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EPA Testing Dangerous Pollutants on Human Beings

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By Jen Alic, a geopolitical analyst, co-founder of ISA Intel (www.isaintel.com) in Sarajevo and the former editor-in-chief of ISN Security Watch in Zurich. Cross posted from OilPrice

Want to know how dangerous pollutants are to your health? For $12 an hour, you can find out directly.

In the aftermath of US presidential elections and corporate fears of looming environmental regulations that could affect their bottom line, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is under attack for conducting dangerous experiments on human beings.

Over the past decade, the EPA has apparently been paying hundreds of people $12 an hour for the privilege of exposing them to high levels of air pollutants like diesel exhaust and PM2.5 particulate matter in an operation run at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine.

A lawsuit has been filed in the federal court, charging the EPA with conducting illegal and potentially lethal experiments of hundreds of financially vulnerable people.

According to an EPA testimony before Congress in 2011, particulate matter—a key component of diesel exhaust fumes–causes premature death. “It doesn’t make you sick. It’s directly causal to dying sooner than you should.”

In addition: “If we could reduce particulate matter to levels that are healthy we would have an identical impact to finding a cure for cancer.”

Apparently, however, test subjects were not apprised of the exact risk involved. While the EPA has dramatized the dangers of PM2.5 exposure before Congress, with its test subjects, the message has been toned down to warn of the potential of airway irritation, coughing or shortness of breath. The courts will have to determine whether test subjects were sufficiently briefed on the risks.

This is how the EPA gathers the research it needs to support the implementation of strict regulations. Two major new regulations that have actually been rejected by the D.C. District Circuit Appeals court are the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury Air Toxics Standard—both based on the dangers of PM2.5.

The EPA is now reportedly evaluating its research on human subjects, in accordance with a Congressional request.

In early October, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), a ranking member of the Environmental Public Works Committee, called for a hearing to investigate the experiments.

The obvious question is: If the EPA has been doing this for a decade, why is it only now becoming an issue? That, of course, can only be answered by politics, which tends to value human life in a selectively opportunistic manner.

The story only reluctantly maneuvered itself into the mainstream media when “alternative” writer Seven Milloy of Junkscience.com dug it up and added a lawsuit to the mix after obtaining details of the experiments through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Milloy is a dubiously interesting figure. A biostatistician and securities lawyer by trade, he picks his battles—and they aren’t necessarily “human interest”, so to speak. In fact, he spent his earlier days consulting for big tobacco and working to debunk science that shows how dangerous smoking is.

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28 comments

  1. jake chase

    I can just see the EPA help wanted ads:

    Unemployed? No problem. Earn $12 an hour just for breathing our air! You’ll be helping yourself and helping us cure cancer! Don’t wait; call today: 1-800-sui-cide.

  2. LAS

    If there is great injustice or depravity associated with collection of evidence, it can be cast aside as unusable and, therefore, a total waste without any redeeming value. Policy makers may be too ashamed to rely upon it. It is sort of like torture – we doubt the worth of the confession emerging via that method.

    Devra Davis in her book “The Secret History of the War on Cancer” discusses how much evidence had been collected by Germany in the 1930′s on the negative effects of cigarette smoking. In short, they had collected what she felt was persuasive evidence that cigarettes contributed to cancer. But this evidence was essentially un-usable after WW II because of the overall depravity of the clinical research performed in Germany under the Hitler regime. Consequently, the world continued to consume cigarettes without warning for 30 more years.

  3. Norman

    Interesting story, though one wonders the rational behind Mr Milloys motives, especially considering the study/experiment started 10 years earlier, perhaps in the Bush presidency, yet withheld due to politics, as well as now, Sen. Imhofe, a republicon, is calling for an investigation. Goodness, has the whole political process gone off the deep end?

      1. Stan Musical

        Anything vs. the EPA is catnip to the Republicons, no surprise.

        Re the quote, maybe he meant that where there are cigarettes, i.e. workers taking (excess) cigarette breaks, there are firings of such employees.

        Otherwise, his statement sounds like it came out of the mouth of an ignoramus who can’t speak proper (American) English! Oh…..

        1. charles sereno

          Back off. You calling me an ignoramus? No problem. But don’t go calling me someone who “can’t speak proper (American) English!” Even if that’s true, it’s not polite. At least you could point out why I don’t speak proper and maybe I could learn something from you, that is, if you could spare a time.

    1. rjs

      email from >Tenney Naumer, of “Climate Change: The Next Generation” , who’s with relatives & requests i post this comment on her behalf:
      I am not saying this is not true, but I would be EXTREMELY cautious about publishing or passing on anything that has Milloy’s hand on it. He is one of the WORST paid climate deniers and people don’t even know who he really is. His stuff is always dubious at best. Since Obama has gone the regulatory route to try to deal with climate change, fossil fuel interests will do all they can to take down the EPA and Milloy will certainly be part of this. Someone should drill down and find out how much of this story is accurate.

