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The Henhouse May Be Empty

June 3, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 22

May 20, page 6: A story about the safety of academic labs incorrectly stated that since the Texas Tech University incident in January 2010, 65 accidents have occurred at academic and government chemical research labs. The 65 accidents have occurred at academic, government, and chemical industry research labs.

I have followed with interest the debate about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board (C&EN Online Latest News, April 16). I served for more than a decade as SAB director in the 1990s, and it’s disturbing to see how political winds have buffeted the board.

In the past, environmental groups led the charge concerning alleged “conflicts of interest” by SAB participants. Now, industry is trying to put its thumb on the scales of SAB deliberations to further slow the pace of those deliberations. There appears to be too much emphasis on impaneling the “right” people and too little emphasis on getting the science right.

In the process of this struggle, SAB’s reputation is tarnished and its independence diminished. This makes service on the board less attractive to people whose knowledge, opinions, and insights are most needed to address complex environmental issues.

SAB should be left alone to do the job in the open and transparent way that Congress originally intended. If not, the foxes—of whatever stripe—may be guarding an empty henhouse.

Donald G. Barnes
Guangzhou, Guangdong, China


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