updated 6/30/2005 11:37:20 AM ET 2005-06-30T15:37:20

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

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

The Bush administration lifted a partial 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 over human testing.

The tests include a 2002-04 study by the University of California-San Diego in which chloropicrin, a fungicide that was used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, was administered to 127 young adults in doses that Boxer said exceeded average federal safety limits.

New EPA rules under development envision permitting 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 pesticide industry said Boxer was deliberately inflaming the issue and manufacturers do not intentionally perform tests on children. It said Boxer’s amendment is so broad as to block testing to determine safe exposure levels for agricultural pesticides, insect repellents and pool sanitizers.

“It would effectively cripple the regulatory process at EPA,” said Dr. Pat Donnelly, an executive vice president at CropLife America, a pesticide industry association.

The vote came as the Senate passed, 94-0, a bill funding the EPA and Interior Department budgets. The House approved identical language when considering its version of the bill last month.

The underlying $26.3 billion measure provides about $542 million more than President Bush’s request but $751 million less than current spending levels.

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

Burns countered with an amendment, adopted 57-40, allowing human testing to continue but instructing the EPA to study if it’s being conducted ethically and whether 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 in the wake of a 2003 decision by the U.S. 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.

Boxer and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., had held up the confirmation of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson until he promised to cancel a pesticide study in Florida. Over the study’s two years, EPA had planned to give $970 plus a camcorder and children’s clothes to each of the families of 60 children in Duval County, Fla., in what critics of the study noted was a low-income, minority neighborhood.

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