Friday, March 14, 2008

CDC/ATSDR Release Great Lakes AOC Health Report

Mar 14: Following an inquiry and investigation from Representatives John Dingell (D-MI), the Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Bart Stupak (D-MI), the Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has publicly released a study that reportedly demonstrates a correlation between pollution in the Great Lakes and health issues such as cancer mortality and higher infant mortality rates [See WIMS 2/29/08].

On February 7, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) announced that the massive 400-page study, officially entitled, Public Health Implications of Hazardous Substances in the Twenty-Six U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern [AOCs], completed in July 2007, was being withheld [
See WIMS 2/8/08]. The report follows several years of work and extensive scientific peer review. CPI released an unofficial redacted copy of the report and said it had been withheld for 7 months because it contained potentially “alarming information” as evidence of elevated infant mortality and cancer rates."

Representative John Dingell issued a statement on the decision to release the report and said, “The good news is that the CDC finally decided to make the report public. The bad news is that it took the urging of this Committee to make them do it. What we still do not know is why this agency, given its historically credible reputation, has kept this report under wraps for almost a year. The Committee will continue its investigation into who made the decision to withhold the publication of the report, the basis for doing so, and how the CDC and ATSDR treated the scientists involved in conducting the study and writing the report.”

In releasing the report, ATSDR also issued what it called a 9-page, "Statement of Scientific Concerns About the Draft Report." According to the Statement Summary, "Understanding environmental conditions in the Great Lakes region and protecting residents from possible health effects is a priority for CDC and ATSDR. Community members in the Great Lakes region deserve accurate information provided in a timely manner. The decision to take additional time to improve the draft report in order to ensure its scientific quality was difficult, but it was necessary. The delay in issuing the draft report has not deprived the public of critical environmental health information because the health assessments and other environmental data on which the draft report was based already are publicly available elsewhere.

"CDC and ATSDR consistently have provided the people living in the Great Lakes states with up-to-date information to help protect them from exposures to toxic chemicals. Between January 2001 and February 2008 in the 8 Great Lakes states, ATSDR has developed and supported 756 documents pertaining to 528 sites and both ATSDR and CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health have many ongoing scientific and programmatic activities in those states. CDC and ATSDR are committed to providing useful, scientifically sound information that will help decisionmakers protect public health and the environment."

ATSDR indicates further that the intent of the draft report was to help decision-makers set future priorities for research and public health action. Accordingly, "ATSDR staff identified and assembled certain existing data related to both environmental pollutants and health, and they distributed a draft report for peer review in 2004. Between April 2004 and July 2007, the draft report underwent revision. When the draft report was reviewed by ATSDR leadership in June 2007, significant scientific shortcomings were identified. Similar concerns also were expressed by multiple levels of scientific leadership within CDC, ATSDR, and among various partners and stakeholders. The report is being rewritten to address those scientific concerns.

"The draft reports from 2004 and 2007 were provided to the Institute of Medicine -- an independent, unbiased, authoritative source of science-based health information -- to conduct an independent review of the science presented in the draft report and the decision to improve its scientific content and communication prior to release. Those drafts are made available here. When the 2008 revised draft is complete, it will also be made available here."

Access the ATSDR website for the Great Lakes report which contains extensive links to background information, the Statement of Concern, the 2004 & 2007 drafts, and more (click here). Access a statement from Representative Dingell (click here).