By: Suzanne Elston
Maybe it's the only fair way to do things. After all, we've been polluting the environment, mutating wildlife and forcing species into extinction for a half a century now. Maybe it's time we turned the tables (and the toxins) on ourselves. Perhaps this is the rationale behind the US Environmental Protection (EPA) agency plan to establish criteria for the testing of pesticides, by pesticide makers, on human subjects.
Susan Hazen, the EPA's deputy assistant administrator added that the new rules wouldn't allow, "...intentional pesticide dosing studies of children and pregnant women." So what about unintentional exposure?
More to the point, the new regulations don't ban human testing; they are simply to allow the industry to submit its testing data to the EPA. The criteria are being established as a result of a 2003 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which states that the EPA cannot refuse testing data from industry-sponsored tests on humans until it develops regulations.
In response to the release of the draft criteria, Senator Barbara Boxer, who had lead the call for outlawing the testing of pesticides on women and children said,
"The fact that the EPA allows pesticide testing of any kind on the vulnerable, including abused and neglected children, is simply astonishing." Boxer and fellow senator Bill Nelson demanded the ban after it was disclosed that an industry-backed pesticide study was providing clothes, camcorders and cash rewards to the families of 60 children in Florida in return for being test subjects.
All this comes at the same time that a new medical study by Dr. Florence Menegaux was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The study, "Household exposure to pesticides and risk of childhood acute leukemia", concludes that children who are exposed to pesticides in the home (such as fungicides and garden insecticides) either in the womb, or as a small child, are twice as likely to develop acute leukemia. Perhaps Dr. Menegaux should send a copy of her study to the US EPA.
Meanwhile back in Canada, the movement to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides is sweeping the country. To date, more than 70 communities across Canada have passed bylaws restricting the use of pesticides. Many of these municipalities are facing considerable opposition from the pesticide industry in the form of lawsuits.
Talking to industry reps, it's clear that they believe in the safety of their products. This is consistent with my experience in dealing with many highly trained professionals who are dedicated to particular industry or science. They often view any legitimate concerns about their industry as a personal attack, and will turn a blind eye to any critical scientific evidence that is presented to them.
I am reminded of a speech that I heard many years ago by Canadian engineer Bruce Small. Small suffers from 20th Century disease, an acute illness brought on by exposure to pesticides and other man-made chemicals. He said that it was important to remember that it is engineers who establish the recommended maximum exposure to chemicals. Small joked that it was these same engineers who as students could often be found in local drinking establishment testing exactly how much alcohol they could drink before passing out. He added wryly that perhaps it was this same mentality that lead to the establishment of acceptable exposure limits to hazardous chemicals.
All this leads me to conclude that if the pesticide industry is so bent on testing their products on humans, perhaps they should volunteer to be their own guinea pigs.
Dr. Menegaux's study appears in the current issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (Note: Site registration is required.)
Enviromental Health Perspectives is a monthly journal of peer-reviewed research and news on the impact of the environment on human health
The Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia is an excellent source of information about environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity and less toxic living.
The Children's Environmental Health Network is a Washington-based, multi-disciplinary organization whose mission is to protect the fetus and the child from environmental health hazards and promote a healthy environment.
The Canadian Institute of Child Health is dedicated to improving the health of children and youth in Canada.