To the editors:

As someone who directed the Laboratories of Environmental Toxicology and Carcinogenesis at the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation (now known as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute), and was a research associate in Pathology at the Harvard School of Public Health from 1960-1970, I am appalled at the controversy surrounding the investigation of Professor Chester Douglass (“HMS Defends Review of Dental School Prof,” news, Sept. 19).

First of all, it surprises me that someone from the School of Dental Medicine was put in charge of such a sensitive research issue as the possible connection between water fluoridation and bone cancer. Douglass already had a history of promoting fluoridation and had strong financial ties to Colgate. The issue is actually a medical one, not a dental one. When Douglass’ student Elise Bassin found a “robust” relationship between osteosarcoma and young boys’ exposure to fluoridated water, it was a finding of monumental importance. If, as charged by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Douglass concealed these findings from the public and the National Institutes of Health funders of the research for over three years, such behavior is reprehensible. It is therefore baffling that Harvard has exonerated Douglass of all charges without providing any explanation as to why the EWG’s well-documented evidence against him should now be ignored.

You report that Harvard claims that the “U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Research Integrity oversaw Harvard’s review of Douglass and determined that no further investigation would be necessary.” If so, why can’t the public that ultimately funded the Bassin and Douglass research be provided with a cogent explanation of what convinced the investigators that Douglass behaved properly? How did the investigators explain Douglass’ written statement to a National Research Council committee saying that his work revealed “an Odds Ratio of 1.2 to 1.4 between fluoride and osteosarcoma that was not significantly different from 1” when his own student, in her PhD dissertation approved by Douglass, had found a “robust” five to seven fold increase in osteosarcoma rates in young boys exposed to fluoridated water.

I do not believe that the Harvard inquiry has clarified this matter at all, either in Harvard’s official Aug. 15 statement or the letter from Dr. Margaret Dale sent out Sept. 7.

Whether or not investigators were somehow influenced by Douglass’ million dollar contribution to the new Dental School building, will someone at Harvard please provide a detailed explanation as to why the investigators decided to exonerate Douglass before this matter sullies Harvard’s reputation completely? If this cannot be done, then I suggest that President Bok organize a totally independent second inquiry, with a panel drawn from scientists with no affiliation to either Harvard or the U.S. water fluoridation program.

Chicago, IL
September 19, 2006

(The writer is professor emeritus of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition.)