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OCA's National Petition Against EPA Pesticide Study on Children Shows Results

The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon)
November 22, 2004

FOR PROTEST TO WORK, GO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE

By: S. RENEE MITCHELL - The Oregonian

Thanks to the Internet, a highly organized countrywide protest against a government study -- partly funded by the U.S. chemical industry -- has grown faster than a Shrek Chia Pet.

And a Northeast Portland church has been right in the midst of it, using members' righteous indignation to help stir up the national flames of dissension.

"This is the most sickening thing I've ever seen," says business consultant Lou Boston, a member of St. Andrews Catholic Church. "If they can do this in that cavalier a manner, then they can do anything they want."

Here's the scoop: The federal Environmental Protection Agency wants to spend $9 million to collect and analyze data on how commonly used chemicals and pesticides make children sick.

These potential poisons are in stuff we use every day. Phthalates, for example, make perfumes last longer and are on the time-release coatings of various pharmaceutical drugs.

Brominated flame retardants, which make it more difficult for a material to catch on fire, are found in computers, televisions and vacuum cleaners. And perfluorinated chemicals are used in Scotchgard and Teflon products.

Most of us don't pay attention to how these chemicals are ingested in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. But how do they affect our babies, from birth to age 3? No one knows for sure.

So the EPA wants to recruit 60 North Florida families that regularly use pesticides and chemicals. At the end of the two-year study, the participants will get a certificate, a video camera and $970.

"There's no suggestion that we are asking them to use pesticides," says William Farland, an administrator in EPA's research department. "We simply want them to continue to carry out their day-to-day activities."

Despite the acronym CHEERS, response to the Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study has been anything but. Environmentalists are upset that the study is partially funded with $2 million from the powerful lobbying arm of the chemical industry.

"Even the appearance of that makes the study tainted and not worth doing," says scientist Tim Kropp, of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org).

Social-justice activists are concerned that the study targets low-income families. And critics also question whether the $9 million might be better spent on an antipesticide awareness campaign.

This month, the Organic Consumers Association started an online petition against the CHEERS study, which was scheduled to begin after the first of the year. Information about the petition was forwarded to St. Andrews members on Nov. 12.

That same afternoon, Boston challenged his fellow church members: What are we going to do about this? That night, Robert Castagna, executive director for the Oregon Catholic Conference, which represents the state's 425,000 Roman Catholics, tapped into his national circle of influence.

Castagna forwarded the St. Andrews e-mail to a friend in Washington, D.C., who works at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops oversee all the Catholic churches in the country.

Monday morning, a phone call was made to the EPA. Monday afternoon, Castagna was e-mailed a reply: The issue has been resolved.

Because of the different groups protesting the CHEERS study, it's going through another review process until next spring. Whether folks in Portland had anything to do with planting that seed is less important than the issue it raises with the rest of us: We can't take much of anything for granted anymore.

If you want to know more about the study, check out www.epa.gov/cheers. For information on the petition, check out www.organicconsumers.org.

To tap into the passion of putting protest into action, check out St. Andrews on Northeast Alberta Street. When it comes to social-justice issues, members there practice what they preach. S. Renee Mitchell: 503-221-8142; rmitch@news.oregonian.com;

 

Sign Organic Consumer Association's online petition to stop this study!