PFAS: Health Concerns and Efforts to Regulate “Forever Chemicals”

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Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of thousands of manufactured chemicals widely used by a range of industries and commonly found in a large number of household products. One common characteristic of PFAS is that they persist in the environment and can accumulate in humans and animals. For this reason, they are often referred to as “forever chemicals.”

Some PFAS have been linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, decreased immunity, hormone disruption and a range of other serious health problems. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that most people in the United States have been exposed to some PFAS. The chemicals  have been documented in the blood of people and animals around the world, and also have been found to be pervasive in the environment, particularly in areas where manufacturers or other industrial users are actively handling PFAS. 

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2021 released a spreadsheet of more than 120,000 facilities around the United States the regulatory agency fears are handling PFAS. Download that spreadsheet here. 

Researchers have identified the following routes of exposure to PFAS:

  • Drinking water – in public drinking water systems and private drinking water wells.
  • Soil and water at or near waste sites – at landfills, disposal sites, and hazardous waste sites.
  • Fire extinguishing foam – used in training and emergency response events at airports, shipyards, military bases, firefighting training facilities, chemical plants, and refineries.
  • Manufacturing or chemical production facilities that produce or use PFAS – such as oil and gas drilling sites, chrome plating, electronics, and certain textile and paper manufacturers.
  • Food – such as fish caught from water contaminated by PFAS and dairy products from livestock exposed to PFAS, and other foods.
  • Food packaging – such as grease-resistant paper, fast food containers/wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and candy wrappers.
  • Household products- such as stain and water-repellent used on carpets, upholstery, clothing, and other fabrics; cleaning products; non-stick cookware; paints, varnishes, and sealants.
  • Personal care products- such as shampoos, dental floss, and cosmetics.

Long history of warnings about health risks of PFAS  

Environmental and human health experts and advocates have long been critical of the EPA for a lack of research into, and regulation of, PFAS. Researchers, lawyers and environmental and human health advocates have warned about the dangers of PFAS for roughly 20 years, and evidence has come to light showing that companies involved in manufacturing PFAS have known about dangers to human health even longer. 

Research has demonstrated that two types of PFAS – Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), are very harmful to humans and animals. In 2016, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) concluded that PFOA and PFOS were a specific hazard to immune system function in humans. U.S. manufacturers have been replacing those types of PFAS with other types, though concerns persist about the replacements.  

On Nov. 16, 2021, the EPA said it was sending four “draft documents” to its Scientific Advisory Board that contain new data and analyses. The new information indicates that “negative health effects may occur at much lower levels of exposure to PFOA and PFOS than previously understood and that PFOA is a likely carcinogen,” according to the EPA.

PFOA, also known as C8, was a key ingredient in non-stick Teflon products. C8 was originally manufactured by 3M and then by DuPont until the health hazards of the chemical were made public through a class-action lawsuit. A replacement chemical called GenX was introduced by DuPont in 2009 as a safer alternative to PFOA, but an investigation by The Intercept found that DuPont filed 16 reports with the EPA citing numerous harmful health effects of the chemical on animals, sparking concerns about the safety of the substitute.  

A C8 science panel was formed as part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit approved in February 2005 by West Virginia Circuit Court. That case involved allegations that human health problems were caused by releases of C8 from a DuPont facility in West Virginia.

The science panel was charged with conducting a community study to help evaluate potential links between C8 exposure and any human disease. The research findings are detailed here.

The litigation and settlement were largely the work of U.S. lawyer Robert Bilott.

Bilott has spent the last two decades advocating for strict PFAS regulation and corporate accountability for PFAS pollution. His investigation into PFAS, including the corporate efforts to cover up the harms of the chemicals, have been documented in a book, a feature film and a documentary film, among other works.

In 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a 852-page review of PFAS health dangers, challenging the EPA’s determination of what the regulator considered safe levels for some of the compounds, finding that exposures could be a threat at many times lower than what the EPA had established.  

