Company Pays NIOSH Researchers to Challenge Pesticide-Parkinson's Link

"In an unusual scenario that raises questions of conflict of interest, a company that conducts research on behalf of the pesticide industry has paid a U.S. government agency to help prove some controversial chemicals are safe.

The company, Exponent Inc., based in Menlo Park, Calif., is known for its scientific research on behalf of corporate clients facing product liability concerns. In this case, Exponent is trying to refute research showing that even a small amount of combined exposure to two agricultural chemicals, maneb, a fungicide, and paraquat, an herbicide, can raise the risk of Parkinson's disease, a progressive disorder of the central nervous system.

Exponent is listed as a member of CropLife America, the trade group that represents pesticide manufacturers, and also has worked regularly for Syngenta, which makes paraquat.

The federal agency involved in this instance is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal ethics rules generally prohibit government employees from accepting money from businesses related to their jobs, which helps ensure that government staffers remain unbiased and free of corporate entanglements. Although NIOSH has statutory authority to accept 'gifts,' it does not 'utilize' that authority to accept corporate donations for research, according to an agency spokeswoman.

Exponent was able to circumvent these restrictions, however, by donating $60,000 to the CDC Foundation, an independent, 501(c)(3) public charity. The foundation in turn passed the money along to NIOSH."

Sheila Kaplan reports for Investigative Reporting Workshop/Politics Daily February 11, 2011.