Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today filed a proposed rule to prevent nursing mothers from being used in tests using pesticides. Today’s action reflects growing pressures on EPA to tighten the ethical loopholes in the industry-sponsored drive to switch from reliance on animal to human testing, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
“The fact that EPA overlooked the dangers posed by exposing nursing mothers to pesticides does not inspire confidence in the agency’s public health perspective,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has been venting concerns raised by EPA’s own scientists about the agency’s human subjects testing plans and activities. “By this move, EPA gives backhanded acknowledgement that human experimentation puts its subjects at risk.”
In a Federal Register notice published today, EPA proposed to bar certain types of research in which nursing mothers are intentionally dosed with pesticides. The proposed rule, however, does not prohibit –
- Corporations using nursing mothers, pregnant women or infants in chemical experiments that do not involve pesticides;
- Women who are in their childbearing years and may soon be nursing from undergoing pesticide testing; and
- Payments to parents who claim that they would otherwise expose their own children to pesticides, as in the controversial but now cancelled CHEERS study in Florida in which parents were to be paid $970 and given a free camcorder if they regularly sprayed pesticides in the room primarily occupied by their infant (under age 3) children for two years.
The pesticide and chemical industries have been pushing hard for EPA to base its regulatory decisions upon human testing data, which cannot be collected on the same scale and using the high chemical concentrations that can be used on animals. In addition, the industry has explicitly lobbied for loopholes allowing use of children in tests, as rules require much greater protection for this vulnerable population absent compelling evidence that the protections are unneeded.
In January, EPA adopted a human testing rule that was hailed by the pesticide industry but decried by the public health community. Last month, 9,000 EPA scientists sent an extraordinary letter of protest objecting to pending agency approval of a cluster of powerful pesticides derived from nerve agents despite strong evidence of the harm posed, particularly to developing children and fetuses.
“Despite espousal of family values, the Bush administration is encouraging corporations to pay thousands of poor people both in this country and abroad to ingest commercial poisons and other chemicals in experiments that are designed to measure harm for financial rather than public health reasons,” added Ruch, noting that EPA has abolished its Office of Children’s Health Protection and transferred review of these issues to its pesticide staff. “Our Environmental Protection Agency appears to be more concerned with protecting industry than us.”
EPA’s proposed rule on nursing mothers remains open for public comment until July 24th.