Unsealing Science: UCSF’s Chemical Industry Documents Library

Why would the University of California San Francisco host internal industry emails, scientific studies, and public relations campaigns in its Industry Documents Library (IDL)?  Because UCSF is dedicated to producing and using the best science to benefit the public’s health – and if science is manipulated or misrepresented, that can result in negative effects. Documents in the IDL reveal industry thinking, strategizing, and operations on matters central to public health. Providing public access to otherwise-unavailable corporate records enforces corporate transparency, enriches public discussion, and ultimately ensures that accurate data and science inform decisions on health.

The UCSF Industry Documents Library, a digital archive of nearly 15 million internal tobacco, drug, and chemical industry documents are used by scientists, community advocates, journalists, policymakers, attorneys, and others in their efforts to improve and protect public health. Its flagship Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library–founded in 2002 as the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library– has received more than 7 million visitors and has been instrumental in furthering tobacco control research and education for over a generation.  The research supported by the IDL has led to some of the most successful policy outcomes of the “tobacco wars,” by exposing, in their own words, what the tobacco industry knew about the health impacts of tobacco, when they knew it, and how industry covered up and distorted the available scientific evidence to enrich their deadly profits. The documents library underpins rigorous and scholarly research on influences and biases in science – which improves the basis of scientific findings and ultimately saves lives.

As of August 2018, more than 1,000 scholarly articles, news items, books, and other publications have been written using IDL documents as primary source material.  Tobacco industry documents have been used in:

  • Seminal books including The Cigarette Papers by Stanton Glantz and colleagues,  The Golden Holocaust by Robert Proctor and The Cigarette Century by Alan Brandt;
  • Playing with Fire, the Chicago Tribune’s expose on flame retardants;
  • The 2014 documentary Merchants of Doubt;
  • Submissions to the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) for the FDA’s recommendations on menthol; and
  • The Center for International Environmental Law’s website Smoke & Fumes, which combines oil industry and tobacco industry documents to reveal connections between them.

UCSF’s Industry Documents collections are the result of the discovery process in litigation, public records requests, and whistle-blowers.  The documents are donated by lawyers, non-profit organizations, and private individuals.  Once a collection is accepted by the IDL, each document is optical character recognition (OCR) scanned to maximize search-ability and enhance research ease. The Library tags each document with metadata descriptors such as authors, people mentioned, date written and acquired for each document, and document type (e.g., deposition, email, memo), allowing researchers and users to access the documents and cross-reference them easily with the public record and other databases. Researchers are able to search within one industry archive, or across all industry archives at once, facilitating evaluation of connections and threads of research.

Housing these documents at UCSF provides a protected but public archive for the documents.  Industries known for subverting science and manipulating public knowledge are unable to tamper with documents that once fully evaluated and contextualized may be acted upon to promote public safety.  The UCSF Library also creates a portal where researchers can search for and access the documents most relevant for their research, rather than having to rely on private companies and search engines that return sub-optimal results because they are not tailored for research purposes. Other users can easily build on previous research because the Library’s format makes citations reliable and accessible for future use. Curating the documents, highlighting documents new to the collection, collecting peer-reviewed research on the documents, and communicating to the public about the database further work to preserve the documents as a democratic commons and academic resource.

Three new collections are in the process of being added to the Chemical Industry Documents Library: the Benzene Collection; the Glyphosate and Agrochemical Collection; and the Poison Papers.  On September 13, 2018, the UCSF Environmental Health Initiative, in collaboration with the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment and the UCSF Industry Documents Library, will host two timely and important events, open to the public, on the science and stories contained within these documents. Donors of the collections will discuss what the documents mean for public health and the challenges they faced to make them available to the public.  While these collections are recently added and not yet fully explored by researchers, they promise to advance our understanding of the relationship between the chemical industry and public health much in the same way we learned about tobacco.  To register for the event, please click here.

The Chemical Industry Documents Library has been developed in partnership with UCSF’s Environmental Health Initiative with a grant from the Marisla Foundation and the generous support of Rachel’s Network.

AMC picAnnemarie Charlesworth, MA is the Associate Director of the Environmental Health Initiative (EHI) and Director of the Clinical Outreach and Translation team of the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE).  She brings over 15 years of program evaluation, design and implementation expertise to the EHI.
YogiYogi Hale Hendlin, PhD, is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, and works on the social and environmental determinants of health arising from industry-created epidemics.

