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Department Of Interior, Environment, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006

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Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR, ENVIRONMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2006 -- (Senate - June 29, 2005)

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[AMENDMENT NO. 1023]

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to speak in favor of the amendment offered by Senator BOXER regarding the testing of pesticides on humans. I am pleased to be a cosponsor of this amendment.

Unbeknownst to most of us, the Bush administration has quietly rescinded a ban on the human testing of pesticides even though the EPA is still developing guidelines for such testing. Instead of needlessly exposing people to dangerous pesticides, the 1-year moratorium proposed in this amendment is a reasonable solution until these guidelines are completed.

Let us be clear. We are not talking about the testing of life-saving medications. By definition, pesticides are designed to kill. They are potential carcinogens and neurotoxins. We need guidelines to ensure that human testing of these dangerous chemicals is limited and monitored and that the subjects fully understand the risks they are taking.

Who are the people being exposed to these chemicals? Typically they are young, poor and minorities. Let me give you two examples:

In Florida, an EPA study offered low-income families $970 over 2 years if they let their babies be tested after their homes were sprayed with pesticides. One can easily imagine a young mother trying to make ends meet, trying to pay the rent and put food on the table, reading that she can collect almost $1,000 if she allows her child to be tested.

In another study last year, 127 young adults, mostly Asian and Latino college students, agreed to be exposed to a suspected neurotoxicant for $15 an hour. Some were exposed in a chamber for 1 hour for 4 consecutive days, while others had the chemical shot into their eyes and nostrils at amounts 12 times the OSHA recommended levels. This chemical, chloropicrin, has a history: It was used as a chemical warfare agent in World War I. Yet the consent form for the 2004 study did not disclose that fact; it simply said, ``We expect the discomfort to be short-lived.''

All across America, there are college students working long hours so they can stay in school and get a shot at the American dream. How tempting it must be to pick up a handful of cash for letting a scientist expose you to some chemical. You are healthy, you need the cash, and you are probably not as wise as your parents would like you to be, so you borrow a chance against your future health and sign up for exposure. That is not the kind of government policy we want to be encouraging.

All told, the EPA is considering data from 24 studies that tested pesticides on humans. Many of these studies are flawed, so the risks these people undertook did not even contribute to a scientifically valid experiment. Many of these studies failed to take the health complaints of the subjects seriously, many failed to disclose the risk to the subjects, and many failed to conduct long-term monitoring of the health effects of the pesticides. All of these deficiencies should be addressed and prevented from occurring again.

Sadly, we do not need to do this human testing. For years, the EPA has worked with pesticide manufacturers and members of the science community without relying on human testing. For years, the agency has accomplished its goals through animal testing.

No one doubts that actual human health data, if properly collected from a sufficient sample size, would be advantageous to know. But sensible guidelines are needed to ensure that the benefits of any study far outweigh the potential risks to the study participants.

The commonsense approach is to temporarily stop this testing, wait for EPA to issue its guidelines, and safeguard the health of the human subjects.

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