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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Inspector General
At a Glance
November 4, 2004
Why We Did This Review
We performed this special
review to (a) determine the
validity of multiple allegations
that three peer review
panelists had conflicts of
interest or biases which might
have impaired their judgments
in their peer review of EPA's
draft assessment of the health
hazards caused by the collapse
of the World Trade Center
(WTC) towers, and (b) assess
the adequacy of steps taken to
balance the peer review panel.
The impartiality of three peer
review panelists was
questioned because one
panelist allegedly had a
working relationship with an
asbestos company and two
other panelists had publically
expressed their viewpoints,
prior to commencement of the
peer review, regarding health
hazards at the WTC site. One
way such concerns can
sometimes be addressed is by
using a balanced panel.
Catalyst for Improving the Environment
Review of Conflict of Interest Allegations Pertaining to
the Peer Review of EPA's Draft Report, "Exposure and
Human Health Evaluation of Airborne Pollution from the
World Trade Center Disaster"
What We Found
The seven-member peer review panel selected to review EPA's draft report
included one panelist with an extensive history of providing expert testimony and
similar services for defendants in asbestos lawsuits, and two panelists who had
made prior public statements regarding the safety of the air around the WTC site.
These circumstances provided a basis for the perception that one panelist had a
potential conflict of interest and two panelists had potential biases that would
prevent them from providing impartial input. We found that EPA's Contractor did
not inquire whether the three panelists had received funding from industry or had
publically expressed viewpoints on the issues to be reviewed. However, our
examination of the peer review record did not find that the panel's input was biased,
nor that perceived biases and conflicts were so "direct and substantial" that any of
the panelists should have been excluded from the panel.
In our view additional measures should have been taken during the peer review
selection process to disclose the information about panel members upon which the
allegations of conflicts of interest or bias were later made. Specifically, had EPA's
Contractor inquired about industry funding, learned whether panelists had expressed
opinions publically about the peer review issues, and taken other actions to identify
the bases for these perceived conflicts and biases prior to the selection of the panel,
EPA would have been better able to consider the need for additional actions to
balance the panel or otherwise resolve these perceived, potential conflicts and biases
prior to conducting the peer review.
What We Recommend
For further information,
contact our Office of
Congressional and Public
Liaison at (202) 566-2391.
To view the full report,
click on the following link:
We made a number of recommendations to better ensure that guidance in EPA's
Peer Review Handbook will be fully followed, including that EPA provide:
	better oversight of peer review contracts to ensure that potential panelists are
asked about industry financing and their relationship with clients; and
	supplemental guidance and training of peer review leaders regarding the types of
information they may need to obtain about potential panelists' opinions and
viewpoints when they assess whether panels are independent and balanced.
EPA agreed with our conclusions and recommendations and has either taken
actions, or set milestones for completing actions, to address our concerns.