Pollution and gene interactions may raise birth defect risks

About 1 in 33 babies are born with a birth defect. Spina bifida, a neural tube defect, which is one of the most common birth defects, affects about 4 in 10,000 – 1,500 babies are born with spina bifida each year in the U.S. Spina bifida occurs when the neural tube does not close completely during development and can have a significant effect on the physical and neurologic well-being of a child. Because of this, it is a leading cause of disability in children.

To help women have healthy pregnancies and babies, I investigate what causes birth defects like spina bifida. Evidence indicates multiple factors can increase the risk of spina bifida including the environment, genetics and nutrition. Spina bifida tends to run in families – after having one child with the condition or if one of the parents has the condition, there is a 4% chance that the next child will also be affected, suggesting that genes play a role. Studies also find that cigarette smoking, obesity and folic acid deficiency may make a woman more likely to have a baby with spina bifida, revealing the environment is also important. I am investigating how environmental exposures such as air pollution, in combination with additional factors like genes, may make a woman more likely to have a baby with a birth defect.

Since cigarette smoke and outdoor air pollution have similar components, it is possible that exposure to air pollution affects pregnant women the same way as cigarettes. Women are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution when they are pregnant because of the changes that occur to carry and develop the fetus.


Indeed, my previous research found a link between air pollution and spina bifida– women exposed to high levels of outdoor air pollution (the chemicals carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide) were at higher risk of having a baby with spina bifida. Next, I wondered how mom’s genetic makeup might affect this risk. My recent paper was one of the first to investigate this question—how the combination of a mother’s genetic differences and air pollution exposure during early pregnancy may contribute to her risk of having a baby with spina bifida. We found that genetic differences could increase the risk– women exposed to high levels of air pollution (especially particulate matter) during early pregnancy and who had certain genetic differences had a higher likelihood of having a baby with spina bifida. Some of the genetic differences involved how the body reacts to environmental chemicals—suggesting that some people are more susceptible to the toxic effects of air pollutants because their body processes chemicals differently. My research has also found that chemicals are not the only stressors that can increase risks. My previous study found that women who were exposed to high levels of air pollution and lived in neighborhoods with more poverty (a socio-economic stressor) were more likely to have a baby with spina bifida.

Although we are at the early stages of investigating gene-environment combinations and socioeconomic factors, it is clear that the causes of birth defects may involve multiple factors. It is also apparent that air pollution and other environmental stressors contribute to risks, and that certain people may be more susceptible to these exposures. I plan to expand our research on gene-environment combinations and focus on additional environmental exposures including drinking water contaminants and specific air pollutants that are produced from traffic and fires. My research shows that we need to consider multiple factors, including genetics, that can put women and their babies more at risk from exposure to air pollution when we develop interventions and policies to reduce risks to debilitating birth defects. Policies need to incorporate the most current science on susceptibility to limit harmful environmental exposures and protect women and children’s health.

PadulaAmy Padula, PhD, is an Assistant Professor with the Program for Reproductive Health and the Environment in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. Her doctorate is in Epidemiology from the University of California Berkeley and her postdoctoral training was at Stanford University.  Her research has been on the effects of ambient air pollution during pregnancy on adverse birth outcomes including preterm birth, low birth weight and birth defects. The projects have expanded to evaluate social factors, comorbidities during pregnancy and gene-environment interactions. Dr. Padula has an K99/R00 Transition to Independence Award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Science and las year was named one of the 20 Pioneers under 40 in Environmental Public Health by the Collaborative on Health and the Environment.
Dr. Padula’s co-authors on the papers referenced in the post above include: Gary Shaw, Wei Yang, Suzan Carmichael, Fred Lurmann, Ira Tager, Katharine Hammond and Kathleen Schulz.

Is the New Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Working as Congress Intended?

Our April 2018 legislative briefing “Is the New Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Working as Congress Intended?,” held in partnership with The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), was attended by 95 people including Congressional and agency staff, media and NGOs.

Leading experts shared concerns about EPA’s approach to the science in TSCA implementation- watch the video below. Also below are infographics, fact sheets and social media outreach materials that summarize processes under the new TSCA and where the most current scientific principles and data should be brought to bear— please feel free to use and share!

