WASHINGTON – A controversial program to pay parents to document the effects of pesticide exposure on their children was canceled Friday by the acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency, whose confirmation to the post has been jeopardized by the study.
The decision by Stephen L. Johnson removed a parliamentary hurdle to a Senate vote on his appointment by President Bush to become EPA’s full-time administrator. Two Senate Democrats had placed a “hold” on a confirmation vote on Johnson after he refused earlier this week to revoke the pesticide study.
The program, which had been suspended by EPA officials late last year, would have paid low-income families in Florida $970 if they agreed to gather evidence – including videotaping – on the effect of pesticides already used in their homes on their children.
At Johnson’s confirmation hearing Wednesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., blasted the program and called on him to officially end it. But Johnson said he would not do so until the EPA received an independent review of the program, called the Children’s Health Environmental Exposure Research Study – or CHEERS. The results of the review are expected in May.
Joining Boxer in blocking a vote on Johnson was Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. After Johnson’s cancellation of the pesticide study, both lawmakers said they were removing their “holds” on his nomination.
Johnson said Friday he concluded the study could not proceed because of “gross misrepresentations and controversy.”
His spokesman, Rich Hood, said, “There was a rather nasty explosion because of the way it was portrayed. This would not have exposed children to any additional pesticides. It was merely to measure the ones already exposed.”
Boxer said she has not yet decided whether to support Johnson’s confirmation, which is pending before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Johnson has been EPA’s acting administrator for several months and was nominated in March by Bush to be its permanent chief. A biologist and pathologist, Johnson is a 24-year veteran of the EPA and would be the first scientist to head it. His nomination drew praise from Republicans, Democrats, industry officials and many environmentalists.
EPA had started accepting applications for the program last year and said it would not pose additional risks because it would only accept families already using pesticides.
But the agency suspended the study in November after outcries from groups, including the New York-based Alliance for Human Research Protection. The project came under more criticism when it was disclosed that the American Chemistry Council had paid $2 million toward the $9 million study.