In October 2021, the EPA released what it described as a “strategic roadmap” aimed at restricting PFAS from being released into the environment. The plan also is supposed to accelerate the cleanup of existing PFAS contamination. The EPA said highlights of its plan include:

  • “Aggressive” timelines to set enforceable drinking water limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act “to ensure water is safe to drink in every community”.
  • Timelines for actions involved in the establishment of “effluent guideline limitations”, for nine industrial categories.
  • Establishment of a hazardous substance designation under the federal Superfund law that enhances the government’s ability to hold PFAS polluters financially accountable.
  • A review of past actions on PFAS taken under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to address those that are insufficient. 
  • Increased monitoring, data collection and research so that the agency can identify what actions are needed and when to take them.
  • A final toxicity assessment for a type of PFAS called GenX used in manufacturing nonstick coatings that has been found in drinking water, rainwater and air samples.
  • Continued efforts to address PFAS emissions into the air.

The agency said it will also be increasing investments in research related to PFAS. U.S. President Joe Biden has called for more than $10 billion in funding to “monitor and remediate PFAS in drinking water” among other water system. 

The EPA has also been pursuing research into “PFAS destruction technology” and other possible mitigation measures amid mounting evidence of the pervasiveness of the PFAS compounds.

Regulatory Update: 

  • EPA Announces New Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFAS Chemicals, $1 Billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding to Strengthen Health Protections, EPA press release, June 15, 2022
  • “The guidance aims to prompt local officials to install water filters or at least notify residents of contamination. But for now, the federal government does not regulate the chemicals,” Washington Post

Politics

In November 2021 Michigan Democratic congresswoman Debbie Dingell introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives proposing to ban PFAS in US food packaging and significantly reduce exposure to the highly toxic compounds. Similar legislation introduced in the last legislative session failed to pass.

PFAS manufacturers have actively lobbied against such laws on the chemicals. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who sits on the environmental committee and has opposed PFAS legislation, has received at least $60,000 from PFAS producers, according to The Guardian. 

State actions 

Many states have moved to investigate the extent of PFAS contamination, protect residents from PFAS exposures and to hold companies accountable for PFAS pollution. Here are a few recent actions:

Alabama – PFAS manufacturer 3M agreed to pay local government agencies in Alabama $98.4 million in October 2021 in a deal reached through court-ordered mediation over claims that one of the company’s chemical plants polluted the Tennessee River in northern Alabama. The money is to be used to fund cleanup efforts and reimburse water agencies prior efforts to remediate PFAS from the drinking water.  3M also agreed to pay $12 million to settle a potential class action lawsuit by Alabama drinking water customers. 

California – In October 2021, the state enacted new laws that prohibit the use of PFAS in children’s products; ban the sale or distribution of any food packaging that contains PFAS after Jan. 1, 2023; and order that by Jan.1, 2024, labels on cookware must list any PFAS in the product and provide a link or QR code to a webpage that contains more details.

Maine – Maine environmental regulators said in October 2021 that they were launching a statewide investigation to identify PFAS contamination sites related to the state’s municipal sludge and paper mills. State lawmakers have earmarked $30 million to test for PFAS and to install filtration systems on contaminated water systems. The state also said it will assist farmers whose land or water is found to have unsafe levels of PFAS. 

Michigan – In October 2021, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive telling the state to “use its purchasing power—an estimated $2.5 billion annually” to buy products that do not contain PFAS chemicals. 

New Hampshire – The New Hampshire Department of Natural Resources said in November 2021 that PFAS contamination was so high in five of its lakes that people should limit fish consumption, particularly children.  

North Carolina – In November 2021, North Carolina’s attorney general filed lawsuits against 14 manufacturers of a fire suppressant made with PFAS, asking the court to require the manufacturers to pay for investigations to determine the extent of the pollution damage and clean up the damage, replace water treatment systems and wells, and restore damaged natural resources, and monitor water quality going forward. The lawsuits focus on PFAS contamination at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and at an Air National Guard Base.

Oregon – Oregon said in October 2021 it would test about 150 drinking water systems across the state to determine levels of PFAS contamination.  

