Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is suspending a controversial study to measure pesticide exposure in babies, from birth to age 3, who have pesticides sprayed in their homes. Citing "recent news articles [that] have mischaracterized the study," EPA announced a further review that "will ultimately enable us to be more protective of children's health," according to memos released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In a memo dated Monday, November 8th and distributed to EPA employees, William McFarland, the Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science, wrote that EPA would subject the study to further review that "may refine the study design" but that the study would proceed in the spring.
EPA is paying families in Jacksonville, Florida (Duval County) who "spray or have pesticides sprayed inside your home routinely" to study the resulting chemical exposure in their infant children. The study, called the Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study or CHEERS, pays participating families $970 for participating throughout the entire two-year study period. Families who complete the study also get to keep the camcorder they are provided to record their babies' behavior. In addition, families are given bibs, t-shirts and other promotional items. The families are recruited from public clinics and hospitals. EPA selects infants based upon pesticide residue levels detected in "a surface wipe sample in the primary room where the child spends time."
"EPA seems to think that the problem with this study is one of public relations, not morality," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is working with agency scientists who are questioning the ethics of the study. "Regardless of the number of reviews, paying poor parents to dose their babies with commercial poisons to measure their exposure is just plain wrong."
Conducted with funding from the American Chemistry Council, which represents 135 companies including pesticide manufacturers, the study looks at 60 infants and toddlers. EPA claims that the study had already undergone independent reviews and complies with human subject safety standards, but agency scientists note that –
- Exposure of infants to potentially harmful chemicals without some countervailing medical benefit can never meet the ethical standards that EPA claims to meet;
- The reviews cited by EPA include that of Battelle, which is the primary contractor for the study and would hardly be independent. These reviews also have not been posted by EPA so that the scope of the reviews is unknown; and
- In earlier press releases, EPA claimed review and participation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) but in its latest statements, CDC is no longer referenced.
Pesticide companies want data on actual infant exposure levels to persuade EPA to drop its rules requiring that pesticide exposures to small children must be ten times more protective than adults. According to published reports, the Bush Administration will soon announce their repeal of the Clinton-era rules against testing pesticides on humans. EPA wants to use CHEERS as the opening for a new policy on accepting testing on humans to determine pesticide toxicity.
EPA scientists are also expressing concern that corporations are now influencing EPA research through direct financial contributions. The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which contributed $2 million to CHEERS, successfully lobbied to include exposure to flame retardants and other household chemicals in the study. EPA now has 80 similar research agreements with industry, including three with ACC.
"EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt is claiming an election mandate for the administration's environmental policies, but I don't remember President Bush campaigning for human experimentation on toddlers," Ruch added.