Johnson cancels controversial children's pesticide study

Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson cancelled the Children's Health Environmental Exposure Research Study (CHEERS) on April 8, one day after two senators threatened to block his nomination to head EPA.

Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said the testing program was unethical.

The CHEERS study involved 60 Florida families who volunteered to participate in the study with infants or children from 9-to 12-months old. The children would be exposed to pesticides through routine spraying in their homes, and the families were promised $970.

Critics of the EPA project questioned the study's motives and ethics and pointed to its connection the pesticide industry. The American Chemistry Council was partially funding the study with $2 million.

Johnson released the following statement:

"The Children's Health Environmental Exposure Research Study was designed to fill critical data gaps in our understanding of how children may be exposed to pesticides (such as bug spray) and chemicals currently used in households. Information from the study was intended to help EPA better protect children. EPA will continue to pursue the goal of protecting children's health.

"Last fall, in light of questions about the study design, I directed that all work on the study stop immediately and requested an independent review. Since that time, many misrepresentations about the study have been made. EPA senior scientists have briefed me on the impact these misrepresentations have had on the ability to proceed with the study.

"I have concluded that the study cannot go forward, regardless of the outcome of the independent review. EPA must conduct quality, credible research in an atmosphere absent of gross misrepresentation and controversy."

Sen. Nelson said the research project was taking place in a "low-income, minority neighborhood" where families would be eager to receive the small payment and clothing.

"I am very pleased that Mr. Johnson has recognized the gross error in judgement the EPA made when they concocted this immoral program to test pesticides on children," said Sen. Boxer. "The CHEERS program was a reprehensible idea that never should have made it out of the boardroom, and I am just happy that it was stopped before any children were put in harm's way."

The Senate Environment Committee is expected to vote on Johnson's nomination this week.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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