Pennsylvania- Pennsylvania regulators in November 2021 said they would set enforceable limits on toxic “forever chemicals” in drinking water. Specifically, Pennsylvania officials said they plan to set drinking water limits on the two best-studied of the chemicals, known as PFOA and PFOS.

News & Opinion

Pesticides Are Spreading Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals,’ Scientists Warn: Common chemicals sprayed on many crops each year are cloaked in bureaucratic uncertainties, by Meg Wilcox, Scientific American June 15, 2022. “And now researchers are warning of yet another—and so far under recognized—source of these troubling toxins: common pesticides.”

EPA warns toxic ‘forever chemicals’ more dangerous than once thought: The guidance may spur water utilities to tackle PFAS, but health advocates are still waiting for mandatory standards, by Dino Grandoni, Washington Post, June 15.2022.

Two ‘forever chemicals’ more toxic than previously thought: EPA drafts, by Rachel Frazen, The Hill, Nov. 16, 2021.

North Carolina AG sues 14 companies over fire suppressant, Associated Press, Nov. 5, 2021. “Attorney General Josh Stein filed four lawsuits which named 3M, Corteva, and DuPont, among others. In the lawsuit, Stein is asking the court to require the manufacturers to pay for investigations to determine the extent of the damage, clean up the damage, replace water treatment systems and wells, restore damaged natural resources and to monitor water quality.”

Senator, clean water advocates ask for state action after troubling GenX toxicity report, by Johanna Still, Port City Daily, Oct. 31, 2021. “Chemours’ trademark unregulated chemical GenX is more toxic than previously understood, according to a final toxicity report released by the Environmental Protection Agency Monday. The EPA’s new lifetime chronic reference dose for GenX, calculated with the most vulnerable populations in mind, is 3 parts per trillion (ppt). Concentrations of the chemical ingested over a lifetime at or below this threshold are unlikely to lead to negative health effects in humans, the report concludes.”

Forever chemicals widespread in Mass. Surface and ground water, says new report, by Barbara Moran, WBUR, Oct. 29, 2021. “The new analysis of state data follows reports of PFAS contamination in Cape Cod ponds and many Massachusetts rivers, pointing to widespread contamination throughout state lakes, ponds, rivers and aquifers used as sources for drinking water.”

EPA finds chemical contaminating NC river more toxic than previously assessed, by Rachel Frazin, The Hill, Oct. 25, 2021.

Lethal ‘forever chemical’ taint our food, water and even blood. The EPA is stalling, by David Bond, The Guardian, Oct. 24, 2021. “There is no longer any population or place on earth untouched by PFAS contamination. We are living through a toxic experiment with no control group.”

How chemical companies avoid paying for pollution, by David Gelles and Emily Steel, The New York Times, Oct. 20, 2021. “To avoid responsibility for what many experts believe is a public health crisis, leading chemical companies like Chemours, DuPont and 3M have deployed a potent mix of tactics. They have used public charm offensives to persuade regulators and lawmakers to back off. They have engineered complex corporate transactions to shield themselves from legal liability. And they have rolled out a conveyor belt of scantly tested substitute chemicals that sometimes turn out to be just as dangerous as their predecessors.”

Bad Chemistry series of articles by Sharon Lerner, The Intercept, September 2015-ongoing. “The U.S. has refused to regulate the chemicals in this class, known as PFAS, despite the fact that they persist indefinitely in the environment and have been linked to cancer and many other illnesses.” 

EPA unveils new strategy to address US contamination of ‘forever’ chemicals, by Carey Gillam, The Guardian, Oct. 18, 2021. “The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday announced a “strategic roadmap” it said would help restrict a class of toxic chemicals from being released into the environment and accelerate the cleanup of existing contamination of “forever chemicals” that are associated with a range of human health dangers.”

Revealed: More than 120,000 US sites feared to handle harmful PFAS ‘forever’ chemicals, by Carey Gillam, The Guardian, Oct. 17, 2021 “The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 120,000 locations around the US where people may be exposed to a class of toxic “forever chemicals” associated with various cancers and other health problems that is a frightening tally four times larger than previously reported, according to data obtained by the Guardian.”