The briefing explored: EPA’s progress on TSCA implementation and important new mandates under the revised law; the latest science on assessing risks to vulnerable populations including pregnant women, workers, and communities of color; and the implications of current EPA proposals for public health.


Press Kit

View the Press Kit, which includes the Press Release, the Media Advisory and the announcement in addition to all materials listed below.


View references for the below infographics.

Pregnant Women + Chemicals Don’t Mix
Download the image or a printable copy.

Pregnant women and chemicals infographic







Toxic Tricks
Download the image or a printable copy.

Toxic Tricks Game









Social Media Resources

Why isn’t EPA protecting him?
Download the image.

TSCA child - April 2018





Why isn’t EPA protecting them?
Download the image.

TSCA children - April 2018

Why isn’t EPA protecting them?
Download the image.

TSCA pregnant mom - April 2018

Why isn’t EPA protecting workers?
Download the image.

TSCA worker - April 2018

EPA is underestimating the risks
Download the image.

TSCA 10 chemicals - April 2018

~30,000 lbs of industrial chemicals
Download the image.

TSCA 30k chemicals - April 2018

Toxic chemicals are contaminating people
Download the image.

TSCA chemicals contaminating - April 2018

Fact Sheets

How is EPA Handling PBT Chemicals under the New Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)?
Download a printable copy.

PBT Chemicals Fact Sheet - April 2018_Page_1








How is EPA Handling Existing Chemicals under the New Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)?
Download a printable copy.

Existing Chemicals Fact Sheet - April 2018_Page_1








How is EPA Handling New Chemicals under the New Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)?
Download a printable copy.

New Chemicals Fact Sheet - April 2018_Page_1

Program Summary

The legislative briefing, co-hosted by the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists covered: what the science says about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent chemical decisions and how they affect public health; how the EPA, led by Administrator Scott Pruitt, is implementing TSCA and why it faces legal challenges; and, loopholes industry has found and what they mean for you and the public.


Woodruff photoTracey J. Woodruff, PhD (moderator)University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, former EPA scientist and Professor and Director, one of the nation’s leading experts on chemicals, health effects and chemical policy, reviewed how the EPA’s recent chemical decisions fail to reflect what Congress intended when it reformed TSCA.

Gartner photo

Eve Gartner, JD, Earthjustice, attorney who has filed multiple lawsuits on TSCA to protect public health, explained how the EPA is violating the law and the loopholes industry has found.


Michaels photo - confirmedDavid Michaels, PhD, MPHGeorge Washington University School of Public Health, former Assistant Secretary of Labor who issued OSHA rules to protect workers from exposure to silica and beryllium, examined how TSCA affects workers and how the current administration is jeopardizing workplace health protections.

Harden photo

Monique Harden, JDDeep South Center for Environmental Justice, who provides research, legal and advocacy assistance to communities harmed by pollution, discussed the ways chemical regulations and TSCA implementation are failing children and families.


DeNicola photoNathaniel G. DeNicola, MD, MSHP, FACOGAmerican College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), reviewed the reasons why ACOG is getting involved in environmental policy and what the science says about the effects of chemical exposures on women’s health.

Supporting Organizations

Picture1 ACOG logo

What the Science Says: How EPA Matters to Children’s Health

Our April 2017 legislative briefing “What the Science Says: How EPA Matters to Children’s Health,” held in partnership with the Children’s Environmental Health Network, was attended by over 90 people including Congressional staff, EPA, media and NGOs. Leading scientists presented compelling data on how environmental protections affect children’s health. We developed the infographics and social media outreach materials below to summarize the science linking environmental health and children’s health — please feel free to use and share!

The briefing explored the latest science on how environmental protections (air, water, chemicals) affect children’s health; reviewed current policy proposals related to the EPA and what they mean for scientific research and children’s future health and development; and examined the benefits and costs of EPA regulations and programs that have been targeted for removal.


View references for the below Infographics here.

What the Science Says: EPA and Children’s Health
Save the image or download a printable copy.

What the Science Says: EPA and Toxic Chemicals
Save the image or download a printable copy.

What the Science Says: EPA and the Economy
Save the image or download a printable copy.

Social Media Resources

Save the image or download a printable copy.

Save the image or download a printable copy.

Save the image or download a printable copy.

Save the image or download a printable copy.

Featured Articles & Publications