Daily News Archive

EPA Takes Industry Money To Collect Missing Data On Children's Pesticide Exposure
(Beyond Pesticides, October 28, 2004)
U.S. EPA has agreed to accept $2.1 million from the American Chemistry Council, a long-time advocate for lowering child protections, to help finance a study investigating the exposure of infants and toddlers to pesticides and chemicals used in the home.

The Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study will survey 60 children over two years in Duval County, Florida to collect information on their exposure to pesticides and household chemicals, such as flame retardants and perfluorinated chemicals, a family of substances in products such as Teflon. Paul Gilman, EPA science adviser and assistant administrator, said the money will help the agency conduct "groundbreaking work" on how chemicals are absorbed by infants and children from birth to age three.

According to a Chemical & Engineering News article on October 18, 2004, the researchers will study children who live in homes with “potentially high pesticide use.” Their parents, who will receive up to $970 and a free video camcorder for participating, must agree to routinely spray or have pesticides sprayed inside their homes during the two-year study period. Chemical concentrations will be measured in air, dust, and urine samples of the children, and by analyzing chemicals absorbed in clothing before and after pesticide applications.

Given the plethora of independent studies that link pesticide exposure with chronic illnesses like asthma and cancer, many health advocates are questioning not only the ethics behind the funding, but are also wondering why the study would not also address the changes in health of the children exposed. Because the study requires that parents routinely spray pesticides in order to participate, some argue that the agency may be flouting recommended ethical standards that protect children (see Daily News story). The agency does state that participants "do not need to" change regular household routines for the study.

Concerns about pesticide testing on children and children’s exposure in general stem from the unique hazards children face from pesticide exposure. Children are known to take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults and their developing organ systems make it more difficult to detoxify chemicals after exposure. Studies have already shown that children are most vulnerable to pesticides within the first and second year of life, especially for asthma development, and that children living in households where pesticides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer and soft tissue sarcoma. According to EPA's Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment, children receive 50 percent of their lifetime cancer risks in their first two years of life.

The chemical industry has been pushing the agency to reduce the safety factors it uses for children and missing data. Environmentalists, on the other hand, have long argued that the safety factors may actually be too low due to the unknown and uncalculated effects of mixtures of chemicals and multiple, cumulative and synergistic exposures, and effects of exposure on sensitive population groups such as fetuses, children, farmworker families, the elderly, and the infirm. The high degree of uncertainty associated with health impacts from typical chemical exposures and the severe limitations of EPA risk assessment are leading many communities to embrace the precautionary principle, and thus seek to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals altogether rather than rely on incomplete and unrealistic risk assessments.

"The kind of information the EPA is collecting should already be known to the agency long before it registers these products for use on the market," says Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides. He asserts that in announcing this study, the EPA is essentially admitting that pesticide use in the 21st century is one big human experiment. "If you don’t know the exposure level, and you don’t know what toxic outcomes are occurring, then ultimately it’s all still experimental,"says Feldman. In explaining the study, EPA writes, "Currently, the data on very young children's exposures are very limited. Children at these ages have a lot of developmental changes that may affect their exposure to pesticides. Although there have been a number of exposure studies performed for older children, there have been few studies for this age group."

A Washington Post article notes that the study does not mark the first time EPA has accepted chemical industry money to conduct research, but it does represent the most money given so far. Kenneth Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, questioned why an agency with a $572 million research budget needed to accept industry contributions to conduct scientific research. "It simply is not credible that a $7.8 billion agency that employs almost 18,000 people has to go to the chemical industry to get $2 million for a crucial study to see if chemicals hurt kids," he said. EPA maintains that the chemical manufacturers may advise on the project but not impose conditions to their contribution.

TAKE ACTION: If you would like to express your concerns about the study or this issue, contact Beyond Pesticides and get involved.