EPA Moves to Curb Pesticide Tests on Human Subjects

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed tight restrictions on using people as test subjects — or, as critics have put it, guinea pigs — in pesticide research.

Under pressure from the pesticides industry, the EPA in 2003 began lifting a moratorium on such testing involving humans. It allowed experiments in which people are intentionally dosed with pesticides to assess the chemicals’ toxicity and eventually set exposure standards. As The Village Voice reported that year, “healthy young men and women” were recruited through newspaper ads or on college campuses to serve as test subjects with “juicy compensation checks,” typically in the $300 to $1,000 range.

A critical 2005 report released by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Henry Waxman, both California Democrats, said that in the experiments “test subjects swallowed insecticide tablets, sat in chambers with pesticide vapors, had pesticides applied to their skin, had pesticides shot into their eyes and noses, and were even exposed in their homes for six months at a time.”

Public health and farmworker advocacy groups challenged the reinstatement of the experiments in a lawsuit, claiming that the action violated a law requiring strict ethical and scientific protections for pesticide testing on humans. As part of the settlement of that case last year, the EPA drafted its new proposal restricting the use of human subjects in all studies the agency reviews.

“With this new proposal, EPA has cut the incentive for pesticide manufacturers to conduct unethical, and often unscientific, human experiments,” Michael Wall, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a news release. “While it does not ban human testing outright, it sets the bar high enough that studies on people should not be an attractive option as evidence submitted to EPA.”

According to an account last year in Wired, the chemical industry has long argued that data from tests on humans provide a more accurate picture of chemical effects than animal studies. Critics say the research is worthless — with companies running tests on small, non-representative groups of people, such as healthy young men, to create a false impression of safety — and puts people at potentially grave physical risk.

The EPA is holding a 60-day period for public comment on the proposed rule.

A spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, the major industry trade group, said the organization is reviewing the proposal and expects to submit comments. No further detail was provided.

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One comment to “EPA Moves to Curb Pesticide Tests on Human Subjects”

  1. Truus van den Broeke

    It is outrageous that human beings are knowingly exposed to dangerous chemicals with potentially life-threatening effects on the health of the test subjects.

    All such testing must be banned and forbidden by law.

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