Researchers Defend Importance of ‘Pollution Pill’ Study
Doctors at the Loma Linda University Medical Center defended their "pollution pill" research at a press conference Tuesday to "respond to media reports raising concerns" about the study in which human participants receive doses of perchlorate, a chemical in rocket fuel which has contaminated ground water in parts of Southern California, the AP/Arizona Daily Star reports. Researchers said the "potential medical benefit outweighed the risk" (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 11/29). Funded by Lockheed Martin, participants in the study receive $1,000 each to take a pill containing 83 times more perchlorate than permitted in drinking water by the California Department of Health Services to determine whether perchlorate "interferes" with the thyroid gland (California Healthline, 11/28).
The volunteers are taking pills with doses ranging from a half-milligram to 3 milligrams -- almost 100 times lower than the amount of perchlorate prescribed for thyroid illness, according to the researchers. Doctors at the press conference also said that the eight people who have volunteered for the study are aware of the risks, which include "bone marrow suppression, lessening of white and red blood cell counts and thyroid problems." Dr. William Saukel, chair of Loma Linda's review board, said the study will "produce information beneficial to the population as a whole." The AP/Arizona Daily Star reports that Lockheed Martin is facing "hundreds of lawsuits" alleging that the company created perchlorate pollution and that the substance threatens the health of San Bernardino and Riverside counties' residents (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 11/29).
Calling the experiment "bizarre," "repulsive" and "inhumane," the
San Francisco Chronicle says in an editorial that "endangering human subjects in an attempt to give a clean bill of health to an industrial benefactor shouldn't be allowed." The editorial says that the study should be halted "immediately" and the "responsible officials fed to the licensing wolves." The editorial concludes, "As a society, we ought to be as outraged by the risky exploitation of humans in scientific experiments as we are about alleged abuse of laboratory rats" (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/29). A Los Angeles Times editorial argues that studies on humans who ingest "environmental contaminants" are "ethically flawed" as they "confer no medical benefit." Because Lockheed Martin is sponsoring the study, the editorial says there is "good reason to doubt the independence and scientific usefulness" of the research. While studies like this one are approved by "institutional review boards," the Times says regulators should "tighten the currently lax guidelines" governing the boards. The editorial cites a report in the New England Journal of Medicine which found that when research is financed by companies with an interest in the outcome, "the quality of research oversight has declined." This leads the Times to conclude that "the Lockheed study may be just the latest sign of a larger problem" (Los Angeles Times, 11/28).