U.S. agency criticized for withholding Great Lakes health risk report

Published on Michigan Live, by The Associated Press, February 8, 2008.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A report describing potential health threats near the Great Lakes region’s most heavily polluted sites will be made public after changes are made to fix flaws with draft versions, a federal official said Thursday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has drawn criticism from members of Congress, scientists and a U.S.-Canadian agency for withholding the report. It had been scheduled for release last summer.

Reviewers inside and outside the CDC found “a number of problems” with the study, CDC spokesman Glen Nowak said. “It’s being worked on.”

The roughly 400-page document uses statistics from a variety of health and environmental databases to assess risks for more than 9 million people living near 26 areas on the U.S. side of the lakes that are polluted with toxins such as PCBs, mercury and dioxins.

Many of the counties where the sites are located have abnormally high rates of cancer and other health problems such as infant mortality, according to a report summary posted on the Web site of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit journalism organization based in Washington, D.C. …

… David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment with the University at Albany in New York, said he twice had reviewed the draft and recommended its publication.

“I don’t know of any improvements that could be made,” said Carpenter, a member of the International Joint Commission’s science advisory board. He said he respected Frumkin but feared the final version of the report might be watered down.

The Bush administration “has been very much attempting to downplay the role of toxins around the Great Lakes,” Carpenter said. (full text).

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