New developments cause authors to pull paper on drugs’ environmental impact

integrated envThe authors of an article about the effects of pharmaceutical drugs on the environment have retracted it before publishing the final version due to new developments in the field, which would have required a major revision.

The authors pulled the paper from Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management before it went through the final publication process – such as copyediting and proofreading – after they learned about new findings related to assessing to the risks of human exposures to pharmaceuticals in the environment.

We’d try to figure out which portions of the paper might need updating, but publisher Wiley recently pulled the original article and abstract, against the journal editor’s wishes.

Here’s the retraction note:

The article has been withdrawn by agreement between the authors, the journal Editor-in-Chief, the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. The authors initiated the withdrawal on their accord after consideration of regulatory analysis and conclusions appearing in the article, which the authors felt required substantial revision to incorporate new and important regulatory developments not addressed in the article.

The article, “Environmental risk assessment of human pharmaceuticals: Regulatory developments,” is not indexed by Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

The article was retracted before being published in its final form, IEAM editor-in-chief Richard Wenning told us:

The paper was submitted in February 2015, reviewed by outside experts, revised by the authors, and accepted for publication in July. As part of the normal work at our publisher, Wiley, the accepted paper was assigned a DOI number and posted to IEAM’s Accepted Articles portion of the website. The paper was retracted before publishing in its final form. At the time the paper was withdrawn, it had not been through the copyediting, typesetting, pagination or the proofreading process. IEAM had to issue a formal retraction notice, because the paper was assigned a DOI number.

Wenning said the authors requested the retraction in light of new information that required a “deeper analysis:”

The paper was withdrawn solely based on a request made in October by the authors. Noting that the risk analysis of human pharmaceuticals is a fast moving area of scientific study and regulatory development, the authors explained that during the time the paper was originally written and reviewed there had been several important developments in both risk assessment practices and the science surrounding human exposure to pharmaceutical substances in the environment.

The authors further explained their request was prompted by re-consideration of their responses to comments from the independent reviewers, who recommended consideration of science and regulatory issues not addressed in the original paper. The authors explained that, although the Senior Editor and reviewers found their responses to detailed comments adequate in the revised paper, new and much deeper analysis was, in fact, needed. The authors concluded, and the IEAM editorial board subsequently concurred, that the insufficient treatment of recent information diminished the value of their paper.

On this basis, the IEAM editorial board supported the authors’ request to withdraw the paper and make major modifications to the text and include information missing in the original manuscript.

The authors recently submitted a revised manuscript for review, Wenning said:

A revised manuscript was submitted to IEAM in late November and will be treated as a new submission. The paper will be assigned to a Senior Editor to guide the peer-review process, per IEAM’s normal procedures. The authors are aware that the revised manuscript will be treated as a new submission and subject to a new round of independent review.

We also asked Wenning why the original paper is no longer online. Wiley, IEAM’s publisher, recently pulled the article from their website, which Wenning said goes against the journal’s policy:

Our policy is to retain as accessible all papers posted to the journal web site, including a retraction. We are committed to full transparency. And yet for some (at present) unknown reason to me, our publisher Wiley recently either removed the original paper or broke the web link to the original paper on the journal web site. I am very, very annoyed with Wiley particularly because it hampers your inquiry and particularly because there was no reason to do anything except attach the retraction notice to the original paper…. nothing mysterious; no subterfuge; nothing for the editorial office or the authors to be fussed about with this matter.

We’ve contacted Wiley to ask why they pulled the paper, but have not yet heard back.

In all, the authors definitely did the right thing, according to Wenning:

My view as Editor-in-Chief is to applaud the authors for being proactive with their request to withdraw the paper.

The authors — Melanie Gross, Dean Leverett, Graham Merrington, and David Taylor — appear to work for WCA Environment, according to the U.K.-based chemical risk assessment consulting firm’s website. We reached out to the authors, WCA Environment, and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. We’ll update this post with anything else we learn.

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