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The Ethics of Human Pesticide Experimentation





MCS America

Lourdes Salvador's Column

...Co-founder of MCS America discusses the latest Multiple Chemical Sensitivity issues.








Lourdes Salvador is the founder of MCS America, a science writer, and a social advocate for the greater awareness of environmental contamination, human toxicology, and propagation of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) as a disorder of organic biological origin induced by toxic environmental insults.

For more information visit MCS America




Monday, September 6th, 2010:


The Ethics of Human Pesticide Experimentation


by Lourdes Salvador

It is well known that pesticides are toxic and have the capability of impairing human health. The recent deaths of two young girls in Washington after pesticide fumes seeped into their bedroom is enough to prove that pesticide use may be dangerous and unpredictable.

It would seem that this unpredictable danger should warrant more study on the human effects of pesticides. But that would mean intentionally exposing humans to pesticides and this raises some serious ethical issues.

In 2003, Reuters Health reported, "Manufacturers of pesticides or other chemicals sometimes give adult volunteers a dose of the product in order to determine what levels humans can tolerate without getting sick. Determining a safe level for humans is necessary before companies can gain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval to market most pesticides and other chemicals. Scientists attacked the studies Wednesday, calling them unethical because people can only be hurt, and not helped, by receiving doses of toxic chemicals."

The pesticide industry has encouraged the Environmental Protection Agency to allow human pesticide experimentation in order for them to establish allowable human exposure limits to these toxic chemicals.








Ethics must be considered in human testing. Once a pesticide induced illness occurs, a chronic decline in permanent health usually follows.

According to Michigan State University´s Pesticide Applicator Core Training Manual, "Illnesses caused by repeated pesticide exposure are cancer, birth defects, blood disorders, brain damage, and kidney problems."

Ethics are built, in part, on non-maleficence, a concept that supports ensuring no harm. Non-maleficence is most commonly recognized in medical practice as part of the physician´s oath to "first do no harm".

It is impossible to test pesticides on humans to determine safe exposure limits without harming some, if not all, test subjects.

In 2005 the EPA announced, "Under the current rules all third-party intentional dosing research on pesticides involving pregnant or nursing women and children intended for submission to EPA is banned, and EPA will neither conduct nor support any intentional dosing studies that involve pregnant or nursing women or children for all substances EPA regulates."

However, the rules for using non-pregnant, non-nursing adults as willing test subjects are much more murky due to true informed consent challenges.

Informed Consent

Informed consent involves a researcher obtaining a signed consent form from a research subject. But, informed consent is much more than that.

True informed consent cannot be given without full understanding of all potential outcomes and risks. A person must be mentally capable of giving informed consent and have the knowledge and education on the consented subject matter to give consent with full understanding.

It is extremely difficult to obtain true informed consent and few researchers take the time to ensure that research subjects are actually capable of giving true informed consent.

Research subjects often express the belief that the trials they undergo safe and that a researcher would knowingly put them in danger.

Pesticide dosing could never be considered an ethical practice, nor could anyone give truly give informed consent knowing how toxic pesticides are... unless they wish to be harmed or are suicidal. 

Nature of Pesticides

Pesticides are designed to kill both rapidly and effectively.  They are not safe for humans, especially children and small pets.  There are safer alternatives to pesticides.  Need more be said? 


London L, Coggon D, Moretto A, Westerholm P, Wilks MF, Colosio C. The ethics of human volunteer studies involving experimental exposure to pesticides: unanswered dilemmas. Environ Health. 2010 Aug 18;9(1):50. [Epub ahead of print]

Zwillich, Todd. Ethics of Human Pesticide Studies Questioned. Reuters Health. January 8, 2003.






For more articles on this topic, see: MCSA News.


Copyrighted 2010 Lourdes Salvador & MCS America



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