Bush’s EPA Uses Kids as Guinea Pigs


Richard Moore


 EPA Plan to Study Pesticides' Effect on Kids Spurs Backlash Within Agency 
By Juliet Eilperin 
The Washington Post 

Sunday 31 October 2004 
Poor families may join just to get the perks, staff fears. 

Washington - An Environmental Protection Agency proposal to
study young children's exposure to pesticides has sparked a
flurry of internal agency protests, with several career
officials questioning whether the survey will harm vulnerable
infants and toddlers.

The EPA announced this month that it was beginning a two-year
investigation, partially funded by the American Chemical
Council, of how 60 children in Duval County, Fla., absorb
pesticides and other household chemicals. The chemical
industry funding initially prompted some environmentalists to
question whether the study would be biased, and some rank-
and-file agency scientists are now questioning whether the
plan will exploit financially strapped families.

In exchange for participating for two years in the Children's
Environmental Exposure Research Study, which involves infants
and children up to age 3, the EPA will give each family using
pesticides in their home $970, some children's clothing and a
camcorder that parents can keep.

EPA officials in states such as Georgia and Colorado sent
e-mail messages to each other last week suggesting the study
lacked safeguards to ensure that low-income families would not
be swayed into exposing their children to hazardous chemicals
in exchange for money and high-tech gadgetry. Pesticide
exposure has been linked to neurological problems, lung damage
and birth defects.

Suzanne Wuerthele, the EPA's regional toxicologist in Denver,
wrote to her colleagues on Wednesday that after reviewing the
project's design, she feared poor families would not
understand the dangers associated with pesticide exposure.

"It is important that EPA behaves ethically, consistently, and
in a way that engenders public health. Unless these issues are
resolved, it is likely that all three goals will be
compromised, and the agency's reputation will suffer," she
wrote in an e-mail obtained by the Washington Post. "EPA
researchers will not tell participants that using pesticides
always entails some risk, and not using pesticides will reduce
that risk to zero."

Troy Pierce, a life scientist in the EPA's Atlanta-based
pesticides section, wrote in a separate e-mail: "This does
sound like it 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."

Linda Sheldon, acting administrator for the human exposure and
atmospheric sciences division of the EPA's Office of Research
and Development, said the agency would educate families
participating in the study and inform them if their children's
urine showed risky levels of pesticides. She said it was
crucial for the agency to study small children, because so
little is known about how their bodies absorb harmful

"We are developing the scientific building blocks that will
allow us to protect children," Sheldon said, adding that the
study design was reviewed by five independent panels of
academics, officials of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, and representatives of the Duval County Health

Families can remain in the study, even if they stop using
pesticides, Sheldon said, as long as they were using them
before the experiment started. It was unlikely that any family
would volunteer for the study out of financial need, she
added, because researchers will require parents to invest time
in monitoring their children's activities and diet.

"Nobody can go into this study just for that amount of money,"
Sheldon said.

R. Alta Charo, a professor of bioethics at the University of
Wisconsin at Madison's law and medical schools who co-wrote a
National Academy of Sciences report last year on the use of
pesticides for research, said EPA officials were struggling
with how to balance the need to protect the individual child's
interests against the goal of pursuing a broader scientific
agenda. While she said the agency's approach was reasonable,
Charo said it does raise ethical questions.

"Where is the line between enticement and a godfather offer"
that impoverished families would find hard to refuse? Charo
said. "That is really troubling. We make these decisions over
and over in public policy. This is one of those moments."

Several EPA officials, all of whom asked not to be identified
for fear of retaliation, also questioned why the agency
removed the study design and its recruitment flyer from the
EPA's Web site once some scientists started to complain about
the project. Sheldon said the agency is rewriting how it
portrays the research.

"We removed it so we could modify it, so it would make more
sense," she said.

© : t r u t h o u t 2004 

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland

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