Suppressed Study: The EPA underestimated dangers of widespread chemicals, by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica, , June 20, 2018. “A major environmental health study that had been suppressed by the Trump administration because of the “public relations nightmare” it might cause the Pentagon and other polluters has been quietly released online.”

The lawyer who became DuPont’s worst nightmare, by Nathaniel Rich, The New York Times, Jan. 6, 2016. “Rob Bilott was a corporate defense attorney for eight years. Then he took on an environmental suit that would upend his entire career — and expose a brazen, decades-long history of chemical pollution.”

The Teflon toxin, three-part series of articles by Sharon Lerner, The Intercept, Aug. 11, 2015 – Aug. 20, 2015. “In this series, Sharon Lerner exposes DuPont’s multi-decade cover-up of the severe harms to health associated with a chemical known as PFOA, or C8, and associated compounds such as PFOS and GenX.”

The Teflon toxin goes to court, by Sharon Lerner, The Intercept, Sept. 19, 2015. “DuPont went to court this week, defending its use of C8, the chemical that spread from the company’s Parkersburg, West Virginia, plant into the drinking water of some 80,000 people in West Virginia and Ohio. A jury in Columbus, Ohio, is now hearing the case of Carla Bartlett, a 59-year-old woman who developed kidney cancer after drinking C8-contaminated water for more than a decade.” 

Papers: DuPont hid chemical risk studies, by John Heilprin, Associated Press, Nov. 16, 2005. “DuPont Co. hid studies showing the risks of a Teflon-related chemical used to line candy wrappers, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags and hundreds of other food containers, according to internal company documents and a former employee.”

Statements

Zürich Statement on Future Actions on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs), Environmental Health Perspectives, August 2018. 

Comment on “Fluorotechnology Is Critical to Modern Life: The FluoroCouncil Counterpoint to the Madrid Statement,” Environmental Health Perspectives July 2015. 

The Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs), Environmental Health Perspectives, May 2015. 

Helsingør statement on poly- and perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs), Chemosphere, November 2014. 

Research 

Birth Defects 

Perfluorooctanoate Exposure and Major Birth Defects, Reproductive Toxicology, August 2014.  

Cancer

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance Exposure Combined with High-Fat Diet Supports Prostate Cancer Progression, Nutrients, September, 2021.

Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) Exposures and Incident Cancers Among Adults Living Near a Chemical Plant, Environmental Health Perspectives, November 2013.  

Perfluorooctanoic acid exposure and cancer outcomes in a contaminated community: a geographic analysis, Environmental Health Perspectives, March 2013  

Cholesterol 

Modeled PFOA exposure and coronary artery disease, hypertension, and high cholesterol in community and worker cohorts, Environmental Health Perspectives, December 2014.  

Associations between PFOA, PFOS and changes in the expression of genes involved in cholesterol metabolism in humans, Environment International, July 2013. 

Diabetes

Incidence of type II diabetes in a cohort with substantial exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid, Environmental Research, January 2014. 

Hormones 

Perfluoroalkyl Substances, Sex Hormones, and Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 at 6-9 Years of   Age: A Cross-Sectional Analysis within the C8 Health Project. Environmental Health     Perspectives, August 2016.

PFOA and PFOS are associated with reduced expression of the parathyroid hormone 2 receptor (PTH2R) gene in women, Chemosphere, February 2015. 

Hyperactivity

Serum Perfluorinated Compound Concentration and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children 5-18 Years of Age, Environmental Health Perspectives, October 2011.  

Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease and biomarkers of gut inflammation and permeability in a community with high exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances through drinking water, Environmental Research, 2019 November 2019. 

Kidney Function

Perfluorooctanoic acid and chronic kidney disease: Longitudinal analysis of a Mid-Ohio Valley community, Environmental Research, April 2016. 

Exposure to perfluoroalkyl acids and markers of kidney function among children and adolescents living near a chemical plant, Environmental Health Perspectives, May 2013.

Liver Function

Modeled Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) Exposure and Liver Function in a Mid-Ohio Valley Community, Environmental Health Perspectives, August 2016. 

Neuropsychological Outcomes

Perfluorooctanoate and neuropsychological outcomes in children, Epidemiology, July 2013.

Obesity

Early life perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) exposure and overweight and obesity risk in adulthood in a community with elevated exposure, Environmental Research, July 2014. 

Pregnancy

Impact of exposure uncertainty on the association between perfluorooctanoate and preeclampsia in the C8 Health Project population, Environmental Health Perspectives, January 2016.

Perfluorooctanoic Acid exposure and pregnancy outcome in a highly exposed community, Epidemiology, May 2012.  

Relationship of Perfluorooctanoic Acid Exposure to Pregnancy Outcome Based on Birth Records in the Mid-Ohio Valley, Environmental Health Perspectives, March 2012.  

Serum Perfluorooctanoic Acid and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate Concentrations in Relation to Birth Outcomes in the Mid-Ohio Valley, 2005-2010, Environmental Health Perspectives, October 2013 

PFOA and PFOS serum levels and miscarriage risk, Epidemiology, July 2014. 

Puberty

Association of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) with age of puberty among children living near a chemical plant, Environment Science & Technology, October 2011.  

Thyroid

High exposure to perfluorinated compounds in drinking water and thyroid disease. A cohort study from Ronneby, Sweden. Environmental Research, September 2019. 

Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and thyroid function in pregnant women and children: A    systematic review of epidemiologic studies, Environment International, February 2017. 

Perfluorooctanoic acid exposure and thyroid disease in community and worker cohorts, Epidemiology, March 2014.    

Thyroid Function and Perfluoroalkyl Acids in Children Living Near a Chemical Plant, Environmental Health Perspectives, March 2012.

Ulcerative colitis

PFOA and ulcerative colitis, Environmental Research, May 2018. 

Ulcerative colitis and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in a highly exposed population of community residents and workers in the Mid-Ohio Valley, Environmental Health Perspectives, August 2013.  

Exposure, water contamination issues, general

Revisiting pesticide pollution: The case of fluorinated pesticides, Environmental Pollution, January 2022.

Evaluation and management strategies for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in drinking water aquifers: perspectives from impacted U.S. northeast communities, Environmental Health Perspectives, June 2018. 

Half-lives of PFOS, PFHxS and PFOA after end of exposure to contaminated drinking water, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, November 2017.  

Technical Report: Half-lives of PFOS, PFHxS and PFOA after end of exposure to       contaminated drinking water, The Sahlgrenska Academy Institute Of Medicine, University of      Gothenburg, 2017.

A cohort incidence study of workers exposed to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), Occupational Environmental Medicine, May 2015. 

Associations Between Serum Perfluoroalkyl Acids and LINE-1 DNA Methylation, Environment International, February 2014. 

Cohort mortality study of workers exposed to perfluorooctanoic acid, American Journal of Epidemiology, November 2012.    

Environmental fate and transport modeling for perfluorooctanoic acid emitted from the Washington Works Facility in West Virginia, Environment Science & Technology, January 2011. 

Private drinking water wells as a source of exposure to PFOA in communities surrounding a fluoropolymer production facility, Environmental Health Perspectives, January 2011. 

Biomarker-based calibration of retrospective exposure predictions of perfluorooctanoic acid, Environmental Science & Technology, May 2014. 

Accumulation and clearance of PFOA in current and former residents of an exposed community, Environmental Health Perspectives, January 2011.    

Epidemiologic evidence on the health effects of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), Environmental Health Perspectives, August 2010. 

The C8 Health Project: Design, methods, and participants, Environmental Health Perspectives, December 2009. 

Other fact sheets and resources

Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Environmental Working Group

Great Lakes PFAS Policy Agenda.

Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) at Bennington College

Books and film

Exposure – Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle against DuPont, by Robert Bilott, Atria Books (July 14, 2020).

The Devil We Know documentary film

Dark Waters feature film

The American Council on Science and Health is a Corporate Front Group

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Updated in July 2019

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) calls itself a “pro-science consumer advocacy organization” and media outlets often quote the group as an independent science source; however, documents described in this fact sheet establish that ACSH is corporate front group that solicits money from tobacco, chemical, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and other companies in exchange for defending and promoting their products. The group does not disclose its funding.

