"Science for sale" could be allowing companies with dangerous products to use unethical consulting firms to manufacture results that allow unsafe products to remain on the market.
That's the accusation U.S. Reps. John D. Dingell and Bart Stupak, both D-Mich., leveled as the Committee on Energy and Commerce expanded its investigation of Bisphenol A, a chemical that is found in many common products, but which may mimic hormones and cause health problems. The investigation is focused on the use of Bisphenol A in baby formula cans and other products aimed at infants and young children, who are generally at greatest risk from chemical exposure because their bodies are still developing.
There has long been a scientific skirmish over the health risks of the chemical. Government studies have raised some concerns but downplayed the most serious risks, drawing criticism from scientists and consumer groups that believe the chemical poses unacceptable risks.
Bisphenol A was first developed in 1891 as a synthetic estrogen but has been widely used in the manufacturing of plastics and sealants, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. More than 6 billion pounds are produced annually in the U.S. and "bio-monitoring" studies have found evidence of exposure to the chemical in 93% of Americans tested.
There are serious health concerns about whether Bisphenol A is safe, not only for adults, but for children and infants, Dingell said. The tactics apparently employed by the Weinberg Group raise serious questions about whether science is for sale at these consulting groups, and the effect this faulty science might have on the public health.
From previous correspondence, it appears that the Weinberg Group prides itself on using its scientific capital to create an outcome desired by corporate clients, Stupak said. It is not at all clear whether such outcomes are supported by the real scientific evidence. Our Committee will be interested to see whether the proponents of Bisphenol A have paid to engineer science that reaches pre-determined conclusions.
Dingell and Stupak accused the Weinberg Group of using a playbook of tactics to "shape the debate" about controversial chemicals." Among the tactics: develop blue ribbon panels, construct studies and publish white papers in order to convince the public of the safety of a controversial chemical. (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sought comment from Weinberg Group and did not get a response.)
The Weinberg Group describes itself as "an international scientific and regulatory consulting firm that helps companies protect their product at every stage of its life. We help our clients improve manufacturing processes, clear regulatory hurdles, and defend products in the courts and the media."
The Weinberg Website goes on to tout its credentials, which indicate how far-reaching the implications of the Congressional accusation could be:
"Our technical, scientific and regulatory experts deliver the crucial results that get products to market and keep them there.
The Weinberg Group has successfully partnered with Fortune 500 companies, as well as leading corporations of all sizes from around the world. Our clients represent a broad range of industries, including pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, chemical, consumer product, food and cosmetic."
While the accusation against Weinberg is specific, this type of allegation that industry uses public relations and faulty science to defend dangerous products is not new. It's a common refrain among environmentalists trying to reduce the use of controversial chemicals.
Read the letter the Congressmen sent to Weinberg, and other documents related to the committee's investigation.
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