June 29, 2005

US Senate OKs competing pesticide testing plans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A fight broke out in the U.S. Senateon Wednesday about whether the federal government should beinvolved in evaluating the safety of pesticides by using humansubjects, with senators embracing competing plans.

By a vote of 60-37, the Senate backed a one-year moratoriumon the review of such tests by the U.S. EnvironmentalProtection Agency. The U.S. House of Representatives recentlyapproved an identical plan.

If enacted, supporters hope the moratorium would discourageprivate companies from undertaking human tests until thegovernment can further review the U.S. and internationalscientific community's testing standards.

"We need to take a time-out in terms of the EnvironmentalProtection Agency accepting for review, and in essencecondoning pesticide testing on human beings," said Sen. BarbaraBoxer, a California Democrat.

Boxer said EPA was poised to go ahead with a plan to testpesticide safety by using studies that could include exposingpregnant women and children to harmful chemicals.


But the Senate also approved, by a vote of 57-40, adifferent approach by Sen. Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican,that directs the EPA to issue regulations on ethical standardsfor using human subjects in tests of pesticide safety withinsix months of the spending bill becoming law.

Burns argued that lawmakers did not have the expertise togauge the dangers of exposure to pesticides and other householditems. "We have to rely on reports that have peer review frommany different sources," Burns said.

EPA officials were not immediately available for comment.

Both measures were attached to a bill that funds the EPA inthe fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

It will be up to a House-Senate conference to decidewhether Congress will go with the Boxer moratorium or the Burnsapproach, which is backed by EPA and pesticide companies.


Congress' concern over human subjects in pesticides testingarose earlier this year during Senate hearings on StephenJohnson's nomination as EPA administrator.

Boxer said since a human testing moratorium lapsed in 2003,EPA has been reviewing 24 studies that "routinely violateethical standards."

She said in one study, conducted at the University ofCalifornia at San Diego, students were exposed to a fumigantthat is the active ingredient in tear gas, which can cause eyeand skin irritation and lung damage. The students, Boxer said,"were paid $15 an hour. They were told this was not dangerous."

Another study, criticized by environmentalists, involvedexposing low-income families in Florida, including infants, topesticides as part of a test.