Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study
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The Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study (or CHEERS) was a study conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency designed to examine how children may be exposed to pesticides and other chemicals used in U.S. households, such as phthalates, brominated flame retardants, and perfluorinated compounds (PFOS, PFOA, PFNA, and others). The two-year study began in the summer of 2004, but was halted that November by Stephen L. Johnson (who was then Assistant Administrator of the EPA Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances and later became Administrator). On April 8, 2005, Johnson cancelled the study while he was awaiting Senate confirmation as EPA Administrator after the program was criticized. Johnson himself was also heavily criticized for his record of supporting the use of human test subjects in pesticide experiments when he was EPA's Assistant Administrator for Toxic Substances.
The study took place in Duval County, Florida, a region chosen for its year round use of pesticides and for its high concentration of pesticides. To qualify, the family had to have a confirmed history of residential pesticide use, a child under the age of 13 months, and agree to continue residential use of pesticides.
Participating families were promised monetary compensation (up to $970), a study t-shirt, a framed Certificate of Appreciation, a study bib for the baby, a calendar, a study newsletter, and a camcorder.
$2 million of the $9 million for the CHEERS study was supplied by the American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group that represents chemical makers. Because the results could directly affect rules for chemical manufacturers, this was interpreted by organizations such as the Environmental Working Group as a conflict of interest.
EPA recruiting information for CHEERS claimed that participation in the study presented "no risk" to the study subjects or their families. Critics contend that the state of knowledge about pesticide exposure risks to infants and children is imprecise, but suggests that residential pesticide exposures pose developmental risks to infants and children. CHEERS protocols may have provided for intervention with subjects where technicians discovered use of pesticides inconsistent with product label directions, although [EPA] has never publicly produced the research protocol submitted to an Institutional Review Board (IRB). However, EPA has canceled residential use of some of the pesticides CHEERS was to study, based on potential harm to infants and children. CHEERS made no provision for informing subjects of risks associated with continued residential use of those pesticides.
Critics contended that CHEERS would have paid families to expose their children to pesticides. EPA denies this, contending that because CHEERS would have only examined families who used pesticides prior to the study, CHEERS would not have increased the subject families' exposure to pesticides.
The study was also criticized for using disproportionately black, lower-income families as subjects.