Industry research money brings public benefits, say agency officials

The US Environmental Protection Agency is defending its growing practice of jointly funding research with industry, after lobby groups voiced concerns that the agency’s science is being compromised. Over half the EPA’s 70 active cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs) are now with industry - dwarfing the number it holds with universities or local governments. 

Agency officials say the research carried out under the agreements will lead to better protection of human health and the environment. But opponents are unconvinced and cite the EPA’s 2004 Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study, in which parents were paid to expose their children to pesticides. The study - partly funded by the American Chemistry Council - was abandoned in April 2005 after fierce criticism from scientists both within and outside the EPA. 

Judy Graham, a senior official with the ACC who worked at EPA for over 30 years, says joint ventures with industry allow the agency to access valuable resources. Furthermore, as the EPA’s research and development budget continues to fall, CRADAs are bringing more money into the agency for science. 

Lobby groups question whether the CRADAs are an effective use of public funds. But Graham defends the work being carried out through the agreements. 

Citing one CRADA project singled out by lobby groups which focuses on gene chip technology to identify chemicals that might interfere with the reproduction and development of wildlife, Graham told Chemistry World, ’The chemical industry wants better methods to test chemicals for endocrine activity.’ But, she added, the work also constitutes fundamental research intended to provide EPA with better chemical testing methods. 

Parker-Hannefin, an international corporation that makes motion control systems for the industrial and aerospace markets, was also singled out for a CRADA it has with EPA to develop an ’advanced hydrostatic transmission’ for use on large vehicles. 

Jim Cartwright, a company spokesman, says the project advances goals of both the EPA and the public.’What we are talking about is the use of public monies to save fuel and reduce emissions,’ he states. 

"What we are talking about is the use of public monies to save fuel and reduce emissions" - Jim Cartwright

Nevertheless, to some it appears that industry is increasingly setting the scientific agenda at the agency at a time when the EPA’s public research funding is dwindling. Support for the agency’s R&D activities dropped by 25 per cent in inflation-adjusted terms between 2004 and the 2008 budget that has been put forward by the Bush administration. 

CRADA opponents say EPA would not engage in many of the activities mapped out in these agreements if it were not for industry sponsorship. 

Jeff Ruch, executive director for US lobby group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Chemistry World, ’The concern is capture of the regulatory agency by the regulated. In this case, the means of capture is the lure of money.’ 

Rebecca Trager is US correspondent for Research Day USA