January 14, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Review reverses fed pollution findings

Officials now say no conclusions can be drawn regarding effects of waterborne toxins.

Federal officials on Tuesday backed away from a controversial 2008 report that linked environmental pollution in the Great Lakes region to human health problems, saying its conclusions cannot be supported by research.

The draft report became public last year after being posted on an environmental Web site, and federal Centers for Disease Control officials quickly downplayed its findings, calling it an incomplete document that had not been properly vetted. Among the findings in the draft report were higher-than-normal incidences of infant mortality; low birth weight and premature births; and deaths from cancer, heart disease and strokes.

In conducting the study, researchers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry compiled health and pollution data from county, state and federal databases in 26 "areas of concern" in the United States. Thirteen of those are in Michigan, and all are around or near industrial sites or areas known to have had environmental contamination.

But after the draft findings were made public, officials with the Centers for Disease Control, which oversees the toxic substances agency, discounted them and promised a complete review. Some scientists were critical of the announcement Tuesday, saying the reversal on the report's findings has more to do with politics than science.

"It's a whitewash," said David O. Carpenter, a professor of environmental health and technology at the University of Albany in New York.

The 500-page report was made available late Tuesday.

You can reach Jim Lynch at (586) 468-0520 or jlynch@detnews.com">jlynch@detnews.com.