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Congress set to block EPA use of human tests

In a rebuke to the Environmental Protection Agency, Congress is expected to pass legislation this week blocking the agency from relying on tests that expose pregnant women, infants and children to pesticides.
/ Source: The Associated Press

In a rebuke to the Environmental Protection Agency, Congress is blocking the agency from relying on tests that expose pregnant women, infants and children to pesticides.

Both environmentalists and the pesticide industry claimed victory on the measure, a compromise from versions passed last month by the House and Senate that would have banned EPA use of all data from human pesticide testing for a year.

The language is attached to a final House-Senate compromise bill funding the budgets for the Interior Department and the EPA for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The House was expected to pass the spending measure Thursday afternoon and the Senate was to clear it before leaving Washington late this week for its August recess. The measure also contains $1.5 billion in emergency funds for veterans’ health benefits.

The pesticide controversy arose after the EPA in 2003 lifted a moratorium on testing that had been in place since 1998. The agency has accepted on a case-by-case basis data from tests on human subjects as it works on new regulations for the tests.

A draft of the rules envisions 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.

Move came after draft rules leaked
When those draft rules leaked, California Democrats Rep. Hilda Solis and Sen. Barbara Boxer — over extensive protests from the pesticide industry — succeeded in attaching a one-year moratorium on testing to the Interior and EPA funding measure.

The final language bans the EPA from using results from human testing until it issues the new rules, which would come after a 90-day period for public comment and not later than six months after Bush signs the bill.

In addition to the ban on using data from pregnant women, infants and children, the EPA is instructed to establish an independent board to review testing on human subjects and follow the guidelines of the National Academy of Sciences and international standards adopted in the wake of the war crimes trials of Nazi doctors.

The early EPA draft rule rejected suggestions that an independent review board serve as a watchdog on human testing.

“I can’t think of any recent examples where before EPA even puts out a rule, because something leaks out that’s so bad that Congress adopts a statute that tells them what they can put in the rule,” said Erik Olsen, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Religious lobby helps
The testing provision is a rare victory for liberal Democrats in the GOP-dominated Congress. Boxer and Solis had the backing of a coalition of religious groups that lobbied hard on the issue.

Still, the top trade association representing the pesticide industry welcomed the developments.

“We’re relieved, clearly see it as an opportunity to move forward, resolve the issue by way of EPA being directed to issue the final rule and clearly see it as recognition by Congress that (human testing) is an important tool of science,” said Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America, the pesticide industry’s trade association.

Boxer and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., had held up the confirmation of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson until he promised to cancel a pesticide study on infants 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.