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US EPA Accepts Unethical Human Pesticide Tests
A recent U.S. Congressional report reviewing pesticide studies submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised serious concerns about the intentional dosing of human subjects. The report finds that in each of the 22 studies reviewed, there were violations of ethical standards as set out by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Nuremberg Code and other professional medical and scientific guidelines.
The report was issued by Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Henry Waxman and provides details of several human testing studies accepted by the EPA that included testing of pesticides known to be hazardous to human health and that failed to provide adequate information in consent forms, dismissed some unfavorable results and/or failed to provide long term monitoring of health effects. Most of these studies were submitted by pesticide manufacturers and, in contrast with pharmaceutical tests, often posed serious risks without offering a potential health benefit to the human subject.
In one 2004 study at the University of California at San Diego, 127 young adults were exposed to the pesticide chloropicrin, a soil fumigant used in chemical warfare during World War I. Some study subjects were placed in a closed room filled with chloropicrin and others had the pesticide shot up their nose and into their eyes, some at levels many times the “permissible exposure” set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Several studies were used to determine human “no observed effect levels” or NOELs, a category of experiments that the NAS has called unethical unless “there is a reasonable certainty that participants will experience no adverse effects.” In a 1996 study of methyl isothiocyanate (MITC, the primary breakdown product of metam sodium) MITC was piped into special goggles worn by study subjects in order to determine what levels would cause eye irritation. In another test, subjects ingested a pill containing the pesticide aldicarb at a dose that can cause levels of an essential nervous system enzyme called cholinesterase to drop by as much as 70%.
A NAS report released in 2004 concluded that human pesticide tests could be defensible if they were being used to test pesticides that may prove to be less harmful to human health and the environment than existing pesticides on the market. None of the 22 studies examined in the Congressional report released last week fit this criterion, and many involved older pesticides known to be highly toxic.
In an effort to put an immediate halt to these unethical and unnecessary studies, a coalition of public interest groups headed by the Center for Health Environment and Justice is supporting an amendment to the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill that would place a one-year moratorium on human testing of pesticides. The amendment was introduced in the House by Representatives Hilda Solis (CA) and Timothy Bishop (NY) and will be carried in the Senate by Senators Barbara Boxer (CA) and Bill Nelson (FL) and will be heard on the Senate floor this week.
To sign a PANNA petition supporting the amendment against human testing:
To see the full report, visit: http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/story.asp?ID=869
Sources: Human Pesticide Experiments, June 2005, Prepared for Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Henry A. Waxman, U.S. Congress; “EPA Reviewing 24 Tests of Human Pesticide,” Washington Post, June 16, 2005; “ California lawmakers want stop to human pesticide testing,” San Diego Union Tribune , June 17, 2005.
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