- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 2, 2001

A young college student in Los Angeles is keeping a monkey out of a job. The student has volunteered to help researchers study the effects of air pollution. The woman peddles a stationary bicycle in a chamber, while scientists feed ultra fine soot and dust into the chamber at eight times the outdoor level. The young lady is paid $200 for a day's work, and feels she is making a contribution to society. Of course there are those who see this as nothing but exploitation of those in need.

The same people who put a fruit fly on the endangered species list are all in favor of using humans in many of these research efforts. I refer to none other than the Environmental Protection Agency. Believe it or not, there is an ethics panel within the EPA that feels human studies should be used, but only with great caution. Not everyone on the panel agrees. Those in favor say possible health risks to the volunteers are outweighed by the study's potential benefit to the general public.

That doesn't sound like the EPA we have all come to love or abhor, depending upon how much their latest directive will deplete your bank account. Last year, there were 110 projects approved for human study. One such study required ingestion of a rocket fuel component. The research scientists said that the possible health risks were, again, outweighed by the benefits to society. Don't we have chimpanzees who could pass benefits on to society just as well?

Of course, if chimpanzees are used, there is a new law requiring the labs to send the chimps to some kind of monkey nursing home where they are kept happy for the remainder of their days. They can no longer be disposed of or released in the wild because many of them are carrying a disease. Much better to use a college student. Students are a long way from being included on an EPA endangered species list, and there is no People for the Ethical Treatment of College Students organization — yet.

I wonder if prisoners will now be able to resume their guinea pig status. If you have to keep a monkey for all of its life span, 60 years in some cases, a prisoner might be more economically feasible. Also, prisoners will work for a lot less than $200 a day. We could even start charging them for their keep while they're guests of the state. This would be a great chance for the EPA to do something worthwhile and at the same time reduce their risk of lawsuits in the future from college students who realize they were duped.

There is a research center in a Los Angeles suburb that has exposed people to air pollutants under controlled conditions since the 1970s. I wonder if the conditions in the center are more or less severe than the normal air volunteers breathe once they leave the building. Experimenting on humans would seem to be against everything the EPA was created for. What we have here is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and when it does, the monkeys will be back in business.

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