Monday, June 04, 2001

Med school investigated over railroad workers

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — A railroad company's key defense against allegations that the solvents it once used caused brain damage to workers is under investigation by a federal watchdog agency.

        CSX Transportation Inc.'s assertion that there is no link between brain damage and the chemicals has been backed partially by a University of Michigan Medical School research study. The study, paid for in part by CSX, concluded other doctors falsely diagnosed dozens of railroad workers with a form of permanent brain damage called toxic encephalopathy.

        Lawsuits claiming brain damage from exposure to the solvent have been filed on behalf of hundreds of CSX workers.

        Critics of Dr. James Albers, a UM neurologist, allege he wrongly led a study that used railroad workers without their permission. The Office of Human Research Protections, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is investigating.

        A 10-month investigation by the Louisville Courier-Journal found more than 600 workers in 15 states had been diagnosed with brain damage following heavy exposure to chlorinated solvents used to clean locomotives.

        The company barred its use of chlorinated solvents out of 55-gallon drums in the mid-1980s and later phased them out entirely.

        Railroad workers' attorney Larry Lockwood Jr. said some of his clients “were incensed” to learn they were studied.

        “They were taken advantage of when they were down,” said Mr. Lockwood, who asked 22 of the railroaders from Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee to write the Office of Human Research Protections and demand the investigation.

        Dr. Albers did not return calls to the newspaper last week.

        However, he previously told the Courier-Journal his research team did nothing inappropriate.

        University of Michigan spokeswoman Kallie Michels said the medical center's Conflict of Interest Board reviewed the matter this spring and concluded all proper procedures had been followed.

        At issue is whether the information gathered by the UM medical team was appropriately used in the research project.

        Under rules for research by universities that accept federal money, studies cannot be done on people without their permission unless the researchers first obtain a legitimate waiver from a special panel within the university called an Institutional Review Board.

        The UM review board granted the waiver.


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