The Environmental Protection Agency has suspended a controversial study aimed at exploring how infants and toddlers absorb pesticides and other household chemicals, officials said yesterday.
Several rank-and-file EPA scientists had questioned the ethics of the two-year experiment, which would have given the families of 60 children in Duval County, Fla., $970 each as well as a camcorder and children's clothing in exchange for having the children participate. The critics said low-income Floridians might continue to use pesticides -- which have been linked to neurological damage in children -- in their homes to qualify for the project.
Environmentalists had also criticized the study because the industry-funded American Chemistry Council had agreed to pay $2 million of the project's approximately $9 million cost.
EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said officials had asked a group of independent experts to reexamine the study design, which has already been reviewed by several independent panels of academics, officials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and representatives of the Duval County Health Department. The new panel is set to give the EPA its assessment next spring.
"Since the study was announced last month, many have raised concerns, including scientists within EPA. We want to be responsive to those concerns," Bergman said.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said, "Regardless of the number of reviews, paying poor parents to dose their babies with commercial poisons to measure their exposure is just plain wrong."
Administration and industry officials said it was important to pursue the study to give regulators better information on how harmful chemicals get into children's bodies.
At the American Chemistry Council, spokeswoman Marcia Lawson said the group "continues to strongly support the study because of the great importance of increasing understanding of the exposures of young children to pesticides and other chemicals they naturally encounter in their daily lives."