We don't want to know

By Kurt Kleiner in Washington DC THE US Environmental Protection Agency may refuse to accept data from tests of pesticides on humans after at least two companies fed organophosphate pesticides to volunteers in Britain to try to show that relatively high levels are harmless. In 1992 the French company Rhône-Poulenc tested the insecticide aldicarb on 47 people in Scotland. And last year, Amvac Chemical Corporation of Newport Beach, California, tested the pesticide dichlorvos on volunteers in Manchester. In the dichlorvos studies, volunteers were given doses of between 7 and 70 milligrams over various timescales. Researchers monitored them for symptoms and found no side effects, although levels of cholinesterase, an enzyme essential to nervous system function, were slightly depressed. The tests were legal, and the results were submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But last week the agency said it would reconsider whether to allow the result of such trials to influence its decisions, after a pressure group called the Environmental Working Group in Washington DC issued a report on the tests. “The EPA is deeply concerned that some pesticide manufacturers seem to be engaging in health effects studies on human subjects as a way to avoid more protective results from animal tests,” the EPA said in a prepared statement. Under the US’s 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, permitted human exposure levels should be at least 100 times less than the amount shown to harm animals, unless there is good evidence that higher levels are harmless. By conducting tests on people, the companies were attempting to show directly that higher doses were harmless. But the Environmental Working Group says the studies do not prove anything, because they were conducted on only a few adults,
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