Sunday, May 01, 2005

API Buys "Do-Over" on Benzene Cancer Study

So, suppose you're the American Petroleum Institute (API) and among your guiding principles are:
  • To operate our plants and facilities, and to handle our raw materials and products in a manner that protects the environment, and the safety and health of our employees and the public.

  • To make safety, health and environmental considerations a priority in our planning, and our development of new products and processes.

  • To advise promptly, appropriate officials, employees, customers and the public of information on significant industry-related safety, heath and environmental hazards, and to recommend protective measures.
And suppose a couple of studies had come out showing that a wideley used cancer-causing chemical, benzene, may have serious health effects at levels well below OSHA's current standard.

Would you quickly notify all of oyur members that they need to take measure to reduce exposures to workers and the public, or would you quickly commission new studies in an effort to disprove the other studies?

Two guesses.
An oil industry trade group is challenging a U.S. government study about the dangers of benzene exposure by financing a study of its own.

The $27 million study undertaken by the American Petroleum Institute aims to give the industry leverage against any consequences of a study by the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, that suggests occupational exposure to benzene is more dangerous than previously believed.

The industry fears the possibility of tighter regulations or lawsuits from cancer patients, according to documents found in boxes of evidence in an unrelated lawsuit.

Benzene, long known to be carcinogenic, is a chemical used throughout the petrochemical industry. It is a widespread contaminant in the air and groundwater and comes from industrial sources, cigarette smoke, gasoline and automobile emissions.
The API insists that the study is being done only to get a better understanding between the relationship of benzene to cancer, and that the study is being done independently of the API or its member companies.
But a draft of the committee structure for API's China Benzene Research
Consortium shows that a Business Oversight Committee, made up of one member from each sponsor company, would have final approval over protocol decisions made by the Scientific Review Board.

The companies funding the study are BP PLC, ChevronTexaco Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., ExxonMobil Corp., and Shell Chemical, a unit of Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Cos.
[Houston lawyer Lance Lubel, who is suing Dow on behalf of a worker who now has leukemia]said the documents provide vital insight to what the oil companies will do to protect themselves.

"The API's involvement in these benzene studies raises the same concerns of the fox in the henhouse as we've seen with the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries," Lubel said.