  4. Susan the other

    Cross posted from OilPrice? OilPrice is getting interesting. There must be a coal v oil thing going on. Particulates crossing state lines (air pollutants) and mercury in the particulates will not be regulated? — that’s pretty outrageous. I agree that the EPA gassing poor volunteers with diesel fumes is depraved. Not only does it clog your lungs it instantly depletes your vitamin B levels clearing the way for all sorts of damage to your system. There’s no question that diesel fumes are toxic – the EPA has known this for a long time because it is general knowledge. And to be significant this research has to be long term! Too bizarre. Wasn’t it Mercedes Benz that discovered that their diesel engines could be made pollutant free by adding urea to the diesel fuel? Maybe we can all sell our pee soon.

  5. Me

    I am doing a paper on atrazine. It is a herbicide that causes hormone disruption in people, birds, fish, frogs, reptiles, rats. It also likely causes cancer in people, it causes cancer in rats. The EPA allows for 3 ppb in the drinking water, it has been shown to turn some frogs hermaphroditic at .1 ppb, 1/30 the amount the EPA allows in drinking water. Male frogs will be injected with .1 ppb of atrazine and some will over time grow ovaries and develop the ability to actually lay eggs. It is used extensively in the US, 80 million pounds a year, especially in the midwest. It is banned in the EU and the country the company (Syngenta) is based, Switzerland.

    Any way, Seven Milloy has been paid lots of money by Syngenta to tell everyone that atrazine is just fine and safe. He is still a sellout creep it seems.

    http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/02/11276/syngentas-paid-third-party-pundits-spin-news-atrazine

    Steven Milloy: “You Have Some Atrazine Talking Points For Me?”

    Steven Milloy is a commentator for FOX News who runs the website called “JunkScience.com,” which claims to debunk “faulty scientific data and analysis used to advance special interests and hidden agendas.” But Milloy himself has been funded by special interests. Milloy, directly or through his organizational alter egos, formerly the Free Enterprise Education Institute of the Cato Institute and the “Free Enterprise Project” of the National Center for Public Policy Research, reportedly received payments from Philip Morris and ExxonMobil, among others. When the story broke a few years ago that he had received over $180,000 from Big Tobacco, Fox News said it was unaware of Milloy’s connection with Philip Morris. Any affiliation he had should have been disclosed.

    Documents obtained by CMD show that Milloy has also received an unknown number of checks for $25,000 each from Syngenta (PDF) to amplify its talking points on atrazine. In one e-mail to Syngenta he asks if it is too soon to ask for another $25,000 and another email notes he was receiving payments in $15,000 increments. His projects at the time were about the “free enterprise” system. His most recent payment from Syngenta and the total amount he has received from corporation is not known.

    When it comes to atrazine, Milloy has helped target UC-Berkeley integrative biology professor Tyrone Hayes. The professor is a leading independent scientist investigating the potential damage to health from atrazine exposure. He has spent over a decade researching atrazine and has reported findings that the weed-killer causes gender abnormalities in frogs — even among frogs that were exposed to the weed-killer in doses smaller than the EPA sets as the limit for the annual average amount in drinking water.

    Milloy has called Hayes a “Berserkeley atrazine-hater” and has repeatedly attacked Hayes’ scientific findings publicly. The Fox blogger has even gone so far as to accuse Hayes of lying about how he conducted the experiments: “We can’t even be sure the concentrations of atrazine in the lab tanks are what Hayes’ claims. After all, it’s a lot easier to say the solution is 0.1 ppb of atrazine than it is to actually verify the assertion.”

    In the same blog post, called “Freaky-Frog Fraud,” Milloy asserts that “Hayes seems to be determined to scare the public about atrazine.” Milloy seems determined to do the opposite. Documents obtained by CMD include an 2008 email from Milloy to Sherry Duvall Ford (PDF), head of external communications for Syngenta, which reads, “Beth Carroll said that you had some Atrazine talking points for me. Would love to see them. Thanks, Steve.” Milloy has not mentioned his payments from Syngenta in his tv appearances.

  6. Elliot

    Smells strongly of a hitpiece on the EPA, as the EPA, calculated to draw attention away from pollution. Are those studies still being done? There was a lot of passive voice in the article, seems dodgy.

    1. Me

      The person filing the claim is a lap dog of polluting interests, which I talked about in my post above. You know something is horribly wrong when Inhofe is involved. They want to make the EPA look bad, as if the EPA isn’t allowing polluters and chemical makers to destroy the environment enough.

