House Science Panel Digs Into U.S. Funding of European Institute

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By Tiffany Stecker

Members of Congress are looking to investigate how the Department of Health and Human Services funds an obscure scientific institution in Italy.

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) sent a letter March 24 to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price asking for documents they hope will clarify the financial ties between the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Ramazzini Institute, a scientific institution in Italy focused on occupational and environmental health.

“The Committee is concerned that contracts awarded to the Ramazzini Institute and its affiliates may not meet adequate scientific integrity standards,” the lawmakers said in the letter. Specifically, the panel alleges the institute accepted at least $1 million through sole-source contracts, meaning the institute did not bid against other potential recipients for the money. The letter also says that NIEHS has sent $92 million since 2009 to the institute.

The call for Ramazzini’s documents dovetails with a larger campaign from the chemical industry to reform scientific agencies that conduct assessments that tend to link substances to cancer, saying these findings are misleading the public on cancer risk.

The American Chemistry Council launched a campaign in January to encourage lawmakers to “seek reform” of another European agency, the Lyon, France-based International Agency for the Research of Cancer (IARC). The agency’s assessments of cancer hazards, particularly a 2015 conclusion that the herbicide glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, has triggered the ire of Monsanto Co., whose Roundup weedkiller contains glyphosate.

The Ramazzini Institute has come under fire before. The House panel questioned the Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 over Ramazzini studies used in chemical risk assessments. The Intergrated Risk Information System program used the institute’s studies on the carcinogenic potential of methanol. Critics of the institute said the study’s methods led to an outcome in which exposed rats were more likely to develop lymphoma and leukemia.

Representatives for the Ramazzini Institute and NIEHS could not be reached for comment.

Though the campaign doesn’t specifically target the Ramazzini Institute, representatives of the initiative have linked former Ramazzini scholars with the IARC panel on glyphosate.

“CAPHR intends to promote reform of IARC. But evidence is emerging that Ramazzini and IARC are in close collaboration,” said Campaign for Accuracy in Public Research spokeswoman Ana Heeren in an email.

The free-market law institute E&E Legal also sued HHS last week for withholding responses to the watchdog’s public records requests on the Ramazzini Institute.

NIEHS ultimately backed the Institute on this study, finding “consistency and value” in the analyses despite some confounding aspects that made diagnoses in the rats more difficult.

Specifically, the committee is seeking communications on grants or contracts between NIEHS and Ramazzini, as well as a list of fellows employed by Ramazzini and information on specific contracts purported to be sole-source.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Washington at tstecker@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

Letter from Reps. Lamar Smith and Darin LaHood on Ramazzini Institute is available at http://src.bna.com/nk4

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