Statistical malpractice

Letter to the editor
Copyright 1998 Chemical and Engineering News
October 5, 1998

Apparently Environmental Protection Agency Admistrator Carol Browner feels no embarrassment that her agency was caught doing data selection and statistical malpractice, according to the recent federal court judgment invalidating part of EPA's report on the health effects of secondhand smoke (C&EN, Aug. 3, page 35). When public health is at risk, the end justifies any means. However, with public health and environmental issues, the science is always highly statistical, and bad statistics lead to bad science, and eventually bad science leads to bad policy.

Right now, EPA is pressing for multi-billion-dollar dredging projects along the Hudson River in New York and the Fox River in Wisconsin to remove sediments containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the parts-per-million range. To justify the expense of dredging the rivers, EPA and related agencies are relying on selected studies showing some health risk associated with the consumption of fish containing PCBs admixed with heavy metals and dioxins. However, they are ignoring the majority opinion of independent environmental toxicologists that PCBs in the concentrations present do not represent a significant health risk.

More is at stake than scientific integrity. The politically incorrect truth is that these multi-billion-dollar dredging projects will have both a negative impact on basically healthy ecosystems and a negative effect on public health through economic disruption.

Don Hayford
Appleton, Wis.

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