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Senate Votes to Ban EPA Pesticide Tests on Humans

June 30, 2005|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Wednesday to bar the Environmental Protection Agency for one year from conducting pesticide tests on humans or using data from such tests.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who proposed the measure as part of the spending bill that funded the EPA, said it would protect children and pregnant women from being exposed to toxins without adequate controls or review.

She said the EPA had been preparing a policy that would permit it to use data from EPA and private studies that tested the effect of pesticides on children.

Boxer said the amendment would restore a ban established during the Clinton administration and retained during President Bush's first term.

"[Former EPA Administrator] Carol Browner, a Democrat, put that moratorium in place. [Former EPA Administrator] Christie Todd Whitman put that moratorium in place. But now it has been allowed to lapse," Boxer said.

The amendment "is simply a straightforward timeout so that we can look at the ethical and moral and health issues surrounding the current policy at the EPA," Boxer said.

EPA officials said the draft released Monday was not a final proposal and had not been reviewed by EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson or his top aides.

CropLife America, a pesticide industry association, said Boxer's ban was too broad, blocking studies not just of agricultural pesticides but also of insect repellents and swimming pool sanitizing agents. They said ongoing studies had been conducted with full ethical review.

"It cripples EPA's regulatory program, and that's a shame," said Patrick Donnelly, CropLife's executive vice president.

"I don't understand how that's in the interest of public health."

The Senate approved the Boxer amendment by a vote of 60 to 37. A similar measure sponsored by Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-El Monte) passed by voice vote in the House of Representatives last month.

But it is not certain that the ban will remain in the bill that is sent to President Bush for his signature.

Republicans were divided on the issue -- 15 Republican senators voted for it, along with all the chamber's Democrats, including California's Dianne Feinstein, and one Independent.

However, Republicans also voted in strong numbers for a competing amendment, offered by the chairman of the subcommittee that drafted the spending bill, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). Burns' amendment called only for the EPA to review and publish its rules on human testing. It passed the Senate 57 to 40; eight Democrats crossed party lines to support it, and four Republican senators voted against it.

Boxer and Feinstein opposed the Burns amendment.

A spokesman for Burns, James Pendleton, said the senator had not decided whether he would support the Boxer amendment when Senate and House negotiators met to draw up a compromise version of the spending bill.

"We're taking a wait-and-see approach," Pendleton said.

Boxer said the debate went back to 1996, when Congress required pesticide companies to comply with new regulations designed to enhance the safety of pesticide exposure, especially for children. Under the new law, all pesticides had to be re-registered by the EPA with data demonstrating safe levels of exposure for children.

Lynn Goldman, a former EPA regulator now teaching at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, said the new regulations potentially reduced the market for some pesticides by 90% -- and had the unintended effect of increasing the incentives for pesticide companies to test on humans, including children, in an effort to demonstrate pesticide safety.

"I was at EPA at the time," Goldman said. "We didn't anticipate that [increased pressure for human testing] would be a consequence."

The deadline for pesticide companies to re-register their pesticides is August 2006. The one-year ban proposed in the Boxer amendment would be in place through that deadline.

Boxer criticized the EPA for conducting or reviewing data from 24 current studies, including one in Florida that would have measured the exposure of children to pesticides sprayed in homes. That study has been halted.

Donnelly argued that the Florida study would have tested exposure during "normal" conditions. Boxer and other opponents argued that unfair incentives were built into the study, including cash payments and free video recorders designed to lure low-income subjects to participate.

A second controversial study, at UC San Diego, exposed 127 subjects -- primarily students paid $15 an hour -- to a low dose of a pesticide used as tear gas during World War I. The experiment was designed to determine at what levels the chemical became irritating.

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