Key documents:

  • Emails from 2015 released via discovery reveal that Monsanto funded ACSH and asked the group to help defend glyphosate.
  • Leaked financial documents from 2012 establish that ACSH solicits money from corporations for product defense campaigns. Donors include a wide array of companies and industry groups.
  • Emails from 2009 show that ACSH solicited $100,000 from Syngenta to write a paper and book about Syngenta’s pesticide atrazine. In 2011, ACSH released a book by Jon Entine similar to the project described in the email.
  • Syngenta and Monsanto have been regular contributors to ACSH over the years, the emails show.

Monsanto funds ACSH to defend Monsanto products

Emails released in April 2019 reveal that Monsanto agreed to fund ACSH in 2015 and asked the group to help defend glyphosate from cancer concerns raised by the International Agency for Research. ACSH agreed to do so, and later attacked the cancer report as a “scientific fraud.” The emails illuminate ACSH’s reliance on corporate funding and efforts to please its funders. ACSH’s former acting director Gil Ross (who spent time in jail for Medicaid fraud) wrote to a Monsanto executive, “Each and every day, we work hard to prove our worth to companies such as Monsanto.” Ross wrote:

Emails also show that Monsanto executives paid ACSH despite their discomfort with the group. Monsanto’s senior science lead Daniel Goldstein championed ACSH to his colleagues, and sent them links to 53 ACSH articles, two books and a pesticide review he described as as “EXTREMELY USEFUL.” Goldstein wrote:

Key player in Monsanto’s propaganda network

An award-winning investigation by Le Monde into Monsanto’s “war on science” to defend glyphosate named the American Council on Science and Health among the “well known propaganda websites” that played a key role in attacking the scientists who raised cancer concerns. In May 2017, plaintiffs’ attorneys suing Monsanto over glyphosate cancer concerns stated in a brief: “Monsanto quietly funnels money to ‘think tanks’ such as the ‘Genetic Literacy Project’ and the ‘American Council on Science and Health,’ organizations intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.”

Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know reveal that Monsanto initially chose ACSH to publish a series of pro-GMO papers that were assigned to professors by Monsanto and “merchandized” by a PR firm to heavily promote them as independent. Monsanto executive Eric Sachs wrote to the professors: “To ensure that the papers have the greatest impact, the American Council for Science and Health is partnering with CMA Consulting to drive the project. The completed policy briefs will be offered on the ACSH website … CMA and ACSH also will merchandize the policy briefs, including the development of media specific materials, such as op-eds, blog postings, speaking engagements, events, webinars, etc.” The papers were eventually published by Genetic Literacy Project with no disclosure of Monsanto’s role.

In a report from the U.S. House of Representatives, congressional investigators stated that Monsanto uses “industry trade groups, such as CropLife and industry front groups, such as Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review as platforms of support for industry spokespersons.”

Leaked ACSH docs reveal corporate-defense funding strategy

A leaked 2012 ACSH financial summary reported by Mother Jones revealed that ACSH has received funding from a large number of corporations and industry groups with a financial stake in the science messaging ACSH promotes — and showed how ACSH solicits corporate donations for quid pro quo product-defense campaigns. For example, the document outlines:

  • Plans to pitch the Vinyl Institute which “previously supported chlorine and health report”
  • Plans to pitch food companies for a messaging campaign to oppose GMO labeling
  • Plans to pitch cosmetic companies to counter “reformulation pressures” from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
  • Efforts to court tobacco and e-cigarette companies

Mother Jones reported, “ACSH’s donors and the potential backers the group has been targeting comprise a who’s-who of energy, agriculture, cosmetics, food, soda, chemical, pharmaceutical, and tobacco corporations.” Funding details:

  • ACSH donors in the second half of 2012 included Chevron, Coca-Cola, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, Dr. Pepper/Snapple, Bayer Cropscience, Procter and Gamble, Syngenta, 3M, McDonald’s, and tobacco conglomerate Altria. ACSH also pursued financial support from Pepsi, Monsanto, British American Tobacco, DowAgro, ExxonMobil Foundation, Philip Morris International, Reynolds American, the Koch family-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Dow-linked Gerstacker Foundation, the Bradley Foundation and Searle Freedom Trust.
  • Reynolds American and Phillip Morris International were the two largest donors listed in the documents.

