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Industry Muscle Targets Federal 'Report on Carcinogens'

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. - In the 1980s, toxicologist James Huff was a bane of industry's existence.

A blunt Philadelphian, Huff helped supervise animal tests here at the National Institute of Environment Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. Mice and rats were dosed with chemicals, and Huff and his colleagues publicized the results when tumors sprouted. People needed to know about "blowout" carcinogens, Huff said. He didn't care who was upset.

Now, three decades later, Huff cites industry's growing and "perverse" influence on science. "They're more clever, more sophisticated," said Huff, 75, who retired this year but remains a guest researcher at NIEHS. "They spend a lot of time in Congress."

Increasingly, industry is targeting Huff's former employer and its parent, the Department of Health and Human Services - in particular, HHS's Report on Carcinogens. Two lobby groups sued the agency after two widely used chemicals were listed in the report. In a victory for industry, lawmakers mandated additional, ongoing scientific reviews of the document. And, a trade association representing makers of fiber-reinforced plastics claimed credit for a congressional hearing last year that evolved into an open airing of industry grievances.

All this comes while the chemical industry is building muscle: In the midst of a prodigious expansion due to the availability of cheap natural gas, it spent $55.7 million on lobbying in 2012 - twice what it spent 10 years earlier, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The push may be having an effect. In June, for instance, two Republican members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology sent a letter to the director of the NIH, complaining about a journal article by NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum.    

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