EPA scientists censored by Republican appointed

Cal-EPA Scientists Face Censorship 

SACRAMENTO, October 17 (ENS) - The scientific community of the California
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) is in a state of
turmoil. An elite cadre of politically appointed managers is forcing the scientific staff
to produce results consistent solely with the conservative agenda of the current
Republican administration. An internal memo, issued last spring, tells employees to
destroy research records that are not in harmony with administrative decisions. 

The supervisors even censor dialogue among collaborating scientists. Members of the
scientific branch claim results of critical scientific research, directly affecting the
health of California citizens, are being altered, destroyed, delayed or suppressed by
the management staff at OEHHA, a division of the stateıs Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA). 

According to scientists working within the OEHHA, since the appointment of Dr.
Richard Becker by Governor Pete Wilsonıs administration in September of this year,
every subsequent document produced by the department has had to pass a test of
political correctness. In the opinion of the scientific staff in both Berkeley and
Sacramento this policy has far exceeded its stated intent, "to insure good science". 

Dr. Becker has been portrayed by members of the scientific team as rude and abusive
to his managers and staff. He is seen as ignoring all input contrary to his
preconceptions. In his appointment speech, Dr. Becker emphasized the need to
prevent any public analyses, a move that keeps the epidemiologists from doing their
jobs of informing the public, and abandons several legislative mandates as well. 

Sources within the OEHHA say the morale of the scientific members of OEHHA has
sunk to the point that, according to a scientist who wished to remain anonymous,
"We suspect that Dr. Becker may have been appointed to kill the organization and
prohibit it from doing anything so that it can be abolished. This would be entirely
consistent with Governor Wilsonıs recent actions to eliminate other consumer
protection groups." 

At the beginning of Dr. Beckerıs tenure he launched the Document Retention Policy
that required destruction of all data produced that was in contradistinction to political
positions. Protests from the California First Amendment Coalition, a free-expression
watchdog group, have erupted over blanket destruction of scientific research papers.
Terry Francke, director of the group said, "What you have is an overlapping of the
domains of science and politics, and politics is winning." 

The memo instituting the Document Retention Policy, issued by the OEHHA,
directed employees to destroy files that were in disagreement with managementıs
political views. In addition, the memo required that scientists working on projects not
discuss their findings until management had "reviewed" their work. Under the new
policy, all memos and preliminary findings must pass before censors prior to being
sent elsewhere. 

Kristen Haynie, spokeswoman for the California Association of Professional
Scientists, the labor union representing the scientific workers in OEHHA, stated that
a memo, written to her by one of the scientists, "was intercepted by management and
sent to the press," presumably to discredit the dissenting scientist. In the memo
Doctor Robert Howd stated, "Controlling the right of scientists to decide what will be
useful later would attack our professionalism, our honor and the scientific process

Since this memo was leaked to the Wall Street Journal, meetings have taken place to
abandon the Document Retention Policy. However, public relations professionals
have been implanted into the system to make certain that language in scientific
research still meets political criteria. During a recent meeting, Deputy Director of
Scientific Affairs, Dr. William Vance tried to reach an agreement with the scientific
staff, stating that, "I believe I used poor judgment" in signing the (Document
Retention) policy into effect. Although he issued a "clean slate" approach in the
future, all that has happened so far is that new censors have been positioned close to
all research project members. 

During the siege at OEHHA three important studies have been impacted: 

Research on tamoxifen, a breast cancer drug, has shown that when the drug is
administered it can frequently cause cancer, as well as act as a preventative. Sources
say certain, "potentially embarrassing records on the Proposition 65 hassle over
tamoxifen" regarding the drugıs propensity to cause cancer were destroyed by a staff
worker in the management sector, who was, according to one manager, "working on
his/her own". 

Research documents clearly indicated a high risk of breast cancer for participants in a
study among people initially free of breast cancer who were being given tamoxifen as
part of the study. A review board agreed with the findings and directed OEHHA to
post the results according to procedure. Tamoxifen was to be listed as a carcinogen,
as required by Proposition 65, a California law. When the manufacturer of tamoxifen
protested these findings, the entire listing process was suspended by OEHHA
management, "rather than offend the drug company," said a scientist working with
OEHHA. At this time persons without breast cancer are still being given the drug in a
large clinical trial. 


The second case of interference was insistence by the installed censor, whose
position is handling public relations for CAL/EPA, and who has no scientific
expertise, that lead should not be tagged with the word "poison". However, research
indicates that lead doses in "drinking water near the statistical effect threshold for IQ
decreases in children and blood pressure increases in adults" does, in fact, qualify as
"poisoning" according to a scientist who worked on the project. However,
Cal-EPA's public relations person was adamant that the word poison must be
removed from any reports that indicated the public might be at risk. 


When studies in Lompoc, California revealed high cancer rates among residents
directly adjacent to agricultural areas, the supervisor of the scientists responsible for
these findings received a written query from Dr. Becker asking, "Why did he (a
particular scientist) do such a poor job on the cancer analysis for the Lompoc cancer
and birth defects report?" Because the comparative data showed central city residents
with a much lower rate of sickness, a memo from Dr. Becker was inserted into the
official research papers that indicated the discrepancy was due to "higher elevations,"
a factor not valid in the study. 

Every year members of the OEHHA scientific community participate in an off-site
informal meeting and picnic. In years past these gatherings have been focused on
"discussion of policies, directions and a review of progress" amongst the staff. The
meeting is typically infused with a spirit of "camaraderie". This year during the entire
meeting, attended by 70 or 80 members, no comments were allowed from the floor at
all. There were no discussion periods and no request for staff input. Instead, Dr.
Becker addressed the scientists telling them, "Hereıs what management is doing for
you and where weıre going." 

At this time the scientists have taken refuge in their work and are trying to get the
message out to the public that something is very wrong at OEHHA. Meanwhile,
management has continued censorship of research papers as well as speech among
colleagues. Travel, training and equipment budgets have been slashed and individuals
have been forced to transfer to other facilities. At the same time the administrative
staff has been enlarged. Further reduction in the number of scientists seems to be a
goal of management, since "overstaffing" announcements have been issued by the
administrative leader, Olga Martin-Steele in recent days. 

Posted to the web: Fri Oct 18 13:09:50 EDT 1996 

The Environment News Service http://www.envirolink.org/environews/enews.html