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Enviro Groups Denounce Government OK to Test Pesticides on Humans

February 20, 2004 by Reuters

Environmental Groups Decry Pesticide Report

by Maggie Fox

WASHINGTON - Environmental groups responded with dismay on Thursday to a report from a panel of government advisers that says it might be OK to test pesticides on people if the strictest care is taken.

The Natural Resources Defense Council called it an "appalling suggestion" while the Environmental Working Group said the chemical industry could not be trusted to follow government testing guidelines.

The advisory National Research Council panel said the government should accept tests using human subjects but cautioned there had better be a good reason and the strictest care must be taken to protect volunteers.

It recommended reversing a six-year-old Environmental Protection Agency moratorium on accepting human testing results.

"Human studies involving pesticides, air pollutants, or other toxicants -- as opposed to therapeutic agents -- are particularly controversial, and because of this, EPA should subject these studies to the highest level of scientific and ethical scrutiny," said James Childress, a professor of ethics and medical education at the University of Virginia, who helped chair the panel.

"Our report proposes a framework for EPA's oversight of this research. And the recommended framework should apply to studies that are sponsored by so-called 'third parties' -- private companies or other sources outside the agency -- as well as by EPA."

The controversy over human testing of toxic chemicals began in 1996 when Congress passed the Food Quality and Protection Act, which tightened safety standards on pesticides.

Some chemical manufacturers complained the new standards were based on the worst possible effects that chemicals could have on lab animals and said the best way to prove their products were safe was to start testing them on people.

PAID TO DRINK CHEMICALS

So some companies started paying volunteers to eat or drink pesticides and other chemicals.

Environmental groups complained and helped persuade the EPA in 1998 to reject findings based on such studies until the controversy could be settled.

EPA then asked the National Research Council, one of the independent, advisory National Academies of Science, to study the matter.

"Our report in 1998 shows that pesticide companies are more about profits than human health," Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook said in a statement.

"We cannot trust that the chemical industry will abide by voluntary ethical measures and not abuse loopholes in testing guidelines."

The Natural Resources Defense Council agreed.

"The academy report calls for the highest ethical and scientific standards, but undermines its own recommendations by making the appalling suggestion that it is OK to experiment with toxins on kids," said the council's Erik Olson.

"The report also shockingly says that federal agencies should accept the results of old, ethically questionable experiments with toxic chemicals on people unless there is 'clear and convincing evidence' that they were intended to hurt people or were otherwise absurdly unethical."

But CropLife America, which represents agricultural and chemical companies, welcomed the report.

"Our industry is ethically and legally bound to provide regulators the information they need to determine that products are safe as they set stringent guidelines for their proper use," it said in a statement.

"Our industry follows the safety procedures and directives established by Congress, EPA, the courts and international scientific organizations, such as the Common Rule, Declaration of Helsinki and Good Clinical Practice," it added.

"As the ... report identifies, it is in the public's interest to maintain the availability of products that protect public health by controlling disease-carrying pests, such as mosquitoes, ticks and cockroaches, and that ensure an abundant, affordable high-quality food supply."