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Journal retracts chromium study

Corporate consultants were not disclosed in 1997 paper refuting chromium-cancer connection

By | June 7, 2006

An environmental journal is planning to retract a 1997 paper that claimed no link between drinking water polluted with toxic chromium and cancer incidence. The decision comes after editors at the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine discovered that much of the paper was put together by consultants hired by a public utility that was at the time being sued for allegedly endangering California residents through chromium pollution. The retraction is based solely on failure to disclose financial and intellectual contributions by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Corporation, the journal's editor, Paul Brandt-Rauf of Columbia University in New York, told The Scientist. "I was very careful in the wording of the retraction to say that we have no evidence of scientific fraud." Brandt-Rauf began investigating the paper after being alerted by the The Wall Street Journal and Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, that the paper was actually compiled and written by employees of a consulting company called ChemRisk, rather than the Chinese physicians JinDong Zhang and ShuKun Li, who were listed as sole authors. ?I gathered all the facts from both sides,? Brandt-Rauf said. There actually wasn't much disagreement there -- that there was financial and intellectual input that was not acknowledged. Zhang is now deceased but Brandt-Rauf contacted Li through a translator and ?she said she had no objections? to the retraction. ChemRisk's involvement began in the mid-1990s, when PG&E asked them to look into a 1987 article by Zhang that was published in a Chinese preventive medicine journal, said Brent Kerger, who was principal scientist with ChemRisk. The article reported that cancer rates were unusually high in five villages in northeastern China where people were exposed to water contaminated with hexavalent chromium, also called chromium-6. At that time, PG&E was being sued by residents of Hinkley, Calif. -- in the case made famous in the movie "Erin Brockovich" -- for contaminating local water with chromium-6. Chromium-6 is a potent carcinogen when inhaled, ?but it's controversial whether it causes cancer when ingested through drinking water,? said Renee Sharp, an analyst with Environmental Working Group. Zhang's 1987 paper ?was not enough to sway the scientific community that there was a meaningful oral cancer risk from chromium-6,? Kerger told The Scientist. ?We basically contacted Dr. Zhang to try to find out more about what his study meant.? ChemRisk hired Zhang, who was retired, to work as a consultant for a stipend of $250 a month. He provided his original data and advice on how the study was done, Kerger said. ChemRisk scientists wanted to be co-authors on the paper, according to Kerger, but Zhang preferred that only he and Li appear as authors. ?He was fearful of there being any kind of political repercussions from him consulting with us,? Kerger said. The subsequent re-analysis of Zhang's data by ChemRisk scientists showed no association between chromium exposure -- as measured by the distance people lived from the source of pollution -- and cancer rates, Kerger said. In fact, Zhang had never claimed such a link in his original paper, according to Kerger, but translations and summaries of his work in English had added that conclusion. ?He was angry that the scientific translation problem was that blatant,? Kerger said. ?He wanted to have that work clarified.? ?Was the fact that we paid him a consulting fee an important contribution to this paper? Our judgment was no,? Kerger told The Scientist. ?Was our intellectual contribution significant in light of the contributions of the authors that he wanted to have on the paper? The answer that we came to was no,? Kerger said. The paper was ?really just a summary and a clarification of this research that already existed.? The Environmental Working Group?s Sharp disagreed: ?They reversed their finding, very conveniently, of course, for PG&E,? she said. ?And there was no mention anywhere... that ChemRisk was involved, that it was funded by PG&E.? According to PG&E spokesman Jon Tremayne, ?Our role and the role of the consultants in this case should have been acknowledged when that study was submitted.... Our own standards should have required that.? The 1997 paper, which has been cited 13 times, concluded that ?lifestyle or environmental factors? not related to chromium-6 contamination were likely responsible for the cancer rates. It affected governmental policies implemented afterward, Sharp said, especially in California. The study ?forced the state to basically discard their risk assessment, which was based on the assumption that chromium did cause cancer,? she said. California is still working toward setting a regulation for chromium-6 in drinking water, she said. Melissa Lee Phillips mphillips@the-scientist.com Links within this article JD Zhang, S Li, ?Cancer mortality in a Chinese population exposed to hexavalent chromium in water,? Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, April 1997. PM_ID: 9113601 A.J.S. Rayl, ?Natural solutions to pollution,? The Scientist, April 7, 2003. The Scientist, April 21, 2003. http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/13728/ JD Zhang, XL Li, ?[Chromium pollution of soil and water in Jinzhou],? Zhonghua Yu Fang Yi Xue Za Zhi, September 1987. PM_ID: 3443034 Erin Brockovich http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0195685/

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Avatar of: Dick Glick

Dick Glick

Posts: 2

June 7, 2006

Isn't been found that Chromium-6 -- ingested --causes cancer as reported in \nhttp://atsdr1.atsdr.cdc.gov:8080/tfacts7.html ?\nAbstract of above:\nHIGHLIGHTS: Exposure to chromium occurs from ingesting contaminated food or drinking water or breathing contaminated workplace air. Chromium(VI) at high levels can damage the nose and can cause cancer. Chromium has been found at 1,036 of the 1,591 National Priority List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).\n\nWhat is "high levels?" That is the open question.

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