WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday proposed banning pesticide testing on pregnant women and children -- a move that followed criticism that the government's reliance on human pesticide tests has irresponsibly endangered vulnerable people.
''The government here is imposing strict standards for both what we will be allowed to give consideration to, and what we will allow people who are doing research on pesticides to do," Jim Jones, director of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, said in an interview. ''We're going to prohibit certain kinds of intentional dosing, and for that which is not prohibited we're going to put in place strict ethical guidelines."
But critics said the proposed regulation, the agency's first aimed at human pesticide testing conducted with or without government funding, contains too many loopholes. Among them: not banning the use of data from unintentional or everyday exposure of pregnant women and children to pesticides.
''It has so many exceptions, it's not an unvarnished advance," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The rule is subject to a 90-day public comment period, and the agency aims to implement it by Jan. 29. It prohibits pesticide testing studies, conducted with or without federal government sponsorship, that involve intentionally dosing pregnant women or children. The EPA would be prohibited from relying on any data from such tests, even if they were conducted before the rule took effect.
The rule requires people conducting other human testing to submit protocols to the EPA for review, and says subjects of pesticide tests must consent to risks.
It also establishes an independent Human Studies Review Board to review proposals for human dosing studies.
Earlier this year, controversy forced the EPA to cancel a study that would have paid families in a low-income Florida neighborhood to allow their children to be tested for household exposure to pesticides. In response, Congress included language in a spending bill restricting testing on humans, and setting a time line for the EPA to develop a rule banning tests on pregnant women and children.
Ruch said it appears that the Florida study would have been able to go forward under the proposed new rule. An industry group said it would evaluate the rule.