Saturday, July 16, 2005

Pesticides R’ Us

If you haven’t followed the news stories about how the EPA has been exposing humans to high levels of pesticides in order to study their effects, you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve just woken up in the middle of a Big Brother nightmare. Remember, pesticides are toxic – “cide” means kill, as in homicide, and in fact, many precursors of pesticides were actually chemical weapons – which is why consumers often pay a premium to buy food produced without them.

Over the past few months, it has come to light that the EPA, under the direction of the Bush Administration which overruled a Clinton era prohibition against these types of studies, has been both testing pesticides on people without their knowledge and also at times offering them small sums of money in exchange for being exposed and monitored. Subjects have included children and pregnant women, and unsurprisingly, the majority have been low-income Americans, most of whom are ethnic minorities.

Although we can certainly question the judgment of people who would volunteer for these experiments, it is almost beyond belief that the government would knowingly engage in this form of experimentation on its own citizens. I don’t want to make comparisons to some of history’s more diabolical regimes, but the images do come to mind. And even if a pregnant woman is foolish enough to take a little cash in exchange for exposure to toxic chemicals, how is it that our government would sanction such a thing?

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on June 29th sponsored an amendment that would ban the EPA’s testing of pesticides on humans, and luckily, a modicum of sanity was restored since it passed by a vote of 60-37. So who were the 37 who voted against this? They were all Republicans, every last one. So much for the “culture of life.”

Unfortunately, another amendment proposed by Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) that states that the EPA needs to review these studies in order to determine whether they are “ethical” passed by a vote of 57-40. Of the 57 yes votes, 48 were Republicans. Given that these two amendments seem to contradict each other, no one knows for sure exactly what is going to happen. Since they are both part of a larger bill that still faces modifications, we don’t even know if either will make it into the final version, or if that the bill itself will become law.

I still have to pinch myself to realize that I’m not dreaming, and that yes, in 2005 in the United States of America we have to debate whether it is alright to directly test toxic chemicals on our own citizens. Or maybe I’m just not as cynical as I should be. Either way, stay tuned.


P.S. The links to the voting records above take you to a great website that has tons of information on every piece of legislation in the Congress. It’s more than you would ever want to know, but you can always see who votes for what.


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