EPA to Forgo Pesticide Testing on Humans
New Standards Bar Unethical Scientific Research-
Human experiments involving pesticides will have more stringent federal rules to observe under a new negotiation between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and public health groups, farm worker advocates and environmental organizations. “People should never have been used as lab rats for testing pesticides,” said Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior attorney Michael Wall. “Under today’s settlement, EPA will propose far stronger safeguards to prevent unethical and unscientific pesticide research on humans.” In 2006, a group of health and environmental advocates and farmworker protection organizations led by the NRDC filed a lawsuit against the EPA, claiming that their recent rule infringed upon a regulation congress passed in 2005 requiring stringent ethical and scientific protections for pesticide testing on humans. EPA’s 2006 rule lifted a restriction on human testing put in place by Congress. This 2006 rule allows experiments in which people are deliberately administered pesticides to determine the chemicals’ toxicity and allows the EPA to use such testing to establish acceptable exposure standards. Under such experiments, individuals have been paid to eat or drink pesticides, to enter pesticide vapor “chambers”, and to have pesticides sprayed into their eyes or rubbed onto their skin.
The pesticide industry has used such experiments to argue for weaker regulation of harmful chemicals. “EPA’s 2006 rule allows pesticide companies to use intentional tests on humans to justify weaker restrictions on pesticides,” said Dr. Margaret Reeves, a senior staff scientist with Pesticide Action Network. “Pesticide companies should not be allowed to take advantage of vulnerable populations by enticing people to serve as human laboratory rats.” The group of advocates who challenged the regulation argued in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit the rule blatantly neglects scientific standards recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, did not prohibit testing on pregnant women and children, and even violated the most basic elements of the Nuremberg Code, including fully informed consent. The Nuremberg Code – a set of standards governing medical experiments on humans – was established after World War II following criminal medical experiments performed by Nazi doctors. “Unethical testing of pesticides on humans is wrong and has to be stopped,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice involved in the case. “EPA made the right decision to improve its rules to prevent the ethical abuses and unscientific experiments used in the past to justify weaker regulation.” Through the settlement announced last Tuesday, the EPA said it would present a new rule which would considerably support scientific and ethical protections for tests of pesticides on humans. Under this agreement, a proposed rule must be issued for public comment by January 2011. The settlement still needs court action to become effective. The lawsuit was introduced by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Migrant Clinicians Network, NRDC, Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United) and the San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility. Attorneys with NRDC, Earthjustice, and Farmworker Justice served as legal counsel for the group.