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EPA curbs our pesticide and rocket fuel intake

EPA curbs our pesticide and rocket fuel intake

Posting in Food

The agency proposes regulations to limit pesticide testing on humans and toxic chemicals in drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to tighten restrictions for pesticide testing on human subjects and limit toxic chemicals in drinking water.

Earlier this week, the agency announced their undertaking of the first-ever federal drinking water standard for perchlorate – a toxic rocket fuel ingredient linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women and young children.

Between 5 million and 17 million people may be served water with perchlorate – also used in fireworks and explosives. In most cases, contamination has been caused by improper disposal at rocket testing sites, military bases and chemical plants [AP]. And because that water irrigates crops and pasturelands, perchlorate also taints many foods.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration study of raw and prepared foods in 2006 found elevated perchlorate levels in everything from ice cream and chocolate bars to raisins and spinach.

Its presence in baby cereal and formula – and breast milk – is particularly worrisome given perchlorate’s impacts on the thyroid gland. Chronic exposure to perchlorate can dampen the thyroid’s ability to absorb iodide and produce hormones. That, in turn, can disrupt metabolic functions in adults and impede physical and mental development in unborn children and infants.

The agency is also establishing a drinking water standard to address up to 16 toxic chemicals that may pose risks to human health. The standard could take several years to develop.

Last month, the EPA also proposed tighter restrictions for testing pesticides on humans.

Testing on pregnant or nursing women and children has been banned since 2006, and these expanded protections will forbid participation by subjects who cannot consent for themselves – such as children with approval from parents or authority figures.

“With this new proposal, EPA has cut the incentive for pesticide manufacturers to conduct unethical, and often unscientific, human experiments,” says Michael Wall of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “While it does not ban human testing outright, it sets the bar high enough that studies on people should not be an attractive option as evidence submitted to EPA.”

In 2003, the agency began lifting the moratorium on pesticide testing in humans, allowing volunteers to be dosed with pesticides to assess the chemicals’ toxicity and eventually set exposure standards. That year, the Village Voice reported that healthy young men and women were recruited through newspaper ads or on college campuses to serve as test subjects with “juicy compensation checks.” These were typically in the $300 to $1,000 range.

Historically, EPA has received approximately 33 intentional dosing studies of all types annually. These include studies measuring worker exposure and efficacy of insect repellents. Of these, 4 involve intentional exposure to measure minor, reversible systemic toxic effects – such as those on the nervous system that might cause tremors.

The EPA expects the number of systemic intentional dosing toxicity studies to drop to as few as zero or one per year.

They published a draft proposal [pdf] on 18 January. (The public has 60 days to comment.)

Image by sour_pie85 via Flickr

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure