Conflict of Interest Concerns May Slow Fight Against Disease
Allegations of conflicts of interest against a Michigan company may slow a nationwide response to outbreaks of deadly Legionnaires' disease.
Ann Arbor-based nonprofit research company NSF International has been coordinating work to develop new plumbing standards to reduce the growth of legionella bacteria, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The company announced in April that one of its for-profit branches would be working with Massachusetts-based Homeyer Consulting Services to help health care facilities manage their water systems, meet the requirements and protect patients from waterborne illnesses.
More than 20 experts from private businesses, universities and the health care industry who are on scientific committee working to address the Legionnaires' disease water crisis have asked NSF to terminate the deal.
"Our participation in the development of" the standard "has been based on the explicit representations of NSF that it is an independent, not-for-profit NGO serving all stakeholders without commercial conflicts-of-interests," the letter said.
NSF President and CEO Kevan Lawlor said the deal isn't a conflict of interest. He said the deal is similar to other agreements that NSF, and other standard-setting firms, have had for years.
"We've done nothing wrong; there is no conflict of interest," he said. "There is no reason for us to back out of this agreement with Homeyer."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Mayo Clinic have withdrawn from the committee.
Legionnaires' disease is a pneumonia-like illness that can sometimes be deadly. The bacteria that causes the disease are often found in water if the temperature and chemical conditions are right.
The disease has been linked to a dozen deaths and sickened almost 80 people in Flint, Michigan, during a two-year period. Thirteen people have died at a state-run veterans' home in Quincy, Illinois, since 2015, with more than four dozen others made ill.