Ethics of Human Pesticide Studies Questioned


Reuters Health,
By: Todd Zwillich
Wednesday, January 8, 2003


WASHINGTON (Reuters Health)

Scientists and environmental groups urged a federal advisory panel Wednesday to recommend a ban on chemical industry experiments that test the safety of pesticides and other potentially toxic chemicals in humans.

Labeling the experiments unethical and scientifically suspect, the groups asked experts on a National Academy of Sciences panel to condemn the studies and recommend that government regulators refuse to consider them when evaluating the safety of companies’ chemical agents or pollutants.

But representatives of the pesticide industry defended the experiments, saying that they are ethically sound and essential to accurately determining safe exposure levels for members of the public.

Manufacturers of pesticides or other chemicals sometimes give adult volunteers a dose of the product in order to determine what levels humans can tolerate without getting sick. Determining a safe level for humans is necessary before companies can gain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval to market most pesticides and other chemicals.

Scientists attacked the studies Wednesday, calling them unethical because people can only be hurt, and not helped, by receiving doses of toxic chemicals.

Most ethical standards for human medical research, including the Nuremburg Code created after the trials of Nazi doctors conducting research on World War II Holocaust prisoners, require that study participants stand a chance of gaining from research conducted on them.

“There is no benefit to the health of a subject nor to the health of anyone else,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins University and chair of the Children’s Environmental Health Network.

Eberhart told the panel that animal studies have often failed to accurately predict safe pesticide levels for humans.

“Only human data directly reflects human response,” said Judith A. MacGregor, a researcher with Toxicology Consulting Services, a private research company.

Lawyers for the EPA and pesticide industry are set to argue the case before the Federal Appeals Court in Washington in March.

The NAS panel is due to release its recommendations on human-based chemical testing in about one year, officials said.