Plug pulled on child chemical study

The plug has been pulled on a controversial study that paid parents to expose their infant children to potentially harmful chemicals, although other human pesticide dosing studies will go on.

Following a series of complaints that lead to an investigation and reassessment (see related story), the Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study (CHEERS) has been withdrawn by Acting Administrator for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Stephen Johnson.

Mr Johnson said in a public statement explaining his decision: “EPA must conduct quality, credible research in an atmosphere absent of gross misrepresentation and controversy.”

The study was designed by EPA to “fill critical gaps in understanding how children may be exposed to pesticides and chemicals” by spraying these substances into the rooms of infant children under the age of three.

However, the exact same research could still be conducted with the help of private sponsors despite the decision to end the trials, according to organisation Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Moreover, the American Chemistry Council has already pledged US $2 million to go towards the study’s overall US $9 million in order to resume and complete the tests, executive director of PEER Jeff Ruch said.

“The reason Stephen Johnson clung so stubbornly to this creepy CHEERS effort is that it served as the beacon to industry that EPA would welcome similar experiments,” Mr Ruch explained. “The pesticide industry wants to use human testing to trump animals studies so as to justify relaxed exposure limits, and Mr Johnson has become the sector’s ‘go-to guy’ at the agency.”

He added that, under the overall human dosing policy advocated by Johnson, EPA would have no protections for infants, neonates, pregnant women and prisoners. By contrast, all medical and drug testing overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services has these safeguards in place.

“EPA should adopt the basic safeguards required by common decency before they start using human dosing experiments,” Mr Ruch warned. “Cancelling CHEERS does not end the argument about the need for ethical standards in human testing – it merely opens up another round.”

Perks available to participants in the study included a branded t-shirt, a branded baby’s bib and a framed certificate of appreciation.

By Jane Kettle

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