Ending Human Pesticide Experiments

Until now, pesticide experiments on humans have been allowed, including experiments that sound not unlike legalized torture. On January 21, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed major restrictions on what it would allow in safety data from chemical companies that relied on human experiments. The existing rule, established in 2006, allows “parents or other authority figures to allow pesticide testing on their children in some circumstances.” And it allowed chemical companies to douse willing participants with pesticides—swallowed in pill form, inhaled in chambers or sprayed into eyes. The new rules would forbid such experiments on children and make it nearly impossible for companies to submit such studies—deemed unethical, and possibly in violation of the Nuremberg Code—as safety evidence.

Now in public comment phase, the changes have come as a result of a 2010 court settlement between the EPA and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other public health and farmworker advocacy groups.

As terrible as pesticide-dousing sounds, there was some purported purpose to the experiments: to reveal adverse side effects that animal testing couldn’t. But the tests themselves were so torturous and the results so scientifically unsound that such benefit claims couldn’t be supported. An article in Wired magazine from 2007 detailed some of the more shocking examples: participants placed in a chamber filled with tear gas well beyond the federal exposure limit, or led to swallow pesticide-containing capsules.

“Some of the worst scientific reports I have read are these industry-funded pesticide studies where no more than a handful of adults are dosed with a toxic pesticide, and then the companies try to argue away complaints of headaches, nausea, and even vomiting,” said NRDC Senior Scientist Jennifer Sass in a related press release. “In one experiment, the people tested were even told that the chemical was a medicine instead of a pesticide.”