New York Times
April 9, 2005
E.P.A. Halts Florida Test on Pesticides
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
WASHINGTON, April 8 - Stephen L. Johnson, the acting administrator
of the Environmental Protection Agency, said on Friday that he
was canceling a study of the effects of pesticides on infants
and babies, a day after two Democratic senators said they
would block his confirmation if the research continued.
Rich Hood, a spokesman for the agency, acknowledged that Mr.
Johnson had canceled the test because of the objections to his
confirmation. "They are pretty juxtaposed in time, aren't
they?" Mr. Hood said. "There is clearly a connection."
But Mr. Hood said the opposition was not the only reason for
"Mr. Johnson said in a meeting this morning that, his confirmation
aside, he had come to pose serious questions as to whether or
not this study was the appropriate thing to do," he said.
A recruiting flier for the program, called the Children's Environmental
Exposure Research Study, or Cheers, offered $970, a free camcorder,
a bib and a T-shirt to parents whose infants or babies were exposed
to pesticides if the parents completed the two-year study. The
requirements for participation were living in Duval County, Fla.,
having a baby under 3 months old or 9 to 12 months old, and "spraying
pesticides inside your home routinely."
The study was being paid for in part by the American Chemistry
Council, a trade group that includes pesticide makers.
In an interview on Friday, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, one
of two Democrats who said they would block the confirmation, said
the study amounted to "using infants in my state as guinea
Mr. Nelson said the study sought to recruit subjects in a poor
neighborhood by offering parents compensation for practices potentially
dangerous to their children.
"If you knew smoking caused cancer," he said, "would
you want to have a study that said, 'Don't do anything, just keep
smoking like you are smoking and we are going to pay you and give
you a camcorder so that you can record all this'? "
Financing from the American Chemistry Council added a dangerous
potential conflict of interest, Mr. Nelson said.
In a statement explaining the cancellation, Mr. Johnson said he
first halted the study last fall "in light of questions about
the study design" to conduct an independent review.
But he attributed the cancellation mainly to mischaracterizations
of the study. Some Democratic critics have portrayed it as deliberately
spraying infants with pesticides.
"E.P.A. senior scientists have briefed me on the impact
these misrepresentations have had on the ability to proceed with
the study," Mr. Johnson said. "E.P.A. must conduct quality,
credible research in an atmosphere absent of gross misrepresentation
Mr. Johnson's confirmation was one of several stalemates in a
broader partisan battle over many of President Bush's nominees,
including 10 appeals court judges, his selection as commissioner
of food and drugs and his nomination of John R. Bolton, an under
secretary of state, as United States envoy to the United Nations.
Mr. Johnson's acquiescence, however, is unlikely to alter the
broader standoff. Senator Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee
and the Senate majority leader, has threatened that Republicans
may change the Senate procedures if Democrats continue to block
nominees by refusing the 60 votes needed to close debate on a
confirmation. Dr. Frist repeated to reporters this week that Senate
Republicans would not yield in their determination to see the
president's judicial nominees confirmed.
Under Senate rules, any senator can put a "hold" on
a nominee or proposal, and 60 votes are required to overturn it,
making it similar to a filibuster.
Mr. Nelson said that now that Mr. Johnson had canceled the program
he was prepared to withdraw his hold on Mr. Johnson's nomination
and vote for his confirmation. "I have heard only good things
about him," Mr. Nelson said. "And I am looking forward
to him being a breath of fresh air to the E.P.A."
A spokeswoman for Senator Barbara Boxer of California, the other
Democrat who put a hold on Mr. Johnson's confirmation, said that
Ms. Boxer would not block a vote on Mr. Johnson, a 25-year employee
of the environmental agency who is the first person with a science
background to be nominated to lead it, but that she had not decided
how to vote on his confirmation.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company