The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has temporarily
suspended its controversial Children’s Environmental Exposure
Research Study (CHEERS). CHEERS was designed to research the
effects of pesticide exposure — including inhalation, ingestion,
and absorption — on 60 children, newborn to age three, over a two
year period. Many participant families have already been recruited
from Jacksonville, Florida. To be eligible, they had to agree to
‘spray or have pesticides sprayed inside [their] home[s]
The EPA has received over $2 million from the American Chemistry
Council, a chemical industry lobby group, to help fund the study.
When scientists and the public began to raise ethical questions
about the contribution, the EPA temporarily halted the study,
removed the protocol from its Web site, and submitted CHEERS to a
third party review, which has yet to start. Pending approval, the
EPA will begin CHEERS testing again this spring.
Environmental and human rights groups have a number of ethical
concerns about CHEERS. There are no provisions for treatment of
children should developmental problems or high exposure levels
occur. Additionally, there is no framework for educating
participating families about the risks of prolonged pesticide
What troubles most critics is the EPA’s recruitment strategy.
According to the Asheville Global Report (Dec. 30, 2004; issue not
yet available on the web), ‘the three county health clinics from
which subjects are drawn serve the poorest and least educated
members of the community.’ The incentives? $970, a video camera, a
T-shirt, a ‘study bib,’ calendars, and a certificate of
There is also speculation that the results of the study will be
used to roll back Clinton-era pesticide protections and set a
disturbing new precedent for human testing. Already, the EPA has
issued a statement that it will begin making decisions ‘concerning
ethically problematic studies on a case-by-case basis.’ Other
government agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, have
ethical safeguards in place for human testing.
A number of environmental and human rights groups, including
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, have issued
statements condemning CHEERS. Some of these groups are working to
garner public attention to the study and circulate a petition to
discontinue CHEERS before testing starts up again.
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