EPA ends criticized pesticide study

Agency planned to detail poison's effect on children

chief's confirmation stalled

April 09, 2005|By Johanna Neuman | Johanna Neuman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - A program to pay parents to document the effects of pesticide exposure on their children was canceled yesterday by the acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency, whose confirmation to the post has been jeopardized by the study.

The decision by Stephen L. Johnson removed a parliamentary hurdle to a Senate vote on his appointment by President Bush to become EPA's full-time administrator. Two Senate Democrats had placed a "hold" on a confirmation vote on Johnson after he refused earlier this week to revoke the pesticide study.

The program, which was suspended by EPA officials late last year, would have paid low-income families in Florida $970 if they agreed to gather evidence - including videotaping - on the effect of pesticides already used in their homes on their children.

At Johnson's confirmation hearing Wednesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, condemned the program and called on him to officially end it.

But Johnson said he would not do so until the EPA received an independent review of the program, called the Children's Health Environmental Exposure Research Study - or CHEERS. The results of the review are expected in May.

Joining Boxer in blocking a vote on Johnson was Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat. After Johnson's cancellation of the pesticide study, both lawmakers said they were removing their "holds" on his nomination.

Johnson said yesterday that he concluded the study could not proceed because of "gross misrepresentations and controversy."

His spokesman, Rich Hood, said, "There was a rather nasty explosion because of the way it was portrayed. This would not have exposed children to any additional pesticides. It was merely to measure the ones already exposed."

Hood added, "Researchers thought it was necessary because there are critical data gaps in our understanding of how pesticides enter the body - through the skin or ingested or inhaled."

Boxer said she was pleased Johnson had "recognized the gross error in judgment the EPA made when [it] concocted this immoral program to test pesticides on children."

Johnson has been EPA's acting administrator for several months and was nominated in March by Bush to be its permanent chief. A biologist and pathologist, Johnson is a 24-year veteran of the EPA and would be the first scientist to head it. His nomination drew praise from Republicans, Democrats, industry officials and many environmentalists, and, until the flap over the pesticide program, his confirmation seemed assured.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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