Groups Challenge EPA Regulation that Allows Pesticide Testing on Humans

Unethical Testing Violates Federal and International Standards, Groups Claim

NEW YORK (January 16, 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.

“Testing poisons on people is unethical and against the law,” said Shelley Davis, 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 the NRDC, the Pesticide Action Network of North America, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Physicians for Social Responsibility, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, Pineros y Campesinos del Noreste, and the Migrant Clinicians Network. Attorneys for the petitioners are NRDC, Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice.