Nelson wins one for Fla. familiesA Times Editorial
Published April 16, 2005
Who would defend a study that paid poor parents to record their infant's exposure to pesticides? The Bush administration did.
It wasn't until two Senate Democrats, including Bill Nelson of Florida, threatened to block the appointment of Stephen L. Johnson as head of the Environmental Protection Agency that the administration backed down. The study, with the sardonic acronym CHEERS (for Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study), was at the heart of the confirmation battle. Last week, Johnson announced the study's cancellation.
The EPA would have given Jacksonville-area families with infants under a year old more than $900 and a camcorder to document their pesticide use and to allow the agency to test the children. It didn't help the agency's credibility that the study was partly funded by the American Chemistry Council, the industry's lobbying group.
Although he agreed to drop the study, Johnson wouldn't admit it was a mistake, blaming "gross misrepresentation and controversy." As the EPA described it, the study would not have intentionally exposed infants to chemicals but merely recorded the family's pesticide use. The study would have included instruction in the proper use of household chemicals.
Even if it had worked as planned, however, the study had the potential to be a public relations nightmare. What if an infant suffered harm? There is a need for education in the proper use of household chemicals, but any effort that exploits unsophisticated families should be rejected.
Nelson and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., brought the issue to the forefront. Democrats don't win many EPA battles against the Bush administration, but chalk this one up as a victory.