This article by CFACT advisor Larry Bell originally appeared in Forbes on November 13, 2012.
A suit filed in federal court charges the Environmental Protection Agency with conducting illegal and potentially lethal experiments on hundreds of financially needy people who were paid $12/hour without even informing them of risks. Based upon thousands of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, procedures undertaken since 2004 and continuing through the Obama administration exposed subjects at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine to very high levels of toxic air pollutants. Many of these subjects were already health-impaired, suffering from asthma, metabolic syndrome, and aging (up to 75 years old).
One of the pollutants was a fine particulate substance known as PM2.5, a major component of diesel exhaust which EPA had determined to be unsafe for inhalation at any level, particularly for health-impaired and elderly populations. The administration’s own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council chairman, Jon Samet, stated that in a 2011 commentary published in the New England Journal of Medicine. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) reiterated EPA’s position on this in a February 2012 letter to EPA air chief, Gina McCarthy.
EPA has strictly regulated PM2.5 under its Clean Air Act since 1997. Those air quality standards costing multi-billions of dollars are being dramatically tightened. Two of the biggest new ones under its recently D.C. District Circuit Appeals Court-rejected Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury Air Toxics Standard, are heavily premised upon condemnation of PM2.5 as a killer. As EPA Administrator Jackson testified in Congress in September 2011, “…particulate [PM2.5] matter causes premature death. It doesn’t make you sick. It’s directly causal to dying sooner than you should.” She added, “If we could reduce particulate matter to levels that are healthy we would have an identical impact to finding a cure for cancer.”
So if this is the case, why did EPA fail to warn their test subjects that the substances they would be exposed to in high doses were so dangerous? While the administration has repeatedly told Congress and the public that PM2.5 can kill within hours of exposure, they only told them, for example, that “You may experience some minor degree of airway irritation, cough or shortness of breath or wheezing. These symptoms typically disappear two to four hours after exposure, but may last longer for particularly sensitive people.”
One such “sensitive person” is an obese woman with a history of heart disease. She had to be rushed to a hospital for an overnight stay after suffering a cardiac arrhythmia during an experiment. And although EPA attributed her heart problem to PM2.5 in a published report, no one ever bothered to warn subsequent subjects of cardiac arrhythmia risk.
The American Tradition Institute (ATI) which filed the law suit against EPA and its administrator asserts that such practices are not only illegal, but run afoul of virtually every rule of ethical standard established since World War II and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments to protect human study subjects from rogue scientific research. The egregious Tuskegee experiments were influential in prompting Congress to pass the National Research Act of 1974 creating a commission to develop principles for protection of human subjects in scientific experimentation.
ATI believes that EPA has both civil and criminal liability. The litigation was filed on behalf of lead plaintiff Landon Huffman, an ATI member who participated in the EPA’s human experimentation after receiving a consent form that did not explain that he would be exposed to something that the agency claims to be lethal. He was also never informed that such human experimentation was only supposed to be conducted in a manner that would potentially and directly benefit the study subjects.
To the contrary, Mr. Landon maintains that he was led to believe the experiment would help people with asthma, a condition he suffers…not told that the pollution that was forced into his lungs could actually cause an asthma attack. Nor was he ever given anything by EPA that would possibly relieve his asthma.
Since learning that EPA considers that the gases he was exposed to are lethal, Landon reports being distraught and consumed with emotional distress. This includes a fear of dying and future inability to support his wife and family. He is also distressed that other participants may suffer in the same way.
ATI member and plaintiff Steven Milloy recalls horrific family memories of his uncle, a prisoner at the WWII German Mauthausen concentration camp where grisly pseudoscientific medical experiments were conducted. There, upon threat of death, he was forced to identify fellow prisoners who were too ill to work, knowing they would subsequently be executed. Milloy is a well-known author and publisher of JunkScience.com.
Another ATI plaintiff, David Schnare, formerly served for 33 years as an EPA scientist, policy analyst and enforcement lawyer. He left the agency after realizing that it had abandoned even-handed science-based approaches of earlier times. David is named in honor of family member David Steiner, a prisoner at the Buchenwald concentration camp who died on May 3, 1945, just 21 days after liberation. Some 729 inmates were subjects of barbaric medical experiments. Of those victims, 154 died.
Guided by painful lessons of such tragedies, it is difficult to imagine any possible justification for the EPA’s experiment program on plausible ethical or legal grounds. Section 42 of U.S. Code 3515b addressing prohibition on funding certain experiments involving human participants states that: “…[no]funds appropriated by this Act ….shall be used to pay for any research program, project, or course which is of an experimental nature, or any other activity involving human participants, which is determined by the Secretary or a court of competent jurisdiction to present a danger to the physical, mental, or emotional well-being of a participant or subject of such program, project, or course, without the written, informed consent of each participant or subject.”
Since three of the EPA researchers connected with its human experiments are North Carolina-licensed physicians, that state’s medical board is now investigating their participation. The University of North Carolina which provided the EPA with a required institutional review board (IRB) for approving the experiments is also conducting an inquiry. And while the Obama-appointed Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues has refused multiple requests to get involved in the issue, Senator Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, is now calling for investigatory hearings on the matter.
In a letter to committee chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) Inhofe wrote: “It is extremely disturbing that EPA may have conducted illegal human experiments, exposing people with conditions such as asthma and metabolic syndrome to concentrated high levels of substances like fine particulate matter and diesel exhaust.” He then charged that: “EPA has repeatedly said that these substances can cause cancer and lead to death, so if these allegations of human experiments are true, it just validates the problem that the Obama-EPA’s mission is not about public health.”
So there it is. Either such devastating charges are warranted, or the agency’s assessments of toxic dangers presented by diesel PM2.5 emissions are greatly exaggerated and unsupportable. In the second event, EPA is at least guilty of gross scientific incompetence, public misrepresentation of facts, and costly abuse of regulatory authority. Either way, they must be required to clear the air and clean up their act.