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EPA Agrees To Tighten Pesticide Testing On People

Pesticide experiments using people as test subjects will have stricter federal rules to follow under a new agreement reached today between the Environmental Protection Agency and public health groups, farm worker advocates and environmental organizations.

In 2006, Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the EPA on behalf of a coalition of health and environmental advocates and farmworker protection groups, claiming that EPA's recent rule violated a law Congress passed in 2005 requiring strict ethical and scientific protections for pesticide testing on humans. EPA's 2006 rule lifted a ban on human testing put in place by Congress.

EPA's 2006 rule allows experiments in which people are intentionally dosed with pesticides to assess the chemicals' toxicity so that EPA can use these experiment to set allowable exposure standards. In such experiments, people have been paid to eat or drink pesticides, to enter pesticide vapor "chambers," and to have pesticides sprayed into their eyes or rubbed onto their skin. The pesticide industry has used such experiments to argue for weaker regulation of harmful chemicals.

"Unethical testing of pesticides on humans is wrong and has to be stopped," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice involved in the case. "EPA made the right decision to improve its rules to prevent the ethical abuses and unscientific experiments used in the past to justify weaker regulation."

The EPA has agreed to propose a new rule that would significantly strengthen scientific and ethical protections for tests of pesticides on humans. Under this agreement, a proposed rule must be issued for public comment by January 2011. The settlement still requires court action to become effective.