Environmentalists are accusing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of buckling to industry pressure to relax standards governing the testing of human health responses to pesticide exposure. The agency’s new rules—advertised to “categorically” protect children and pregnant women from pesticide testing—reportedly allow for several troubling exceptions, including sanctioning the use of “abused and neglected” kids as test subjects and allowing for “ethically deficient” human research if it is considered crucial to “protect public health.”
This most recent version of the pesticide testing rules constitute a revision of an earlier proposal shot down by scientists, environmentalists and members of Congress for condoning and utilizing data from studies in which human subjects were unaware of the potential dangers of exposure to test chemicals and were not told why the tests were being conducted.
“This is ethically abhorrent, and the way EPA described this rule is clearly misleading,” said Aaron Colangelo, a senior staff lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “In fact, the rule expressly approves intentional chemical tests against these [at-risk groups] in several circumstances.”
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, had voiced concern about the previous version of the rules, and spoke out again this time around as well: “The EPA-proposed rule on human testing has several large loopholes that undermine the very purpose of the rule. No wonder the pesticide companies are saying such nice things about it.”
For its part, the EPA has responded in writing to the accusations by claiming that its new rules aim to single out “abused and neglected children” for special protection, not the other way around, and that pregnant women and children will continue to be fully protected from all pesticide testing. That said, in the least, the agency still has a lot of explaining to do regarding the discrepancies between its rules and its prepared statements.