Syngenta funding, Syngenta defense

In 2011, ACSH published a book about “chemophobia” written by Jon Entine, who is now the executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, another front group that works with Monsanto. Entine’s ACSH book defended atrazine, a pesticide manufactured by Syngenta, which was funding ACSH.

A 2012 Mother Jones article describes the circumstances leading up to the book. The article by Tom Philpott, based in part on internal company documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, describes Syngenta’s PR efforts to get third-party allies to spin media coverage of atrazine.

In one email from 2009, ACSH staff asked Syngenta for an additional $100,000 – “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years” – to produce an atrazine-friendly paper and “consumer-friendly booklet” to help educate media and scientists.

Email from ASCH staffer Gil Ross to Syngenta about proposed atrazine project:

A year and a half later, ACSH published Entine’s book with a press release that sounds similar to the project Ross described in his solicitation email to Syngenta: “The American Council on Science and Health is pleased to announce a new book and companion friendly, abbreviated position paper” in response to the “irrational fear of chemicals.” Author Jon Entine denied any relationship with Syngenta and told Philpott he had “no idea” Syngenta was funding ACSH.

ACSH personnel

  • ACSH’s longtime “Medical/Executive DirectorDr. Gilbert Ross was convicted in a scheme to defraud the Medicaid system prior to joining ACSH. See court documents about Dr. Ross’ multiple fraud convictions and sentencing, and article in Mother Jones “Paging Dr. Ross” (2005). Dr. Ross was found to be a “highly untrustworthy individual” by a judge who sustained the exclusion of Dr. Ross from Medicaid for 10 years (see additional references and court document).
  • In June 2015, Hank Campbell took over ACSH leadership from acting president (and convicted felon) Dr. Gilbert Ross. Campbell worked for software development companies before starting the website Science 2.0 in 2006. In his 2012 book with Alex Berezow, “Science Left Behind: Feel Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti Science Left,” Campbell describes his background: “six years ago… I decided I wanted to write science on the Internet … with nothing but enthusiasm and a concept, I approached world famous people about helping me reshape how science could be done, and they did it for free.” Campbell left suddenly under unknown circumstances in December 2018. Read more about Campbell here.
  • Campbell’s book co-author, Alex Berezow, is now vice president of scientific affairs at ACSH.  He is a founding editor of Real Clear Science and is on the USA Today editorial board of contributors but USA Today does not disclose Berezow’s ACSH affiliation or ACSH’s corporate funding despite repeated complaints (more info below).

Leaders and advisors: tobacco ties and climate science denial  

The ACSH board of trustees includes Fred L. Smith Jr., founder of the Competitive Enterprises Institute, a leading promoter of climate science denial and a group that has received millions of dollars from Exxon Mobile and dark money funding vehicle Donors Trust.  Smith and CEI also have a history of fighting against tobacco regulations and soliciting money from the tobacco industry, according to documents from the UCSF Truth Tobacco Industry Documents archive. 

James Enstrom and Geoffrey Kabat, two epidemiologists who took money from tobacco companies and wrote studies defending tobacco products, also have ACSH ties. Dr. Enstrom is a member of the ACSH board of trustees and Dr. Kabat serves on the “health board of scientific advisors“. Both scientists have “long standing financial and other working relationships with the tobacco industry,” according to a paper in BMJ Tobacco Control.

In a widely cited 2003 paper in BMJ, Kabat and Enstrom concluded that secondhand smoke does not increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease. The study was sponsored in part by the Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR), a tobacco industry group. Although that funding was disclosed, a follow-up analysis in BMJ Tobacco Control found that the disclosures by Enstrom and Kabat “did not provide the reader with a full picture of the tobacco industry’s involvement with the study authors.” The paper details numerous financial ties between Enstrom and the tobacco industry.

