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Government Concentrates

January 19, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 3

Nevada takes Yucca Mountain to court

Past regulators weigh in against peer review plan

Former regulators from previous Republican and Democratic Administrations are calling on the White House to scrap its August 2003 proposal to standardize peer review for documents, such as risk assessments, that support regulation (C&EN, Sept. 8, 2003, page 13). "We call on the Office of Management & Budget to withdraw the proposal and engage in a thorough, open discussion about the role of peer review in the regulatory context with the scientific, public health, environmental, and consumer communities," the 20 former regulators say in a Jan. 9 letter to the White House. Among the signatories are EPA administrators under Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, OSHA chiefs under George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, and the director of Clinton's White House Office of Science & Technology Policy.


Agencies differ on response to salmon contaminants

David O. Carpenter, professor of environmental health and toxicology at the State University of New York, Albany, and his coworkers recently reported in Science magazine that levels of polychlorinated biphenyls in farm-raised salmon are on average 10 times higher than levels in wild salmon (C&EN, Jan. 12, page 35). Concentrations of PCBs in farmed salmon varied between 20 and 50 ppb, while levels in most wild salmon were less than 5 ppb. However, FDA's and EPA's guidelines on what to do about PCBs in fish would suggest very different responses to these findings. EPA, which has guidelines for eating fish that are caught recreationally, says the levels of total PCBs in fish caught in the wild should never exceed 50 ppb, and it would allow no more than one meal per month of fish with PCB levels like those in the farmed salmon. In contrast, FDA regulations for commercial fish stipulate that fish with PCB levels exceeding 2,000 ppb should not be sold. Terry C. Troxell, director of FDA's Office of Plant & Dairy Foods & Beverages, says the contaminant levels found in farm-raised salmon do not represent a health concern and advises consumers not to change their consumption of farm-raised salmon.


USDA takes applications for new BSE tests

On Jan. 9, USDA announced that it will begin accepting license applications for rapid tests to identify mad cow disease--bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)--in cattle ( Currently, the agency uses only one BSE test, an immunohistochemistry assay, requiring about five days for results on a sample of bovine brain. In contrast, the European Union has approved five BSE tests, each of which takes only a few hours. USDA must soon begin to use a rapid test because it will not release meat from cattle being tested for BSE unless negative results are obtained [Fed. Reg., Jan. 12, page 1892]. On Jan. 12, USDA also finalized several rules pertaining to handling of beef and BSE protection. One rule prohibits the skull, brain, eyes, vertebral column, and spinal cord of cattle older than 30 months and small intestine of all cattle from entering the food supply. In a mad cow, these tissues are most likely to harbor abnormal infective prions. Another rule prohibits the use of air injection stunning of cattle to ensure that portions of the brain are not dislocated into the tissues of the carcass during slaughter.


Report looks at NSF's large research facilities

NSF needs to develop a road map to help it prioritize funding for large research facility projects, such as the National Ecological Observatory Network and the Terascale Computing Projects, says a National Academies report. Released on Jan. 14, the report, "Setting Priorities for Large Research Facility Projects," is a congressionally mandated study that makes several recommendations designed to strengthen NSF and National Science Board (NSB) management of this program, which accounts for about 4% of the agency's budget. The road map outlined in the report also serves as a base for the development of the annual budget request for the program. In addition, the report provides three levels of criteria for NSF to use to rank projects in the road map. The first involves evaluation of a project within a field at the NSF division level. The project would then be reviewed across related fields at the NSF directorate level before being assessed across all fields by NSB. NSF is expected to respond soon.



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