EPA slammed for failure to observe ethical safeguards

America's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has once again come under fire for encouraging pesticide companies to solicit human guinea pigs.

Campaign group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has called into question the EPA proposal that companies submit evidence from human exposure experiments when seeking to market new chemicals or broaden the application of existing ones.

The proposal follows the collapse of the agency's controversial CHEERS (Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study) programme (see related story), where it was accused or targeting poor families by offering free TVs and video equipment to those taking part and promoting participation at health centres primarily used by underprivileged families.

The new policy, which critics aim will open the floodgates for a deluge of experiments not bound by the usual ethical standards required by those applying for licences from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is currently being considered by Congress.

The House of Representatives has already passed a ban prohibiting the agency from accepting human pesticide dosing studies as evidence when other, albeit more costly, methods of determining a chemical's toxicity are available.

But opponents to the testing fear the ban could be kicked out by the Senate where a similar amendment is soon to be considered.

PEER and others fighting what they see as the EPA's drive for human dosing argue that there are alternatives readily available and the policy is purely a matter of economic convenience.

"The issue here is not the march of science but whether standards of basic decency will be applied to experiments conducted for commercial gain," said PEER's executive director Jeff Ruch.

"It is beyond ironic that EPA claims these studies are required to protect human health while tuning its back on the health risks posed to the troops of human guinea pigs it is creating."

By Sam Bond



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