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Date: Sept. 5, 2008
Contacts: Christine Stencel, Senior Media Relations Officer
Alison Burnette, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Drafts of Unofficial Report Looking at Great Lakes Pollution and Health Data
Have Limited Scientific Quality and Usefulness, IOM Review Finds
WASHINGTON -- Two drafts of a yet-to-be-finalized report looking at health and pollution data from the Great Lakes region have problems that diminish the documents' scientific quality, says a review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). These shortcomings limit the usefulness of the drafts -- prepared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- in determining whether health risks might be associated with living near the lakes.
Questions about the scientific quality of the drafts and concern following the unauthorized publication of one of the interim drafts on a public Web site led CDC to ask the IOM for an independent review of the documents. The drafts originated with an international commission's request for CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to evaluate the public health implications of hazardous materials present in certain areas within U.S. states in the Great Lakes basin. The IOM committee focused on a 2007 draft and a 2008 version that was prepared after directors within ATSDR expressed apprehension about the 2007 draft's methodology and conclusions and postponed its public release. No final report has been released.
"We found problems in how each draft was developed, which data were used, and what conclusions the authors drew," said Robert Wallace, Irene Ensminger Stecher Professor of Epidemiology and Internal Medicine, College of Public Health, University of Iowa, Iowa City, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "Our task was to focus solely on the scientific quality of the drafts and not to assess whether pollution around the Great Lakes poses health concerns," he added. "The problems we found in the drafts would limit the ability of officials and others to draw conclusions from them about whether any health risks are associated with living in or near certain places around the Great Lakes."
Most of the concerns about the 2007 draft raised by CDC's peer reviewers and ATSDR directors -- particularly how data were selected and used -- are valid, the committee concluded. Pollution and health data were lumped together despite differences in where and when the information was collected and despite lack of supporting evidence or explanation of how particular contaminants could lead to any of the identified health problems, the report says. This juxtaposition of data without explanation or support could lead readers to assume links between contamination and health problems regardless of whether they actually exist. Furthermore, some data that might have provided useful evidence apparently were not considered, and the drafts contained little explanation for why the data used were chosen.
The 2008 draft provides only a summary of selected data on chemical releases and contamination and does not add substantially to the understanding of pollution around the Great Lakes, the committee concluded. Though the authors' decision to leave out the health data in the 2008 draft is understandable given its incompatibilities with the available contamination data, it significantly changed the nature of the resulting draft and scope of response to the original request to CDC. The committee also noted problems with using the selected contaminant data as indicators of actual exposures. Moreover, the draft lacks information on other potential sources of contaminants or ways that people could be exposed.
Many of the drafts' problems seem to stem from lack of a clear statement about what each draft was intended to achieve and a clear outline of its approach. The IOM committee noted that the original request for a study could have been interpreted in more than one way; neither draft offered an explanation of how the request was interpreted.
The study was sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. A committee roster follows.
Pre-publication copies of Review of ATSDR's Great Lakes Reports -- Letter Report are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
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[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]
INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE
Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice
Committee on the Review of ATSDR's Great Lakes Reports
Robert B. Wallace, M.D. (chair)
Irene Ensminger Stecher Professor of Epidemiology
and Internal Medicine
Department of Epidemiology
College of Public Health
University of Iowa
John Besley, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Science and Risk Communication
School of Journalism and Mass Communications
University of South Carolina
Edmund A.C. Crouch, Ph.D.
Cambridge Environmental Inc.
Francesca Dominici, Ph.D.
Department of Biostatistics
Bloomberg School of Public Health
Johns Hopkins University
Marion F. Ehrich, Ph.D.
Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, and
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
S. Katharine Hammond, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Environmental Health Sciences Division
School of Public Health
University of California
David A. Kalman, M.D.
Professor and Chair
Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences
School of Public Health and Community Medicine
University of Washington
Susan A. Korrick, M.D., M.P.H.
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School; and
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Marie C. McCormick, M.D., Sc.D.
Summer and Esther Feldberg
Professor of Maternal and Child Health
Department of Society, Human Development, and Health
Harvard School of Public Health
Patricia A. Nolan, M.D., M.P.H.
Adjunct Associate Professor of Community Health
Department of Community Health
Warren Alpert Medical School
Marguerite R. Seeley, Ph.D.
INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE STAFF
Study Director, Ph.D.