The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has halted a recently launched study on health risks to children from indoor pesticides and plans to give it another round of external review. The study--called the Children's Health Environmental Exposure Risk Study (CHEERS)--has come under fire for alleged ethical shortcomings, and for being partly funded with industry grants. "It's great that [EPA] pushed the pause button on this study, but we still have concerns," says Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit advocacy group.
CHEERS was designed to figure out how children become exposed to indoor pesticides, such as roach sprays. Working with research contractors, scientists from EPA--as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Duval County Health Department in Florida--plan to study 60 children under the age of 3 years. In order to participate, parents must have used pesticides indoors, but they don't have to continue doing that during the trial. Parents and scientists would observe the activity patterns of the kids, and their urine would be sampled for levels of pesticide metabolites. Researchers began enrolling families last month.
With enrollment in the study under way, EWG objected to the fact that the $7 million study was being funded with a $2 million grant from the American Chemistry Council, an industry group (Science, 5 November), which represents pesticide manufacturers. They also decried the fact that parents would be paid to participate in the study, which they argued would especially encourage low-income families to enroll. EPA argued that the payments were minimal compensation and not a compromising incentive. EWG and some scientists also argued that the study was unethical because parents would not be explicitly warned about the potential dangers of exposing young children to pesticides. EPA notes that the study was approved by Institutional Review Boards for the Protection of Human Subjects by all the participating agencies.
Now the agency will send out the study for another round of review, this time by an ad hoc committee made of members of three agency review boards--the Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee, the Scientific Advisory Panel, and the Science Advisory Board. That move is an "extraordinary step," EPA official William Farland, wrote in a 8 November memo. The committee will provide a report this spring to EPA, which will then decide whether to modify the study.
The CHEERS study site