EPA pesticide baby study to undergo internal ethical review

WASHINGTON, DC, November 10, 2004 (ENS): The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is delaying a controversial study to measure pesticide exposure in babies, from birth to age three, who have pesticides sprayed in their homes.

EPA is paying families in Jacksonville, Florida who “spray or have pesticides sprayed inside your home routinely” to study the resulting chemical exposure in their infant children.

In a memo dated Monday and distributed to EPA employees, William McFarland, the acting deputy assistant administrator for science, wrote that the agency would subject the study to further review that “may refine the study design” but that the study would proceed in the spring.

The EPA is sending the study design for review by an expert panel made up of members of the EPA Science Advisory Board, the EPA Science Advisory Panel and the EPA Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee. It is anticipated that this review will be completed, and that a report will be forwarded to EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt, in the spring of 2005.

The study has already been reviewed on ethical grounds and approved by three Institutional Review Boards for the Protection of Human Subjects - the University of Florida in May, Battelle Memorial Institute in August, and the University of North Carolina in September. "These boards include outside, independent experts in the fields of medicine, ethics and community advocacy," McFarland said in the memo. A fourth decision by the Florida Department of Health is pending.

Critics of the study point out that Battelle is the primary contractor for the study and therefore could not be independent in its assessment.

The study, called the Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study (CHEERS), pays participating families $970 for participating throughout the two year study period. Families who complete the study get to keep the camcorder they are provided to record their babies’ behavior, plus bibs, t-shirts and other promotional items.

The families are recruited from public clinics and hospitals. EPA selects infants based upon pesticide residue levels detected in “a surface wipe sample in the primary room where the child spends time.”

Citing “recent news articles" that have "mischaracterized the study,” McFarland said the further review “will ultimately enable us to be more protective of children’s health,” according to memo.

“EPA seems to think that the problem with this study is one of public relations, not morality,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), whose organization is working with agency scientists who are questioning the ethics of the study. “Regardless of the number of reviews, paying poor parents to dose their babies with commercial poisons to measure their exposure is just plain wrong.”

Conducted with funding from the American Chemistry Council, which represents 135 companies including pesticide manufacturers, the study looks at 60 infants and toddlers.

Pesticide companies want data on actual infant exposure levels to persuade the EPA to drop its rules requiring that pesticide exposures to small children must be ten times more protective than adults, Ruch says.

According to published reports, the Bush administration will soon announce the repeal of the Clinton-era rules against testing pesticides on humans. "EPA wants to use CHEERS as the opening for a new policy on accepting testing on humans to determine pesticide toxicity," says Ruch.

EPA scientists are also expressing concern that corporations are now influencing EPA research through direct financial contributions. The American Chemistry Council, which contributed $2 million to CHEERS, successfully lobbied to include exposure to flame retardants and other household chemicals in the study. The EPA now has 80 similar research agreements with industry, including three with the American Chemistry Council.


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