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Will Big Tobacco consultant become U.S. consumer advocate?

charnley.jpgThe possibility that President Bush will appoint industry consultant Gail Charnley (see Annys Shin’s article in the WaPo) to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission isn’t playing so well among progressive bloggers. Brooks Schuelke on InjuryBoard.com writes, “The potential nomination does follow in the Administration’s footsteps of putting consumers last.”

And this from Sam Glover at Caveat Emptor: “One wonders whether someone who has devoted her career to advocating on behalf of toxic products like pesticides and tobacco should be leading a regulatory body charged with ensuring that the public is safe from such toxic chemicals in consumer products (like, oh, say, lead in children’s toys).”

When you put it that way, it does seem to raise some major concerns about Charnley’s background and how it will mesh in a position that is supposed to hold big business and industry accountable.

If this was a trial balloon by the Bush administration, they’re getting plenty of feedback from the blogosphere. Do you think they’ll listen? As Borat would say, Not!

David Michaels blogs about it at the Pump Handle in his post, “Stop Toying with the CPSC.” Michaels did some Google research about Charnley’s work representing a pro-coal group and uncovers what could be a conflict of interest that she never disclosed.

I hope I’m wrong, but my reading of more recent materials suggests that the failure to recognize conflict of interest is not limited to her work with pesticide manufacturers. In March 2006, Dr. Charnley published an article in WebMD’s Medscape entitled Assessing and Managing Methylmercury Risks Associated With Power Plant Mercury Emissions in the United States. Dr. Charnley is listed on the Medscape paper as affiliated with HealthRisk Strategies, her own consulting firm. The article contained the prominent conflict of interest disclosure statement:

Disclosure: Gail Charnley, PhD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

And it includes this note:

Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by a grant from the American Council on Science and Health, which had no control over its content.

However, my simple web search found that for the last two years, Dr. Charnley has been traveling around the country on behalf of the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED), a coal industry group fighting for looser environmental controls. Her work involved telling state officials in Idaho, Indiana, Georgia, and who knows where else, that mercury from power plants is simply not the problem environmentalists are making it out to be. In each state, she acknowledged she was there on behalf of CEED.

Dr. Charnley’s mission to Idaho occurred on March 2, 2006, a week before her Medscape paper was posted. It is possible, or course, that she had no financial relationship with coal producers and users until after she completed the paper, which was likely paid for by corporate funds, channeled through the American Council on Science and Health. But I’d like to see Medscape clarify the conflict of interest disclosure on that paper.