    2. Birch

      I have a friend that did this in Edmonton in the past year. Not sure who for, and they didn’t tell her exactly what kind of pollutant it was. She quit after the first day because it made her feel so sick, but they wanted her to continue for months.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      “Hitpiece” is an ad hominem attack. Can you rebut the charges? Or are you a defender of inadequate disclosure in human experiments?

      The EPA used to be a very good agency, just as the SEC once was. Pretending it’s good when it no longer is is hardly a way to remedy the problem.

      1. rjs

        Seven Milloy of Junkscience.com, who brought the suit against the EPA & inspired the congressional investigation, is author of “Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them”

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          This is still ad hominem. So?

          The issue here is whether Malloy wrote is untrue, period. If it is, and I have seen no one debunk it, the failure to disclose risks to test participants is very poor behavior at a minimum and may result in the FDA paying meaningful damages.

          I’m not into tribal loyalties. I don’t believe in going soft on an agency just because it represents a cause readers of this blog are interested in. Hurting people is hurting people.

          There are two questions: should the EPA be doing this sort of experiment at all? And if the answer is yes, the next question is what are proper protocols? If this sort of study is worthwhile and can be justified, it would seem to require MORE funding, since it would be harder to find test subjects and you’d almost certainly need to pay them better.

          Did you even notice that Malloy’s comments are based on a lawsuit? If you go and read the lawsuit and tell me Malloy got something wrong, you might have something. But all you can do is complain about the messenger.

          1. rjs

            the link to the EPA investigation makes it clear that 48 people were so tested, and the investigation is being conducted to see if they gave informed consent to the test in accordance with EPA guidelines…what i objected to was being party to the use of this bush administration incident by the environment’s enemies to attack the current EPA..

          2. rjs

            what i was really upset with was my own carelessness…i trusted too much & didnt read this carefully before distributing it…

      2. rjs

        i emailed this post to several correspondents this morning after a cursory read & without doing too much checking…
        now that i’ve been made aware of the agenda of Mr Milloy, and see that anti-science Rep Paul Broun (R-GA), who called evolution a lie straight from hell, is the House member behind the investigation, i regret having passed it on..

  7. Stan Musical

    PS: If I write “Democrat party,” the spell-check passes it.

    But “Republicon” gets underlined.

    That should be corrected, otherwise where’s the “fair and balanced?” ;-)

  8. c.

    A question that isn’t being answered is why this is allowed in the first place? Why we are subjected to such pollutants in our air and then we question when someone wants to test how dangerous it is to remove it? Seems backwards to me.

    Why are the companies that produce engines that create such pollutants not required to prove that it is safe? Human tests not allowed on that proof either. Why do we walk around with such a double standard. We are the test subjects, the general populace that is, and we don’t have a sense of outrage over that?

    hypocrisy rules the day.

  9. Paul Tioxon

    One of the great fault lines among the commanders of capitalism was Rockefeller Oil vs Morgan/Edison Electricity for supremacy of what to sell the growing populace. Before gasoline took over the American landscape with filling stations, kerosene fueled lanterns turned night into day, relatively speaking, across America. Morgan began to wipeout that revenue stream by electrifying first NYC, and then planned to light up the whole East Coast. Electric trolley lines soon followed, as did great fortunes in city after city. With the advent of Ford, the internal combustion engine became the primary power source of autos, beating out the early electric cars. Eventually, GM promoted exhaust spewing buses and bought up older electric trolly transit companies and tore up the trolley tracks in cities as big as Los Angeles. The result is fossil fuel in cars, trucks, buses producing tons of particulate matter that came to rest in the lungs of every American from sea to shining sea. Heart, respiratory and other degenerative diseases were amplified by environmental pollutants in the air primarily and the water supplies, even the acidified rainfall as well from the dirty king coal.

    Today, there is a clearly defined political fault line of fossil fuel based, republican party centered economic interests. The solar industries, electric cars and efficient green construction building codes all lead the transition to the complete elimination of burning fuels for energy usage. They will be tapped for a while for other manufacturing usages, but their destruction by means of combustion is an atavistic relic of greed and little more.

    In the recent bailouts, the auto industry was not supported by the oil industry in the least bit, and has decoupled from their interest entirely. The electric vehicle will dominate all ground transportation needs in a few short decades around the world. America will be left behind, in a gas chamber of urban islands of self inflicted disease. This has been know for over half a century. The EPA kerflufle highlighted is small potatoes in the face of what we all breath every day and the disastrous consequences to the melting ice packs and super charged storms as well.

  10. Paul P

    Tuskegee experimentation all over again. Lot’s of experiments going on today: exposure to GMOs, FDA approved drugs, carbon in the atmosphere. The goes beyond proper exprimental protocol: to posion someone and not tell them they are being poisoned is a crime.

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