- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

ATLANTA (AP) — Under pressure from Congress, the government released today a controversial draft report on pollution in the Great Lakes states.

The report suggests pollution in some areas is causing health problems, including cancer and premature births. The document was produced by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But CDC administrators quickly backpedaled, saying some of the science is weak, and that they released it after accusations of a cover-up.

CDC officials also said they have asked an independent scientific advisory organization — the Institute of Medicine — to review the drafts and give its own assessment of the work’s quality.

“We’re sending it to the best scientific body in the country. They can tell us whether we were justified or not” in having misgivings about the science, said Dr. Henry Falk, who oversees CDC research on environmental health hazards.

CDC officials had been under fire from some congressmen for withholding the documents and for reassigning the scientist in charge of the project, Christopher De Rosa, to lesser duties.

The report compiles previously available information on measurements of pollution and on health measures like infant mortality and cancer death rates. The CDC today released drafts of the report from 2004 and 2007.

CDC bosses are especially troubled by one table from a 2007 draft that shows high rates of cancer in about two dozen areas, and greater rates of premature births in four.

They said there are multiple problems with that. One is the health measures are drawn from county statistics, but the report is meant to look at pollution areas that are sometimes larger or smaller than a county. It would take new research focused on pollution sources to show a cause-effect relationship, they argue.

Yet another revision of the report is to be released later this month, Falk said.

The CDC’s handling of the matter “raises grave questions about the integrity of scientific research” at the agency, “as well as the treatment of its scientists,” U.S. Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak, both Michigan Democrats, wrote in a letter last month to CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding.

The CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry conducted the study. It was requested in 2001 by the International Joint Commission, an independent panel that advises U.S. and Canadian officials on Great Lakes water quality issues.

Parts of the drafts have already been available. The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit journalism organization in Washington, earlier published what it said were excerpts.

Dingell and Stupak last month asked the CDC for records involving the decision to withhold the report. They requested copies of communications between De Rosa, the scientist who led the study, and his superiors Gerberding and Dr. Howard Frumkin, director of the toxics agency.

AP writer John Flesher in Traverse City, Mich., contributed to this report.

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