Choke the Whistleblower
Leading House science committee members on Thursday issued a scathing attack on the administration for apparently retaliating against a senior scientist who drew attention to the cancer threat of a substance in the 40,000 trailers in which Hurricane Katrina and Rita survivors are living. Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn) and subcommittee chairs Brad Miller (D-NC) and Nick Lampson (D-Texas) demanded that Centers for Disease Control director Julie Gerberding take steps to protect Dr. Christopher De Rosa, who was demoted in October from his job at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The Atlanta-based agency is under CDC’s wing.
The demotion of De Rosa as head of ATSDR’s Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine follows a pattern of Bush administration retaliation against whistleblowers, including those who report suppression of science at federal agencies to Congress. De Rosa last February was cut out of the loop of a consultation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency after reporting that formaldehyde in the trailers was a likely carcinogen. FEMA removed that warning from its report, which came in response to health complaints from some of thousands of hurricane refugees, many of whom still live in the trailers. Tiny amounts of formaldehyde, the nasty-smelling, volatile liquid used in treating wood products, can cause nausea, headaches and runny eyes. At higher exposures it is thought to be potentially carcinogenic.
De Rosa also had complained that his boss, ATSDR chief Howard Frumkin, withheld a finished report on environmental contamination and health risks in the Great Lakes Basin. The study, which De Rosa directed and was peer-reviewed, showed elevated infant mortality and premature births, as well as higher rates of death from breast, colon and lung cancers in several polluted counties in eight Great Lakes states. The report, requested by a U.S.-Canada commission on the Great Lakes, was supposed to have been released last July. The Congressmen said that ATSDR was reportedly editing the report, in the process redacting much of the health data.