Water Pollutant Study Raises Eyebrows
A San Bernadino, Calif.-based water safety study that pays volunteers $1,000 each to take pills containing perchlorate, an industrial pollutant found in rocket fuel and often in drinking water, is raising many ethical concerns, the AP/Boston Globe reports. As the "first large-scale study" to test a water pollutant on human subjects, the experiment seeks to determine whether perchlorate "interferes" with the thyroid gland, and its data might affect national and state drinking water standards. Fifty volunteers in the six-month study, conducted at Loma Linda Medical Center and funded by Lockheed Martin, receive a pill containing 83 times more perchlorate than permitted in drinking water by the California Department of Health Services, the AP/Boston Globe reports. Fifty additional volunteers receive a placebo.
Research has shown that in high doses, perchlorate can inhibit thyroid hormone production, an essential function for regulating fetal and child growth and adult metabolism. For example, one recent study found that infants born in Arizona's Lake Mead region, where drinking water contains perchlorate, have "altered thyroid function."
However, other studies of the "perchlorate-contaminated areas" of Las Vegas and Chile have found "no such effects." Although there exists no government agency to regulate human experiments, the boards of three medical institutions approved the Loma Linda perchlorate tests, study director Anthony Firek said.
But "critics" like Environmental Working Group Research Director Richard Wiles have called the Loma Linda tests "inherently unethical" and question whether researchers should permit individuals to ingest chemicals or pesticides to learn about environmental contamination dangers. Unlike drug trials conducted to develop treatment therapies, critics contend that "consuming a pollutant has no medical benefits." However, study scientists "argue" that perchlorate is a drug used to treat hyperthyroidism, in addition to being a pollutant (AP/Boston Globe, 11/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.