Matt HealeyThursday,14 February 2013

The Snap:

I was recently sent this article on the removal of Deborah Rice as the chair of an EPA panel responsible for assessing the safety of flame retardants. She had been appointed in 2007. According to the article, she was ousted after an industry lobbying group – the American Chemistry Council accused her of bias. He alleged bias – she publicly questioned the safety of several types of flame retardant chemicals.

The Download:

Bias is everywhere. There is no one is truly unbiased. We are all shaped by our past experiences, personalities, and who is paying us. So the accusation of bias is probably true. But in this case it is totally unjust. Looking at the two parties, I think I am on safe ground by saying that the head of the panel with no ties to the chemical industry will be less biased than the ACC lobbyists who are paid to promote their member companies. Especially when the safety of flame retardants has been publicly questioned. It would seem that the responsible thing to do would be to study the effects of these products and determine, in a data driven and as objective way as possible, what poses the greatest risks to the population – using the chemicals or not using them (In the first draft I had left out “to the population”, but on further reflection, I thought I needed to add it because without it the ACC would answer that question immediately – non using them presents the greatest risk…to our profitability).This is clearly not what will happen. What I suspect will happen is that the ACC will continue to use their sway with elected politicians to block any scientific inquiry into the health risks of the chemicals their member companies produce. They will find a receptive audience in many corridors of the congress. They will say that regulation will hurt industry profitability and thus will cost jobs. They will claim the rather than invest in additional research into possibly safer chemicals, they should be increasing the scope of use of current chemicals. After all we know that environmental and safety risks decrease when the industries are allowed to self regulate.

This is exactly the role that government should play. They should be the ones who are responsible for regulating industry. They should conduct scientific studies into areas of public health and environmental issues and then elected officials should use the results of these studies to shape policy. However the current model is for industry groups to block research into anything that might cast their products or actions in a negative light. We have seen this with the NRA blocking research into gun violence, the ACC removing a scientist who questions the safety of their product, and the blocking of the appointment of the head of the Consumer Protection Bureau. I am sure a little google research would reveal more examples, but these are the ones that first came to mind.

Hat Tips:

Deborah Rice, Flame Retardant Safety, China Air Quality, Bangladesh Garment fires, NRA, CFPB Head, Image Credit: Flickr

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