If the shocking allegations contained in a lawsuit filed last Friday by responsible science advocate Steven Milloy are accurate, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a major scandal on its hands. As reported by the National Legal and Policy Center, Milloy initiated litigation in U.S. District Court in Virginia, based on evidence he accumulated via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). He alleges that the EPA engaged in disturbing experimentation that deliberately exposed human beings to airborne particulate matter the agency itself considers lethal. The experiments were conducted at EPA’s Human Studies Facility at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. “That EPA administrator Lisa Jackson permitted this heinous experimentation to occur under her watch shocks the conscience,” said Milloy.
The suit accuses the EPA of paying as many as 41 participants $12 an hour to breathe in concentrated diesel exhaust, for as long a two hours at a time. The exhaust was directly piped in from a truck parked outside the Chapel Hill facility. According to the lawsuit, the fine particulate matter, called “PM2.5," was piped in at levels 21 times greater than what the EPA calls its "permissible limit."
Yet even that phrase is misleading. In testimony delivered to Congress in September of 2011, EPA chief Lisa Jackson claimed that exposure to fine particulate matter of 2.5 microns--or less--was lethal. "Particulate matter causes premature death. It's directly causal to dying sooner than you should," she testified at the time.
Milloy learned about the experiments last year, after reading about them in a government-supported scientific journal. In June, he filed a complaint with the North Carolina Medical Board, accusing Drs. Andrew Ghio and Wayne Cascio, both of whom were employed by the EPA, along with Dr. Eugene Chung, who worked for the University of North Carolina, of violating EPA standards of conduct in human research and the Hippocratic Oath. "During these experiments, the study subjects were intentionally exposed to airborne fine particulate matter ('PM2.5') at levels ranging from 41.54 micrograms per cubic meter to 750.83 micrograms per cubic meter for periods of up to two hours,” Milloy wrote to Dr. Ralph C. Loomis, president of the NC Medical Board. “The EPA also believes that PM2.5 is carcinogenic to humans,” he added.
Dr. David Schnare, a former EPA litigator who is now director of American Tradition Institute’s Environmental Law Center, which filed the lawsuit, painted a detailed and chilling picture of exactly how the experiments were conducted. “EPA parked a truck’s exhaust pipe directly beneath an intake pipe on the side of a building," he revealed. "The exhaust was sucked into the pipe, mixed with some additional air and then piped directly into the lungs of the human subjects. EPA actually has pictures of this gas chamber, a clear plastic pipe stuck into the mouth of a subject, his lips sealing it to his face, diesel fumes inhaled straight into his lungs.”
Milloy added some historic perspective to the mix. “In the context of rules established after scientific horrors of World War II and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, the notion that EPA would pipe high levels of PM2.5 and diesel exhaust into the lungs of unhealthy people to see what would happen is simply appalling,” he said in a press release announcing the lawsuit.
"Unhealthy" is an accurate assessment. The 41 subjects who took part in the experiment included people who were elderly or suffering from asthma, hypertension or metabolic syndrome. One of them, an obese 58-year-old woman with a history of health problems and family history of heart disease, experienced an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) and had to be hospitalized as a result. Another subject developed an elevated heart rate. Both resumed normal respiratory and cardiac functions within two hours--according to an EPA report.
When he filed his complaint last June, Milloy pointed out that the two EPA doctors who published a case study of the experiment in the Journal Environmental Health Perspectives mentioned only the 58-year-old woman who suffered the cardiac incident. The 40 other test subjects, who experienced “no clinical effects requiring follow-up,” were omitted from the report. Since properly conducted research requires results both "for" and "against" the hypothesis on which the research is based, the study is scientifically worthless.
Yet a quote from that study is quite revealing. "Although epidemiologic data strongly support a relationship between exposure to air pollutants and cardiovascular disease, this methodology does not permit a description of the clinical presentation in an individual case. To our knowledge, this is the first case report of cardiovascular disease after exposure to elevated concentrations of any air pollutant," it said.
Milloy concluded that the way the doctors framed their study meant one of two things: either the EPA believes fine particulate matter is as deadly as they claim--and thus, these doctors are guilty of misconduct--or their claims that thousands of lives have been lost from inhaling fine particulate matter are utter nonsense. “If PM2.5 does not kill then (the EPA's) utility Mercury Air Toxics Standard and Clean State Air Pollution Rule benefits claims are entirely bogus,” Milloy wrote an email. “Must be one or the other; can't be neither.”
If PM2.5 is indeed toxic, then the EPA violated its own requirements, aka its "Common Rule," which states that researchers must minimize risk to subjects, and that those risks must be reasonable compared to anticipated benefits. Furthermore, subjects are supposed to be fully informed of the risks involved, and studies with “risk of substantial injury to a human subject” are not to be approved, except in extremely rare cases that must be given the OK by higher agency authorities. Milloy, who obtained 3,500 pages of documents as a result of his FOIA filing, noted that since the EPA already considers PM2.5 lethal, no benefits could possibly accrue from subjecting people to it. He further alleges that none of the patients were told that breathing in such toxic fumes were life- or health-threatening.
Among the demands outlined in the lawsuit are the ideas that the EPA should be barred from conducting illegal life-and health-threatening experiments; a formal investigation of the experiments the EPA has already conducted should be initiated; and the regulations based on the illegal experiments should be suspended, pending an investigation.
The EPA sent a statement responding to Milloy's lawsuit to the Washington Times' Kerry Picket. "EPA is one of 15 federal departments and agencies that conduct or support research with human subjects under the governance of the Common Rule," it said. "All human exposure studies conducted by EPA scientists are independently evaluated for safety and ethics, and the results are peer-reviewed. The complaint has been referred to the Department of Justice and further inquiry regarding litigation should be directed to them."
That would be arguably the most politically compromised DOJ in recent history, one already enmeshed in a major scandal of its own, courtesy of the Fast and Furious debacle. Nonetheless, Americans owe a debt of gratitude to Steven Milloy and the National Legal and Policy Center for their tireless efforts to expose one of two disturbing realities: either the EPA has needlessly endangered the lives of uninformed participants in a worthless experiment or they have knowingly lied for years about the dangers of airborne particulate matter. In either case, the American people deserve answers and accountability.
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