Feb. 27, 2006 – Several groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency over new rules for human pesticide testing. According to the groups, the month-old regulations are "riddled with loopholes" and will lead to even more tests on human subjects.
Human pesticide testing has been banned in the United States since 1998, but in recent years the EPA has looked into allowing companies to using the results of such studies on human subjects to determine if new chemicals are safe for the market. In proposing the new rules last year, the EPA touched off a small controversy when it was revealed that the standards allowed tests on orphaned, mentally handicapped and abused children.
Under the newly enacted regulations, pesticide tests conducted by the EPA with its direction or by "third parties" involving pregnant women and children are banned. In addition, the EPA has created an ethical review board to oversee human pesticide studies.
The rule does contain language permitting exceptions to the ban on child-testing. In an example provided by the Agency, the EPA noted: "If children were at risk from unsafe exposure to a substance, the Agency would be permitted to rely on otherwise unacceptable research to justify setting a more restrictive standard to protect them." It did not specify how such testing would aid the process of setting new standards.
It appears, too, that the EPA has not wholly rid the rule of provisions permitting tests on mentally or physically impaired children. According to the rule as published in the Federal Register, if the review board "determines that the capability of some or all of the children is so limited that they cannot reasonably be consulted or that the intervention or procedure involved in the observational research holds out a prospect of direct benefit that is important to the health or well-being of the children and is available only in the context of the research, the assent of the children is not a necessary condition for proceeding with the observational research."
The EPA also reserved for the board the power to permit tests on abused or neglected children without specifically seeking their consent.
But according to groups suing the EPA, even if the rules were much more restrictive, they set a dangerous precedent. The groups in include Pesticide Action Network North America, Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Natural Resources Defense Council.
"The EPA's rule puts pesticide companies' profits ahead of human health and scientific integrity," said Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility, in a group statement announcing the suits. "Pesticide companies should not be allowed to take advantage of vulnerable populations by enticing people to serve as human laboratory rats."
Organizations opposed to testing poisons on humans contend that government approval of such tests is a slippery and onerous path that opens the door to unethical and possibly deadly practices. Responding to a highly critical congressional report last June, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) â€“ a party to one of the two suits â€“ said, "no toxicity tests intentionally dosing humans with pesticides are ethical or scientifically legitimate." The NRDC also called for an end to EPA creation of new human testing rules.
Under the Clinton administration, the EPA was prohibited from using the results of pesticide tests performed on human subjects for determining the safety of products. After the Bush administration lifted that ban, Congress re-imposed it last year and ordered the EPA to impose stricter rules. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege the new EPA rules violate Congressâ€™s mandate.