PICKET: EPA conducts human testing for air pollution research

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Environmentalists are celebrating “earth day today and members on Capitol Hill are still looking for further ways the Environmental Protection Agency can push more regulations through the Clean Air Act. The EPA has used the Clean Air Act to regulate air emissions from stationary and mobile sources since 1970. Federal regulators at the EPA announced last week that air pollution regulation for “fracking” wells would go into effect for the first time ever in 60 days. 

In the meantime, The EPA is doing their part to research air pollution and is engaged in testing the effects of air pollution on our bodies. According to an EPA case study published in Environmental Health Perspectives in September 2011 a human test subject was used by the EPA to study the effects of air pollutants on our bodies: (bolding is mine)

Context: Exposure to air pollution can result in the onset of arrhythmias.

Case presentation: We present a case of a 58-year-old woman who volunteered to participate in a controlled exposure to concentrated ambient particles. Twenty minutes into the exposure, telemetry revealed new onset of atrial fibrillation. The exposure was discontinued, and she reverted to normal sinus rhythm approximately 2 hr later. No abnormality was evident on the volunteer’s laboratory examination or echocardiography that could explain an increased risk for supraventricular arrhythmia.

Discussion: Epidemiologic evidence strongly supports a relationship between exposure to air pollutants and cardiovascular disease, but population-level data are not directly relevant to the clinical presentation of individual cases. To our knowledge, this is the only case report of an individual suffering an episode of atrial fibrillation after exposure to an air pollutant. The resolution of the arrhythmia with termination of the particle exposure further supports a causal relationship between the two. Relevance to clinical practice: Exposure to air pollution, including particulate matter, may cause supraventricular arrhythmias.

In September of 2011 EPA administrator Lisa Jackson testified on Capitol Hill that further particulate matter regulation (air pollution regulation) would have the “same impact as finding a cure for cancer in our country.” Congressman Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, repeated the claim on the House floor before the TRAIN Act vote.

“The connection between relatively low particulate matter levels and human health has provided the lynchpin for a majority of recent EPA Clean Air Act regulations,” wrote Zachary Kurz Director of Communications for the Majority on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, in an e-mail on Friday.

“The Science, Space, and Technology Committee has repeatedly called for greater transparency and data access at EPA, and we look forward to learning more about these results.”

Steve Milloy, Washington D.C. based environmental and public health consultant and attorney as well as publisher of the website junkscience.com, through a Freedom of Information Act request, found out:

“EPA has been conducting air pollution effects tests on human subjects since at least January 2010.”

“By the time the EPA researchers had published their September 2011 report in Environmental Health Perspectives, they had conducted 41 such tests.” (bolding is mine)

 “Of the 41 human experiments, clinical effects were reported by the EPA in only two study subjects. Both of these are controversial. One is the case study reported in Environmental Health Perspectives, which has been previously debunked. The other study subject flagged by the EPA researchers as experiencing a clinical effect (“a short episode of an elevated heart rate during exposure”), in fact, denied feeling any effects. This reported effect was most probably due to some pre-existing condition or other stressor given the low-level of PM2.5 to which the study subject was exposed. Certainly the EPA has no reason to believe that was not the case or that the alleged heart rate jump was due to the PM2.5 exposure.”

“The other 39 study subjects were exposed to PM2.5 levels up to 21 times greater (i.e, up to 750 μg/m3) than the EPA’s own permissible exposure limit for PM2.5 on a 24-hour basis (i.e, 35 μg/m3). All reported exposures among the 39 study subjects were greater than the EPA’s 24-hour PM2.5 standard. Seven study subjects were exposed to levels 10 times greater than the EPA’s 24-hour PM2.5 standard. No clinical effects were reported for any of these exposures.”

Milloy argues that EPA researchers failed to disclose the 40 other human test subjects in the agency’s air pollution research and is a cause for “ethical concern.” 


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About the Author
Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket, a former Opinion Blogger/Editor of The Watercooler, was associate producer for the Media Research Center, a content producer for Robin Quivers of "The Howard Stern Show" on Sirius satellite radio and a production assistant and copy writer at MTV.

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