The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been sued in federal court for conducting illegal experiments on human beings. A federal judge will now determine whether the EPA has violated federal law and the most sacrosanct moral standards of scientific research or whether the EPA has been lying to Congress and the public about the dangers of air pollution.
Based on thousands of pages of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, since 2004 and continuing through the Obama administration, the EPA has intentionally exposed hundreds of human subjects to extraordinarily high levels of air pollutants such as diesel exhaust and fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5. The experiments occurred at an EPA facility located at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Many study subjects were health-impaired: suffering from asthma, metabolic syndrome, and old age (up to 75 years). Financially needy, they enrolled in these experiments for $12 per hour.
Since 1997, the EPA has regulated PM2.5, a major component of diesel exhaust, on the basis that it kills people after long-term exposure. In 2004, the EPA determined that PM2.5 could also kill on a short-term basis — within hours or days of exposure. The EPA also determined that there is no safe level of exposure to PM2.5 — any inhalation can kill. The EPA says that health-impaired people and the elderly are most vulnerable. The EPA also cites “strong evidence” that PM2.5 and diesel exhaust cause cancer.
The chairman of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council, Jon Samet, wrote in a 2011 commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine that there is no safe exposure to PM2.5, a view reiterated to House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., in a February 2012 letter by EPA air chief, Gina McCarthy.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified in Congress in September 2011 that “particulate 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.”
Cancer kills about 570,000 in the U.S. annually, according to the American Cancer Society.
The EPA does more than just badmouth PM2.5 and diesel exhaust; it issues stringent, multibillion dollar-costing regulations. In addition to national air quality standards, which the EPA is currently tightening, the two biggest rules of the Obama EPA are — the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury Air Toxics Standard. Both depend on the condemnation of PM2.5 as a killer.
In addition to testing the lethal and cancer-causing PM2.5 and diesel exhaust on frail and needy people, the EPA failed to inform the study subjects that these substances were so dangerous.
While the EPA has repeatedly told the public and Congress that PM2.5 can kill within hours of exposure, the EPA only told the study subjects, for example: “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 obese woman with a history of heart disease developed a cardiac arrhythmia during the experiment. She was rushed to the hospital for an overnight stay. The EPA attributed her heart problem to PM2.5 in a published report, but then failed to warn subsequent subjects of the cardiac arrhythmia risk.
In its lawsuit, the nonprofit American Tradition Institute asserts that the EPA’s conduct runs afoul of virtually every rule and ethical standard established since World War II and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments intended to protect human study subjects from rogue scientific research.
The EPA also has potential civil and even criminal liability. While the mere testing of such toxic substances is clearly prohibited, the EPA has compounded wrongdoing by failing to obtain informed consent. The only way the EPA doesn’t face such liabilities is if it has been grossly misleading the public and Congress about air pollutants.
Three of the EPA researchers are North Carolina-licensed physicians, and the state medical board is investigating. The University of North Carolina, which provided the EPA with the required institutional review board (IRB) for approving the experiments, is also investigating.
In contrast, the Obama-appointed Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues has so far refused multiple requests to get involved, claiming it already has a full agenda.
Because the EPA has so far resisted efforts, including those of Congress, to respond substantively to these allegations, they will now have the opportunity to do so before a federal judge.
• Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is a member of the American Tradition Institute.