April 9

Acting EPA Chief Withdraws Controversial Pesticide Experiment – LAT / NYT

Acting EPA Chief Withdraws Controversial Pesticide Experiment – LAT / NYT

Sat, 09 Apr 2005

“We are gratified that when this abominable experiment was exposed to the public, the pesticide industry and its EPA advocates had to surrender." Senator Barbara Boxer has expressed her concern “over the larger philosophy behind the program,” said David Sandretti, Boxer’s spokesman.

“This could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of human testing.” Indeed, the government, through its various health care agencies have taken giant steps backward as they have been engaged in weakening human research safeguards affecting vulnerable American citizens and those of impoverished countries.

Check the AHRP website for information and documentation about research abuses: www.ahrp.org

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav

Acting EPA Chief Withdraws Controversial Pesticide Project
Canceling the study on children clears the way for a Senate vote on his nod to head the agency.
By Johanna Neuman
Times Staff Writer

April 9, 2005

WASHINGTON – A controversial program to pay parents to document the effects of pesticide exposure on their children was canceled Friday by the acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency, whose confirmation to the post had been jeopardized by the study.

The decision by Stephen L. Johnson removed a parliamentary hurdle to a Senate vote on his appointment by President Bush to become EPA’s full-time administrator. Two Senate Democrats – including Barbara Boxer of California – had placed a hold on a confirmation vote on Johnson after he refused this week to cancel the pesticide study.

The program, which had been suspended by EPA officials late last year, would have paid low-income families in Florida $970 if they agreed to record evidence – including videotaping – on how pesticides used in their homes affected their children.

At Johnson’s confirmation hearing Wednesday, Boxer blasted the program and called on him to officially end it. But Johnson said he would not do so until the EPA received an independent review of the program, called the Children’s Health Environmental Exposure Research Study, or CHEERS. The results of the review are expected in May.

Joining Boxer in blocking a vote on Johnson was Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). After Johnson’s cancellation of the pesticide study, the lawmakers said they were removing their holds on his nomination.

Johnson said Friday that he concluded the study could not proceed because of “gross misrepresentations and controversy.”

His spokesman, Rich Hood, said: “There was a rather nasty explosion because of the way it was portrayed. This would not have exposed children to any additional pesticides. It was merely to measure the ones already exposed.

Hood added: “Researchers thought it was necessary because there are critical data gaps in our understanding of how pesticides enter the body – through the skin or ingested or inhaled.”

Boxer said she was pleased Johnson had “recognized the gross error in judgment the EPA made when [it] concocted this immoral program to test pesticides on children.”

The study was “a reprehensible idea that never should have made it out of the boardroom,” Boxer said, “and I am just happy that it was stopped before any children were put in harm’s way.”

The senator added that she had not decided whether to support Johnson’s confirmation, which was pending before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“She is concerned over the larger philosophy behind the program,” said David Sandretti, Boxer’s spokesman. “This could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of human testing.”

Johnson has been EPA’s acting administrator for several months and was nominated in March by Bush to be its full-time chief. A biologist and pathologist, Johnson is a 24-year veteran of the EPA and would be the first scientist to head it. His nomination drew praise from Republicans, Democrats, industry officials and many environmentalists and, until the flap over the pesticide program, his confirmation seemed assured.

The EPA started accepting applications for the program last year and said the study would not pose additional risks because it would only accept families already using pesticides.

But the agency suspended the study in November after outcries from various groups, including the Alliance for Human Research Protection in New York. The project came under more criticism when it was disclosed that the American Chemistry Council had paid $2 million toward the $9-million study.

“We are gratified that when this abominable experiment was exposed to the public, the pesticide industry and its EPA advocates had to surrender,” said Vera Sharav, president of the Alliance for Human Research Protection.

April 9, 2005
E.P.A. Halts Florida Test on Pesticides

WASHINGTON, April 8 – Stephen L. Johnson, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said on Friday that he was canceling a study of the effects of pesticides on infants and babies, a day after two Democratic senators said they would block his confirmation if the research continued.

Rich Hood, a spokesman for the agency, acknowledged that Mr. Johnson had canceled the test because of the objections to his confirmation. “They are pretty juxtaposed in time, aren’t they?” Mr. Hood said. “There is clearly a connection.”

But Mr. Hood said the opposition was not the only reason for the cancellation.

“Mr. Johnson said in a meeting this morning that, his confirmation aside, he had come to pose serious questions as to whether or not this study was the appropriate thing to do,” he said.

A recruiting flier for the program, called the Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study, or Cheers, offered $970, a free camcorder, a bib and a T-shirt to parents whose infants or babies were exposed to pesticides if the parents completed the two-year study. The requirements for participation were living in Duval County, Fla., having a baby under 3 months old or 9 to 12 months old, and “spraying pesticides inside your home routinely.”

The study was being paid for in part by the American Chemistry Council, a trade group that includes pesticide makers.

In an interview on Friday, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, one of two Democrats who said they would block the confirmation, said the study amounted to “using infants in my state as guinea pigs.”

Mr. Nelson said the study sought to recruit subjects in a poor neighborhood by offering parents compensation for practices potentially dangerous to their children.

“If you knew smoking caused cancer,” he said, “would you want to have a study that said, ‘Don’t do anything, just keep smoking like you are smoking and we are going to pay you and give you a camcorder so that you can record all this’? ”

Financing from the American Chemistry Council added a dangerous potential conflict of interest, Mr. Nelson said.

In a statement explaining the cancellation, Mr. Johnson said he first halted the study last fall “in light of questions about the study design” to conduct an independent review.

But he attributed the cancellation mainly to mischaracterizations of the study. Some Democratic critics have portrayed it as deliberately spraying infants with pesticides.

“E.P.A. senior scientists have briefed me on the impact these misrepresentations have had on the ability to proceed with the study,” Mr. Johnson said. “E.P.A. must conduct quality, credible research in an atmosphere absent of gross misrepresentation and controversy.”

Mr. Johnson’s confirmation was one of several stalemates in a broader partisan battle over many of President Bush’s nominees, including 10 appeals court judges, his selection as commissioner of food and drugs and his nomination of John R. Bolton, an under secretary of state, as United States envoy to the United Nations.

Mr. Johnson’s acquiescence, however, is unlikely to alter the broader standoff. Senator Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee and the Senate majority leader, has threatened that Republicans may change the Senate procedures if Democrats continue to block nominees by refusing the 60 votes needed to close debate on a confirmation. Dr. Frist repeated to reporters this week that Senate Republicans would not yield in their determination to see the president’s judicial nominees confirmed.

Under Senate rules, any senator can put a “hold” on a nominee or proposal, and 60 votes are required to overturn it, making it similar to a filibuster.

Mr. Nelson said that now that Mr. Johnson had canceled the program he was prepared to withdraw his hold on Mr. Johnson’s nomination and vote for his confirmation. “I have heard only good things about him,” Mr. Nelson said. “And I am looking forward to him being a breath of fresh air to the E.P.A.”

A spokeswoman for Senator Barbara Boxer of California, the other Democrat who put a hold on Mr. Johnson’s confirmation, said that Ms. Boxer would not block a vote on Mr. Johnson, a 25-year employee of the environmental agency who is the first person with a science background to be nominated to lead it, but that she had not decided how to vote on his confirmation.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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