Scientists criticise testing of pollutant on people

Scientists have criticised as unethical an experiment sponsored by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin in California to investigate the effects of a chemical component of rocket fuel on 100 human guinea pigs.

The experiment, which is being conducted by the Medical Centre at Loma Linda University, involves the volunteers – who have each been paid $1,000 – swallowing pills containing the industrial pollutant, perchlorate, every morning for six months. The research is designed to see whether perchlorate pollution is harmful to human health, and the results are intended for the development of data that could influence the setting of national and state drinking water standards, it is reported in the Los Angeles Times.

“As an endocrinologist, this is of interest to me because clearly we don’t know what the effects of the contaminant are on thyroid function,” Dr Anthony Firek, Director of the Loma Linda University study, is reported as saying in the Los Angeles Times. “I hope this [research] will help define the risks.”

The research has raised ethical questions about whether scientists should conduct experiments by requiring volunteers to ingest chemicals or pesticides in order to understand the environmental effects of pollutants. Although the US Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisory board supported such human testing as long as it was carried out with the “greatest degree of caution”, two of the panel members urged the Agency to refuse to consider all human tests. Such experiments, they said, were dangerous and not sufficient to judge the safety of pollutants, especially on children.

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