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.
“People should never have been used as lab rats for testing pesticides,” said NRDC senior attorney Michael Wall. “Under today’s settlement, EPA will propose far stronger safeguards to prevent unethical and unscientific pesticide research on humans.”
In 2006, a coalition of health and environmental advocates and farmworker protection groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against EPA, claiming 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 and allows EPA to use such 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.
“EPA’s 2006 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. “Pesticide companies should not be allowed to take advantage of vulnerable populations by enticing people to serve as human laboratory rats.”
The coalition that challenged the regulation argued in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit the rule ignores scientific criteria proposed by the National Academy of Sciences, did not prohibit testing on pregnant women and children, and even violated the most basic elements of the Nuremberg Code, including fully informed consent. The Nuremberg Code, a set of standards governing medical experiments on humans, was put in place after World War II following criminal medical experiments performed by Nazi doctors.
“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.”
“We hope that improved regulations will result in greater protections for those who are most exposed to pesticides, particularly farmworkers and their families,” said Bruce Goldstein, Executive Director of Farmworker Justice.
Through the settlement announced today, 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.
The lawsuit was brought by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Migrant Clinicians Network, NRDC, Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United) and the San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility. Attorneys with NRDC, Earthjustice, and Farmworker Justice served as legal counsel for the coalition.