Today the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight and the House Committee on Small Business's Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology held a joint hearing entitled, "How the Report on Carcinogens Uses Science to Meet its Statutory Obligations, and its Impact on Small Business Jobs." The stated purpose of the hearing was to examine the Report on Carcinogens (RoC) and to provide Members an opportunity to understand how the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' (NIEHS) National Toxicology Program (NTP) produces the RoC. NIEHS is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS). However, the real purpose of the hearing appeared to be to examine the objections lodged by the styrene industry to the recent listing of styrene as "reasonably anticipated" to be a human carcinogen in the 12th RoC, released in June 2011.
Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) said in his opening statement, "Although the title of today's hearing indicates we are examining the process and result of the National Toxicology Program's biennial production of the Report on Carcinogens, we are really examining the objections of one industry to the listing of one chemical. There is virtually no balance here today. Five of the six witnesses invited by the Majority are aligned closely with the styrene industry and the American Composite Manufacturers Association."
Chemical manufacturers, the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) and the Styrene Information & Research Center (SIRC), the styrene industry's lobbying and public relations arm, have been organizing against the RoC in a variety of ways, including with a lawsuit by SIRC against the HHS for listing styrene in the 12th RoC. The Majority repeatedly mentioned that the hearing was about the "process" used to generate the RoC and not styrene specifically. However, according to the ACMA's own publication: "The industry recently asked the staff and leadership of the House Small Business, Energy and Commerce, and Science committees to conduct an oversight hearing to investigate and illuminate the flaws in the RoC program that have led to the scientifically invalid styrene assessment."
"Certainly, we should hear from industry scientists and businesses with an interest in the activities of federal agencies that impact their businesses," said Mr. Tonko, "but if we were going to fully examine the deep issues this hearing purports to tackle, I would have expected to hear from veterans groups, environmental justice groups, workers, and distinguished public health experts with intimate knowledge of the NTP and the RoC. No such experts were called by the Majority. To the degree there is any divergent voice to be heard today it is because of the Minority's sense of obligation to provide some balance."
Congressman Brad Miller (D-NC), the Ranking Member on the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, made the point that the witness from the Office of Advocacy at the Small Business Administration was not a scientist or expert on science policy, though his testimony was precisely about those issues. After the hearing, Miller commented that it was clear the Office of Advocacy, "Relied for their scientific judgment and process comments on the information provided by Styrene lobbyists, so their testimony was really just an echo of what we heard from the Dow Chemical industry scientist."
Mr. Tonko introduced several letters into the record from a wide variety of groups asking that the Subcommittee examine the claims of the styrene industry with a critical eye. The letters were signed by military veterans and environmental public health experts and advocates.
Mr. Tonko also requested that Chairman Broun hold a second hearing on this topic in order to hear from a more balanced panel. He said, "The issues are too important to be treated in such an unbalanced way. The Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee must be viewed as impartial and thorough, and should build a complete record that includes more than the allegations in the lawsuit the styrene industry has brought against NIEHS. A second hearing would allow us to correct the impression that we will dance to a single interest's tune. I stand ready to work with you to shape such a hearing at your earliest convenience."
The RoC is a congressionally mandated document produced by the NTP within NIEHS. It is a science-based document that identifies chemical and biological substances that are either "reasonably anticipated" or "known" to cause cancer in humans. The RoC is produced every two years and the 12th edition named formaldehyde as a "known" carcinogen and styrene as "reasonably anticipated" to be a human carcinogen.