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Open Access Highly Accessed Commentary

Selected science: an industry campaign to undermine an OSHA hexavalent chromium standard

David Michaels1*, Celeste Monforton1 and Peter Lurie12

Author Affiliations

1 The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, 2100 M Street NW, Suite 203, Washington, DC, 20037, USA

2 Public Citizen Health Research Group, 1600 20th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20009, USA

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Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source 2006, 5:5  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-5-5

Published: 23 February 2006

Abstract

While exposure to hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) has been associated with increased lung cancer risk for more than 50 years, the chemical is not currently regulated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on the basis of its carcinogenicity. The agency was petitioned in 1993 and sued in 1997 and 2002 to lower the workplace Cr(VI) exposure limit, resulting in a court order to issue a final standard by February 2006. Faced with the threat of stronger regulation, the chromium industry initiated an effort to challenge the scientific evidence supporting a more protective standard. This effort included the use of "product defense" consultants to conduct post hoc analyses of a publicly-funded study to challenge results viewed unfavorably by the industry.

The industry also commissioned a study of the mortality experience of workers at four low-exposure chromium plants, but did not make the results available to OSHA in a timely manner, despite multiple agency requests for precisely these sorts of data. The commissioned study found a statistically significant elevation in lung cancer risk among Cr(VI)-exposed workers at levels far below the current standard. This finding changed when the multi-plant cohort was divided into two statistically underpowered components and then published separately. The findings of the first paper published have been used by the chromium industry to attempt to slow OSHA's standard setting process. The second paper was withheld from OSHA until it was accepted for publication in a scientific journal, after the rulemaking record had closed.

Studies funded by private sponsors that seek to influence public regulatory proceedings should be subject to the same access and reporting provisions as those applied to publicly funded science. Parties in regulatory proceedings should be required to disclose whether the studies were performed by researchers who had the right to present their findings without the sponsor's consent or influence, and to certify that all relevant data have been submitted to the public record, whether published or not.