Pesticides: We're All Guinea Pigs

J.P. Myers, Ph.D. Director
W. Alton Jones Foundation

Letters to the Editor,
The Wall Street Journal
October 14, 1998

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The page-one article describing tests on humans of the effects of pesticides ("New Food-Quality Act Has Pesticide Makers Doing Human Testing," Sept. 28) ignores two crucial points in this debate. First, these tests already are performed widely, throughout the U.S. and the world, because pesticides enter our food and water supply. In a study conducted in 1995 of 1,000 American adults, 82% had traces of chlorpyrifos in their urine. Likewise, a report published in 1998 revealed that every day a million American children age five and under consume food contaminated by organophosphates, pesticides that can harm the developing brain and nervous system.

These are just two examples of many demonstrating that we experiment daily with the health effects of pesticide exposure. No one has obtained the prior informed consent of these test subjects prior to their exposure. No one can guarantee the safety of the uncontrolled, largely unmonitored tests, especially in those circumstances where volatilization of pesticides followed by wind transport puts large quantities on adjacent lands and waters, including reservoirs, residential housing and schools.

Second, one key point of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) is to increase protection for children. The controlled human tests being performed by chemical companies are largely irrelevant scientifically to this purpose, because their subjects are adults. The developing human--fetus through child--responds very differently to chemical insults: accumulating scientific evidence suggests that effects on the unborn and the young occur at dramatically lower levels of exposure than those affecting adults and that they have lifelong effects. To make their tests relevant to the spirit and intent of the FQPA, chemical companies will have to perform their planned tests on the fetus and on children. How will they obtain prior informed consent for these tests?

John Peterson Myers, Ph.D.
W. Alton Jones Foundation
Charlottesville, Va.


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