies don?t have to comply with federal regulations. EPA inspector Nikki Tinsley says, ?Several current lab fraud investigations involve severe manipulation of data used to evaluate the compliance of public water supplies with federal drinking water standards?If it was my drinking water I'd consider it very serious.''

Fraudulent tests have caused millions of people to fill their cars with gas that violates clean air standards. Officials making decisions about hazardous waste cleanup sites rely on these tests of air, water and soil samples. David Uhlmann, of the Justice Department's environmental crimes section, says, ?In recent years, what has come to our attention is that outside (nongovernment) labs are oftentimes in bed with the people who hired them, and conspired to commit environmental crime.''

Investigators even discovered fake results at a government laboratory in Chicago, in tests arranged by Lockheed Martin. In New England, a chemist fabricated municipal water test results and in Texas, the results of tests of underground fuel tanks was faked. In some cases, the labs gypped the companies that ordered the tests. In other cases, the companies and the labs worked together to fake test results in the company?s favor.

The public ends up assuming they?re being protected by environmental laws, when they?re not. J.P. Suarez, of the EPA?s department of enforcement and compliance assurance, says, ?If we can't rely upon science with supporting lab results, then we don't know what's out there for the public to eat or drink or use. When people may not be getting harmed, they may be getting ripped off, using products that are not what they're paying for.?

Tests aren?t the only thing that can be faked? History can be too.

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