JULY/AUGUST 1999 · VOLUME 20· NUMBER 7 & 8
NAMES IN THE NEWS
Rather than holding nuclear utilities accountable for violating these regulations, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has established an amnesty program that will last until March 30, 2001, the report found.
This amnesty means that the NRC holds utilities accountable only for the most egregious rule violations.
The study, "Amnesty Irrational," found that between October 1996 and May 1999, 102 of the country's 111 reactors were operated outside the safety parameters established in their licenses.
When a nuclear reactor is operated outside these safety parameters, it is called operating "outside design basis." During the three years analyzed, utilities operated their nuclear reactors outside design basis more than 500 times, the study found.
Utilities have failed to follow rules pertaining to such key safety systems as the emergency core cooling system and the electrical cables that control the nuclear reactor, the records revealed.
Additionally, in some instances, a single event could have prevented the functioning of safety systems needed to do such things as shut down the reactor, cool the radioactive fuel in the reactor's core and prevent the release of radiation into the environment.
"Safety has been compromised at nuclear reactors across the United States," says James Riccio, staff attorney for Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project. "In some cases, safety margins were significantly reduced, if not eliminated."
The group examined the current employment of former top pesticide regulators at the EPA and found that two-thirds of the highest ranking EPA officials since the pesticide program was established in 1977 now receive at least part of their paycheck from pesticide interests actively fighting EPA efforts to protect infants and children from pesticides.
Four out of six former assistant administrators for pesticides and toxic substances since 1977, and two out of four former directors of the Office of Pesticide Programs since 1983 are on the pesticide industry payroll.
The group also tracked down a dozen additional former EPA staffers who were important to the evaluation of pesticide safety. All 12 EPA staff moved to private sector careers fighting EPA actions to protect the public health or the environment.
According to the report, some even negotiated their new positions while involved in key pesticide regulatory decisions at the EPA.
Both Jim Lamb, former special to the EPA Administrator, and Rick Tinsworth, former deputy director of toxics, left the EPA and went directly to Jellinek, Schwartz & Connolly, the nation's premier pesticide industry consulting firm.
Five of the 12 former EPA staffers work for the consulting firm, which is headed by Steven Jellinek, former assistant administrator for pesticides and toxic substances during the Carter Administration.
Jellinek, Schwartz and Connolly's clients have included the pesticide giants Monsanto, Dow, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, Cheminova and FMC Corp.
According to an internal company document obtained by Public Citizen's Health Research Group, Pfizer launched a campaign to convince doctors to ignore Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations favoring the effective and inexpensive antibiotic amoxicillin (full course for a child $18.98, retail) over Pfizer's drug azithromycin (full course for child $34.69, retail).
The Pfizer document states the purpose of the campaign: "The focus is to counter the CDC guidelines."
At issue are CDC recommendations developed after consultation with a working group of national experts and published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal in January 1999. The CDC addressed treatment options at a time of increasing antibiotic resistance to the most important cause of ear infections. The CDC concluded that amoxicillin, the most commonly used and least expensive of antibiotics considered, remains the first choice for the treatment of uncomplicated ear infections.
"We have become aware of an apparent national campaign by Pfizer, the maker of the macrolide drug azithromycin (known as Zithromax) to counter the CDC guidelines, evidently by encouraging physicians and other primary caregivers of children to listen to inaccurate presentations by teleconference," Public Citizen's Dr. Sidney Wolfe wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. "Pfizer's financial motive to counter the CDC guidelines is as massive as it is obvious. Ear infections are responsible for about 25 million office visits in the United States -- more than for any other diagnosis in pediatrics."
-- Russell Mokhiber