(Beyond Pesticides, January 18, 2008) The second circuit federal appellate court on Thursday will hear a challenge to an EPA rule that allows people to be used as guinea pigs in tests of toxic pesticides. The lawsuit, NRDC V. EPA, was brought before the court by a coalition of environmental, farmworker and health groups in 2006. 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. At the time, the House Committee on Government Reform found “the actual experiments being considered by EPA are deeply flawed and rife with ethical violations.”
“Testing poisons on people is unethical and against the law,” said Shelley Davis, Beyond Pesticides board member and deputy director of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy and education center for migrant and seasonal farmworkers, based in Washington, D.C. “The EPA should stop accepting these industry funded tests.”
Previous human testing by industry produced serious ethical and scientific problems including one instance in which a company told participants they were eating vitamins, not toxic pesticides. In other instances citied in the lawsuit, researchers ignored the adverse health effects reported by the participants.
“The only people who get what they want out of these immoral tests are the chemical companies,” said Aaron Colangelo, a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior attorney representing the petitioners. “Their testing methods are questionable at best, the only purpose they serve is to weaken pesticide safety standards, and ultimately the people who grow and harvest our food suffer the consequences. This practice must end.”
In 2005, Congress passed a law strictly forbidding the use of pregnant women and minors in pesticide tests. A loophole in the new EPA rule will allow testing of pregnant women, infants and children. Low-income people and students are the most likely to participate in these dangerous experiments, for which they usually receive a few hundred dollars. However, participants injured in the studies are not guaranteed medical care outside of the testing period.
The groups contend the EPA rule violates international ethical standards enumerated in the 1947 Nuremburg Code by permitting the EPA to set safety standards based on tests conducted with only a handful of healthy people. In most tests, participants are not representative of the U.S. population, the test period is scientifically problematic, and group size is not large enough to detect potential harmful health effects.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of NRDC, Pesticide Action Network North America, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Physicians for Social Responsibility, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, Pineros y Campesinos del Noreste, and Migrant Clinicians Network. Attorneys for the petitioners are NRDC, Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice.
Human testing, which was stopped by a moratorium in 1998, was reintroduced in 2003 by a court ruling on a pesticide industry suit. Following the reintroduction of human studies, EPA began to develop a rule for such testing. This came despite flaws found in such studies, and took into account industry pressure to approve testing in children, among other allowances.EPA released its final rule in 2006, despite the Congressional report decrying human testing in 2005. At the time, committee member Rep. Henry Waxman stated, “What we’ve found is that the human pesticide experiments that the Bush Administration intends to use to set federal pesticide policies are rife with ethical and scientific defects.”Beyond Pesticides rejects human testing as unethical and dangerous to both test participants and agricultural workers exposed to toxic, approved pesticides. For more information on the timeline of human testing regulation, click here. For more information on the lawsuit, view the Petitioners’ brief and Reply brief.