San Francisco, CA
A new Environmental Protection Agency rule will turn more Americans into lab rats for industry pesticide tests according to lawsuits filed today by a coalition of health and environmental advocates, farmworkers and doctors. The groups contend that the agency’s human testing rule violates a law passed by Congress in 2005 mandating strict ethical and scientific protections for pesticide testing on humans.
“EPA’s rule allows pesticide companies to use intentional tests on humans to justify weaker restrictions on pesticides,” said Dr. Margaret Reeves, a senior staff scientist with Pesticide Action Network.
Although the rule prohibits some kinds of testing and limits others, it is riddled with loopholes that undermine its effectiveness and ultimately encourage more human testing, the coalition groups said. The rule also fails to ensure that pesticide testing on human subjects meets the strictest scientific and ethical standards recommended by a 2004 National Academy of Sciences report and outlined in the Nuremberg Code after World War II.
The chemical industry concedes that its goal is to weaken safety standards by circumventing the margin of safety the EPA uses to estimate a safe human exposure level based on animal studies. As a result of the agency’s illegal rule, the EPA will rely on unethical and unscientific human pesticide tests to weaken regulatory standards, the groups charge.
There have been serious ethical and scientific problems with such tests in the past. For example, a company told participants in one test they were eating vitamins, not toxic pesticides. In many other tests, companies have not provided any long-term follow-up to protect participants’ health.
The Clinton administration banned the EPA from relying on the results of such tests because of their questionable scientific and ethical integrity. The Bush administration at first ratified the Clinton-era moratorium, but then lifted the ban. Congress reimposed it in 2005, pending finalization of stricter rules.
“The EPA’s rule puts pesticide companies’ profits ahead of human health and scientific integrity,” said Dr. Robert Gould, a pathologist and president of San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Pesticide companies should not be allowed to take advantage of vulnerable populations by enticing people to serve as human laboratory rats.”
Erik Olson, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, agreed. “The industry’s human pesticide tests are unscientific and unethical,” Olson said. “Their record of abuse is appalling, yet the EPA disregards Congress’ order to crack down on this abhorrent practice.”
“Unethical testing of pesticides on humans is wrong and has to be stopped,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the groups in the lawsuit. “EPA’s rule ignores Congress and allows unethical human tests to be used to weaken pesticide regulations.”
The lawsuits were filed simultaneously in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The groups filing lawsuits today include Pesticide Action Network North America, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United), San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Natural Resources Defense Council. They are represented by attorneys with Earthjustice and NRDC.