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Federal Panel Okays Limited Pesticide Tests on Humans

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, February 19, 2004

Group Warns Chemical Companies Will Abuse Loopholes

(WASHINGTON) — A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel today recommended limits on chemical industry testing of pesticides and toxic chemicals on human subjects. The experiments, which are conducted primarily by pesticide companies and their contractors, have raised profound ethical and scientific questions. The committee's report was commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to public outcry over a Bush administration attempt to lift a Clinton-era moratorium on the practice.

The NAS panel, however, did not recommend a complete ban on human experiments with pesticides and toxic chemicals.

"We are very concerned that the chemical industry will view the report as a green light to continue the highly unethical practice of dosing people with pesticides and industrial chemicals," said Richard Wiles, Senior Vice President of the Environmental Working Group (EWG). "We urge the EPA to continue the current moratorium on these studies. If the EPA begins to accept human experiments we expect to see companies taking advantage of any and all ambiguities in the guidelines and to continue performing unethical tests that will help keep unsafe chemicals in our food and water."

EWG galvanized the debate on human testing in 1998 with the report, "The English Patients," which chronicled chemical companies' tests on Scottish college students.

EWG president Ken Cook said, "Our report in 1998 shows that pesticide companies are more about profits than human health. We cannot trust that the chemical industry will abide by voluntary ethical measures and not abuse loopholes in testing guidelines. Rather, letting the fox guard the henhouse could spawn a grotesque industry of testing toxic chemicals on humans to maximize allowable exposures and profits."

The public outcry that resulted from EWG's 1998 report led the EPA to declare a moratorium on human testing until safety standards could be set. But before that could happen, the Bush EPA quietly overturned the moratorium in 2001 and then, in response to public pressure, reversed itself and requested the study completed today by the NAS scientists.

The panel's work focused on so-called third party human experiments, studies conducted not by the government, but by pesticide and chemicals companies or other industrial corporations with an interest in limiting liability from particular pollutants. These studies are currently conducted outside the controls applied to other human studies such as those needed to approve pharmaceuticals. In the absence of strict guidelines, these studies produced numerous abuses, including paying participants as much as $1,000 each, misrepresenting pesticides as drugs, and mischaracterization and selective submission of results so as to make pesticides appear safer than they are.

Testifying before the NAS panel in January 2003, Wiles observed that, "Right now, the federal government has strict protocols in place for the conduct of animal studies, but no standards to oversee third party studies using people. Before any pesticide company can let a college student 'volunteer' to drink a weed killer, at a minimum the federal government must set up peer-reviewed, specific guidelines."

Cook stated, "Time after time, the Bush administration has caved to industry demands. It would be a shame to let human health suffer just so that campaign contributors can increase their bottom line."

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect public health and the environment. EWG's work on human testing, including the report "The English Patients," Wiles' testimony before the NAS in January 2003 and news coverage, is available at