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EPA Staffers Protest EPA Children Study
(Beyond Pesticides, November 3, 2004)
The recent announcement of a new EPA study in Florida to assess children’s exposure levels to pesticide use inside the home has caused an outbreak of internal protests and emails among EPA staffers, according to last Saturday’s Washington Post.

According to emails obtained from the Post, EPA staffers in Georgia and Colorado have shown deep concern.

“Suzanne Wuerthele, the EPA's regional toxicologist in Denver, wrote her colleagues on Wednesday that after reviewing the project's design, she feared poor families would not understand the dangers associated with pesticide exposure.

‘It is important that EPA behaves ethically, consistently, and in a way that engenders public health. Unless these issues are resolved, it is likely that all three goals will be compromised, and the agency's reputation will suffer,’ she wrote in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post. ‘EPA researchers will not tell participants that using pesticides always entails some risk, and not using pesticides will reduce that risk to zero.’

Troy Pierce, a life scientist in the EPA's Atlanta-based pesticides section, wrote in a separate e-mail: ‘This does sound like it goes against everything we recommend at EPA concerning use of [pesticides] related to children. Paying families in Florida to have their homes routinely treated with pesticides is very sad when we at EPA know that [pesticide management] should always be used to protect children.’”

Linda S. Sheldon, acting administrator for the human exposure and atmospheric sciences division of the EPA's Office of Research and Development, defended the study design and $970 paid to participants by citing the need for exposure data the agency lacks to make risk assessments. Sheldon also argued that considering the extent of tracking and monitoring required of the adult participants, "Nobody can go into this study just for that amount of money," Sheldon said.

The $9 million study will survey 60 infants and toddlers for pesticide and chemical exposure over two years in Duval County, Florida. Under criticism is the payment of $970 and a free video camcorder for participants, the requirement that participants routinely spray or have pesticides sprayed inside their homes, and the involvement of the American Chemistry Council who contributed $2.1 million to the study (see Daily News article). Studies have already shown that children are most vulnerable to pesticides within the first and second year of life, especially for asthma development, and that children living in households where pesticides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer and soft tissue sarcoma.

According to the Post, “Several EPA officials, all of whom asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, also questioned why the agency removed the study design and its recruitment flier from the EPA's Web site once some scientists started to complain about the project. Sheldon said the agency is rewriting how it portrays the research. ‘We removed it so we could modify it, so it would make more sense,’ she said.”

The reality of the matter is that the entire EPA pesticide regulatory system relies almost exclusively on scientific studies generated and paid for by the chemical industiry - a system clearly riddled with inherent conflicts of interest. The central question, according to Beyond Pesticides, that people should be asking is "How is it that, without any label warning or disclosure, tens of thousands of toxic chemical products are now on the market without the most basic underlying science necessary to determine the protection of children from being poisoned?"

TAKE ACTION: Want to do something? Write U.S.EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt and EPA Deputy Administrator Stephen Johnson and voice your opinion.