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Environment Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy gestures as she speaks during the Tsinghua Environmental Forum at the Tsinghua University School of Environment in Beijing, Dec. 10, 2013. (REUTERS/Andy Wong/Pool) Environment Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy gestures as she speaks during the Tsinghua Environmental Forum at the Tsinghua University School of Environment in Beijing, Dec. 10, 2013. (REUTERS/Andy Wong/Pool)  

EPA to study outdoor air pollutants’ effects on young blacks with asthma

Already under fire for human testing, the Environmental Protection Agency will next study the effects of outdoor air pollutants on African-American teens.

The EPA’s ongoing “TEEN AIRE” study is looking to find out how “chemicals and dusts in the air outside, also known as outdoor air pollutants, affect asthma control in teens.” The EPA and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine are looking for African-American kids “between the ages of 12 and 17.” The study also qualifies that these teens should need “to take a daily controller medicine for your asthma.”

Teens will be asked to do weekly breathing tests and have blood drawn by researchers, as well as have their “temperature, heart rate and blood pressure” taken each week. Teens and their parent or guardian will be asked questions each week about the subject’s health and daily activities. Teens will also be asked “NOT to take certain medicines, like Advil, Aleve, or aspirin, or fish oil food supplements, for the week before and throughout the research study.”

Earlier this week, the EPA’s inspector general released a report saying that the EPA failed to fully disclose the health risks to human test subjects in studies exposing them to air pollutants that the agency says are deadly.

The EPA IG report also noted that the agency followed all applicable rules and regulations in its studies. The EPA has reiterated that it did nothing wrong in its human testing studies.

“The findings of the Office of Inspector General’s March 31 report confirm that EPA followed all laws and regulations concerning human studies research, and has internal guidelines in place that exceed those normally required by universities, industry and other government agencies conducting human studies research,” the EPA said in a statement.

But the IG report does detail how the EPA exposed people to high levels of pollutants, including particulate matter (PM) and diesel exhaust, without fully disclosing the maximum exposure levels and the risks of cancer and death.

For human subjects “exposure risks were not always consistently represented” and “the EPA did not include information on long-term cancer risks in its diesel exhaust studies’ consent forms.”

The IG noted that “only one of five studies’ consent forms provided the subject with information on the upper range of the pollutant” they would be exposed to, and only “two of five alerted study subjects to the risk of death for older individuals with cardiovascular disease.”

This is contrary to the EPA’s public warnings about PM, which have said that it’s an air pollutant that causes premature death after even short-term exposure.

“Particulate matter causes premature death. It doesn’t make you sick. It’s directly causal to dying sooner than you should,” former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told Congress on Sept. 22, 2011. “If we could reduce particulate matter to healthy levels it would have the same impact as finding a cure for cancer in our country.”

A 2003 EPA document says even short-term exposure to PM can result in heart attacks and arrhythmias for people with heart disease. Long-term exposure can result in reduced lung function and even death. A 2006 review by the EPA reiterates that short-term PM exposure can cause “mortality and morbidity.”

“It is abhorrent for EPA to be conducting these human experiments without providing robust information and notification to the patients about the risks of death and following the strictest protocols,” said Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, who first warned of human testing problems back in 2012.

“While the EPA champions protecting human health, in one case, EPA doubled the amount of particulate matter it was exposing individuals to without fully informing the participants or all the proper ethical review boards,” Broun added in a statement. “This blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of others is despicable, and the proper steps must be taken to ensure that such carelessness does not occur again.”

“EPA is one of many federal departments and agencies, in addition to other research institutions and industry members, which conduct or support research with human subjects under the governance of the Common Rule,” the EPA said. “All human exposure studies conducted by EPA scientists are independently evaluated for safety and ethics, and the results are peer-reviewed. EPA is committed to ensuring the protection of study participants.”

The “TEEN AIRE” study will run for about two to three months and pay teens $594. The parents or guardians who take them to appointments will get a $35 gift card each week.

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