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Pollution Probe

Why the US wants to pay kids to play with pesticides


BY Craig Saunders

Certain things are inevitable in springtime. Birds will fly north. Flowers will bloom. Pesticide lobbyists will launch into wild-eyed rants. And just as the crocuses poke their heads up out of the dirt, the US Environmental Protection Agency will be at the centre of a controversy over its research on pesticides and children.

One proposed EPA project would give a video camera to 60 families and pay them about US$1,000 to record their children’s exposure to pesticides over two years.

The project, called the Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study, or CHEERS, is currently on hold awaiting review, which is good news for Craig Minowa, a Minneapolis-based environmental scientist. He says the study targets low-income families and puts children at risk of increased exposure to pesticides. “Somebody better off wouldn’t consider taking part in the study,” he says.

The EPA is putting kids at risk simply by conducting the study, Minowa adds. Studies of consumption patterns can increase use of a substance even if it isn’t mandated by the study, he says, pointing to increased smoking among participants in studies on tobacco. The EPA refutes that criticism, saying because the study monitors only the pesticides families currently use, there’s no new risk to participants.

But that doesn’t fly with Minowa. Barring all other criticism of the study, he says it’s flawed because it’s funded by a pesticide industry lobby group. The EPA is receiving US$2 million from the American Chemistry Council, which is backed by chemical giants including Dow Chemical Company and DuPont.

EPA spokesperson Cynthia Bergman says such industry partnerships are routine, adding that despite the proposed review of the project, “there will definitely be people who don’t like it.”

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