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Senate votes to block pesticide tests on humans

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted to block the Environmental Protection Agency from using studies that expose people to pesticides when considering permits for new pest killers.

By a 60-to-37 vote, the Senate approved a provision from Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, that would block the EPA from relying on such testing -- including 24 pesticide experiments currently under review -- as it approves or denies pesticide applications.

The Bush administration lifted a moratorium imposed in 1998 by the Clinton administration on using human testing for pesticide approvals. Under the change, political appointees are refereeing on a case-by-case basis any ethical disputes about human testing.

The tests include a 2002-2004 study by University of California at San Diego in which chloropicrin, an insecticide that was used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, was administered to 127 young adults in doses that exceeded federal safety limits by 12 times.

New EPA rules, which are under development, envision allowing the agency to accept data from human tests on children, pregnant women, newborns, infants, and fetuses. Even newborns of ''uncertain viability" could be tested under the draft EPA rule.

Boxer's proposal would block the EPA from using data taken from human testing for the budget year starting Oct. 1. It would also bar the agency from conducting such testing.

''Let's use this time to throw out this rule that they're drafting, which is immoral on its face because it would allow EPA itself to test pregnant women and fetuses," Boxer told reporters. ''And let's go back to the basic rules of science and morality."

The vote came as the Senate debated a bill funding the EPA and Interior Department budgets. The House approved identical language when considering its version of the bill last month.

Ordinarily, approval by both House and Senate would ensure that the language is retained in the final version of the bill. But GOP floor manager Conrad Burns, of Montana, opposed Boxer's amendment, and as lead Senate negotiator on the bill, is well positioned to kill it in future talks with the House.

Burns countered with an amendment, adopted 57 to 40, in favor of careful human testing. It instructs the EPA to try to ensure that any human testing is conducted ethically and that the benefits outweigh the risks to volunteers.

The EPA is developing rules, slated to be issued by 2006, on the use of human subjects for testing pesticides following a 2003 decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that sided with pesticide manufacturers.

The court ruled that the EPA cannot refuse to consider data from manufacturer-sponsored human exposure tests until it develops regulations on it.

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