Alleged conflicts of interest in controversial EPA experiments - WNCN: News, Weather

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Alleged conflicts of interest in controversial EPA experiments

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The North Carolina Medical Board closed its investigation into the EPA doctors at the center of a case critics call "illegal human experimentation" in Chapel Hill.

The experiments came under fire last year when public health advocate Steve Milloy, with the American Tradition Institute, filed a lawsuit against the EPA alleging its physicians exposed at least 300 unhealthy patients to lethal toxins to see what would happen.

The allegations include piping concentrated, high levels of substances like fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and diesel exhaust into patients' lungs without the patients' knowledge.

The toxins used in the experiments are those that the EPA has repeatedly and publicly stated can cause cancer and lead to death.

The experiments began roughly six years ago and continue at EPA labs at UNC Chapel Hill's School of Medicine.

In June 2012, Milloy and Dr. John Dale Dunn filed a complaint with the North Carolina Medical Board, saying three University of North Carolina physicians violated the Hippocratic Oath by participating in the testing.

The EPA Office of the Inspector General is in the midst of a month-long investigation requested by Congress. Despite the continuing EPA investigation, the NCMB is closing its investigation.

WNCN obtained letters Thursday in which the Board said it would not take disciplinary action against the three doctors involved -- Dr. Wayne Cascio, Dr. Andrew Ghio and Dr. Martha-Sue Carraway.

The letters did not provide an explanation for the Board's, decision but said the complaint was "taken very seriously" and the decision was "reached after a fair and thorough evaluation."

"Apparently conducting fundamentally illegal human experiments, lying to the study subjects about the dangers of those experiments, and thereby committing assault and battery does not violate the N.C. Medical Practice Act according to the NC Medical Board," Milloy said. "I can only speculate as to what is going on and none of that speculation reflects well on the N.C. Medical Board."

Milloy points out that half of the members of the Board either graduated from or currently work at UNC Chapel Hill, including the Board president who graduated from UNC School of Medicine.

NCMB did not return phone calls or e-mails requesting an on-camera interview.

After WNCN went to the NCMB, the station received a statement late Thursday saying, "The Board is prohibited under North Carolina law from discussing or acknowledging complaints and investigations that do not result in public action."

Addressing allegations of conflicts of interest, NCMB said members are obligated under law to avoid such conflicts but "no reasonable person would conclude that an association as tenuous as attendance at, graduation from or employment with a particular university is sufficient to render a person impartial."

"I have documentary evidence that shows that these experiments are fundamentally illegal. The researchers flat out lied to the study subjects. There's no question about that," Milloy said.

In 2006, Landon Huffman was paid $12 per hour to participate in the trials while attending UNC-Chapel Hill. Huffman previously told WNCN that physicians did not make him aware of any dangers.

"They convinced me that what I was doing was harmless. That I was breathing air from outside," Huffman said in a September 2012 interview.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided WNCN the following statement:

"This type of study, strongly recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, minimizes any risks to the willing and informed participants. In fact, participants are exposed in two hours to approximately the same amount of PM2.5 that would be encountered on a smoggy day in a large urban city."

The EPA has filed a motion to dismiss the case, and a ruling on that is expected any day.

Charlotte Huffman

An award-winning journalist with an investigative edge, Charlotte has driven legislative change with reports on workplace safety concerns and contaminated groundwater. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

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