Nov. 12, 2004 – The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it has suspended a study looking into the effects that pesticides have on children, after top EPA scientists questioned the ethics and safety of the research itself. The $9 million federal study, partially funded by an alliance of chemical companies, would pay low-income families almost $1000, plus electronics and clothes, to maintain current pesticide use in their homes for two years.
The Childrenâ€™s Environmental Exposure Research Study (CHEERS) targeted families in Duval County, Florida and was to study the effects on small children of using chemicals and pesticides in the home. In addition to the one-time $970 payment, the EPA was offering incentives such as a free camcorder, VCR, t-shirts, bibs, and a framed certificate of appreciation. While the EPAâ€™s website said it would not ask families to apply pesticides in their home to be part of the study, it does require that parents "maintain [their] normal pesticide or non-pesticide use patterns for [their] household." The EPA would then monitor changes in development of children in the house.
Several EPA scientists expressed outrage about the study, saying it unfairly targets low-income families, attempting to lure them into an agreement with high-tech gadgets when they may not fully understand the health consequences for their children. In an email obtained by the Washington Post, Troy Pierce, an EPA life scientist in Atlanta, said the study "goes against everything we recommend at EPA concerning use of [pesticides] related to children. Paying families in Florida to have their homes routinely treated with pesticides is very sad when we at EPA know that [pesticide management] should always be used to protect children."
Critics and doctors say household cleaners and pesticides are linked to neurological damage in children and they criticize the EPA for stating on its CHEERS web site that the study will not cause risks to children or parents.
Environmentalists have also criticized the CHEERS study. Dereth Glance is program coordinator for Citizenâ€™s Campaign for the Environment, a nonprofit organization focusing on issues surrounding public health and the environment. In a press statement, Glance said the EPA solicited participants from hospitals and clinics in Jacksonville, Florida that serve primarily low-income families and people of color.
In its documentation on the study, however, the EPA says that it is finding potential participates through a variety of methods, including private doctorâ€™s offices, daycares and word of mouth. The agency adamantly denied targeting low-income families.
Maria Lawson, spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, which provided $2 million toward funding the $9 million EPA study, told the Post that the group "continues to strongly support the study because of the great importance of increasing understanding of the exposures of young children to pesticides and other chemicals they naturally encounter in their daily lives."
Linda S. Sheldon, an EPA spokesperson, told the Post that the study was important because there is so little information about how small children absorb harmful chemicals. She also said the studyâ€™s design had been reviewed by independent scientists, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well officials at the Duval County Health Department.
Since the study was suspended this week, the EPA announced it will reexamine its design and submit it for review to a panel of independent experts. An assessment is expected next spring.