Enstrom countered these claims in a 2007 article in Epidemiological Perspectives and Innovation, arguing that his funding and competing interests were clearly and accurately described in the 2003 BMJ paper, and that tobacco industry funding did not impact his research. “To date, no impropriety, bias or omission has been identified in the review process and no error in the results has been identified in the paper,” Enstrom said.

Emails from 2014 feature Dr. Enstrom discussing with famous climate science denier Fred Singer ideas to attack and discredit two scientists who were involved in the film “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming,” and whether to try to stop the release of the film with a lawsuit. For more information, see DeSmog blog, “Tobacco Gun for Hire James Enstrom, Willie Soon and the Climate Deniers Attack on Merchants of Doubt” (March 2015).

Dr. Kabat is also on the board of directors of the parent organization of the Genetic Literacy Project, a front group that works with Monsanto on PR projects while claiming to be independent. Read more about his work in our fact sheet, Geoffrey Kabat’s Ties to Tobacco and Chemical Industry Groups

Incorrect statements about science 

American Council on Science and Health has claimed:

  • “There is no evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke involves heart attacks or cardiac arrest.” Winston-Salem Journal, 2012
  • “there is no scientific consensus concerning global warming.” ACSH, 1998 (Greenpeace has described ACSH a “Koch Industries climate denial front group”)
  • fracking “doesn’t pollute water or air.” Daily Caller, 2013
  • “There has never been a case of ill health linked to the regulated, approved use of pesticides in this country.” Tobacco Documents Library, UCSF, The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition document page 9, 1995
  • “There is no evidence that BPA [bisphenol A] in consumer products of any type, including cash register receipts, are harmful to health.” ACSH, 2012
  • exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin, “in conventional seafood causes no harm in humans.” ACSH, 2010.

Recent ACSH messaging continues in the same theme, denying risk from products that are important to the chemical, tobacco and other industries, and making frequent attacks on scientists, journalists and others who raise concerns.

  • A 2016 “top junk science” post by ACSH denies that chemicals can cause endocrine disruption; defends e-cigarettes, vaping and soda; and attacks journalists and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

USA Today gives ACSH a platform 

USA Today continues to publish columns by ACSH staffers Hank Campbell and Alex Berezow without disclosing their funding ties to corporations whose interests they defend. In February 2017, 30 health, environmental, labor and public interest groups wrote to the editors of USA Today asking the paper to stop providing a platform of legitimacy to ACSH or at least provide full disclosures about who funds the group.

The letter states:

  • “We are writing to express our concern that USA Today continues to publish columns written by members of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a corporate-funded group with a long history of promoting corporate agendas that are at odds with mainstream science. USA Today should not be helping this group promote its false identity as a credible, independent source on science. Your readers deserve accurate information about what and whom this group represents, as they reflect on the content of the columns.”
  • “These are no idle allegations. Many of the undersigned health, environmental, labor and public interest groups have been tracking ACSH’s work over the years. We have documented instances in which the group has worked to undermine climate change science, and deny the health threats associated with various products, including second-hand smokefrackingpesticides and industrial chemicals – all without being transparent about its corporate backers.”
  • We note that financial documents obtained by Mother Jones show that ACSH has received funding from tobacco, chemical, pharmaceutical and oil corporations. Public interest groups have reported that ACSH received funding from the Koch Foundations between 2005-2011, and released internal documents showing that ACSH solicited $100,000 from Syngenta in 2009 to write favorably about its product atrazine – a donation that was to be “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years.”
  • “At a time when the public is questioning the legitimacy of the news media, we believe it is vital for publications such as USA Today to follow the highest standards of journalistic ethics and serve the public with as much truth and transparency as possible. We respectfully ask you to refrain from publishing further columns authored by members of the American Council on Science and Health, or at the very least require that the individuals identify the organization accurately as a corporate-funded advocacy group.”

As of December 2017, USA Today editorial page editor Bill Sternberg has declined to stop publishing ACSH columns and the paper has repeatedly provided inaccurate or incomplete disclosures for the columns, and failed to notify its readers about ACSH’s funding from corporations whose agenda they promote.