Could a NC Law Put EPA Doctor-Researchers in Jail?

EPA testWill a state be willing to act against the Environmental Protection Agency’s practice of exposing humans to diesel exhaust emissions, when medical authorities and the courts have refused to intervene?

It may be the case in North Carolina, where doctors have conducted such experiments at EPA’s Human Studies Facility in Chapel Hill. A bill introduced at the state legislature would criminalize research that subjects human beings to the inhalation of “fine particulate matter” (called “PM2.5” in regulators’ lingo), which EPA and previous Administrator Lisa Jackson have said causes cancer and even premature deaths. A felony conviction, if the bill is passed as written, would require punishment at the same level as those found guilty of patient abuse, and assault inflicting bodily injury.

The measure was drawn up because federal Judge Anthony Trenga ruled the court had no jurisdiction in a lawsuit against EPA, because EPA’s behavior was not relevant to any official action it took. And a complaint filed by sound science advocate Steve Milloy of with the North Carolina Medical Board, against the three doctors who conducted the experiments, led to no action.

The NC bill’s language states, “It is unlawful for any person to conduct research studies that intentionally expose human subjects to fine particulate matter at a concentration higher than 12 micrograms per cubic meter or the primary annual health national ambient air quality standard….”

“This law would no longer give EPA the wriggle room to treat human beings as guinea pigs, and that is what they are doing,” said Milloy to WNCN-TV, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh. “They are treating human beings as laboratory animals – as guinea pigs.”

Milloy accumulated evidence about the tests via the Freedom of Information Act. After recruiting candidates for the trials, EPA exposed subjects to PM2.5 at extremely elevated levels for up to two hours at a time, according to the records Milloy obtained. He also learned that experiments were conducted on 41 subjects, and of those, one experienced atrial fibrillation – a 58-year-old obese woman with a history of health problems and family history of heart disease – and another developed an elevated heart rate.

EPA’s Web site on particulate matter and its 2009 “Summary of PM2.5 Risk Estimates,” stated, “an examination of cause-specific risk estimates found that PM2.5 risk estimates for cardiovascular deaths are similar to those for all-cause deaths….” Also, in July 2011 EPA stated in the Federal Register announcement of its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule that “a recent EPA analysis estimated that 2005 levels of PM2.5 and ozone were responsible for between 130,000 and 320,000 PM2.5-related and 4,700 ozone-related premature deaths….”

Besides that, in September 2011 EPA Administrator Jackson told the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “Particulate matter causes death. It doesn’t make you sick. It’s directly causal to dying sooner than you should.”

While Milloy pursued legal action with the assistance of the American Tradition Institute, he also filed a complaint last June with the North Carolina Medical Board that accused three doctors in the state – two employed by EPA (Dr. Andrew Ghio and Dr. Wayne Cascio) and one by the University of North Carolina (Dr. Eugene Chung) – of violating their Hippocratic Oath and also the state’s Medical Practice Act.

In the course of the trials, the test subjects were placed in a chamber at the Human Testing Facility where exhaust from a diesel truck was fed in via an external intake pipe. The exhaust was blown into the chamber, mixed with additional air, and forced directly into their lungs. Despite the clear risk to the test subjects, who were not warned of the dangers involved, the Medical Board found “there was no violation of the Medical Practice Act” by the three doctors.

In one example a former student at UNC, Landon Huffman, found out about the EPA program through an advertisement in The Daily Tar Heel, the university’s newspaper. Huffman is an asthmatic and was a member-plaintiff in the lawsuit against EPA to get the experiments halted. According to the complaint, Huffman “was led to believe that the benefit of the experiment would be to help people with asthma…. He was not informed that the pollution EPA was forcing into his lungs could actually cause him to have an asthma attack.” In a September interview with WNCN-TV, Huffman said EPA did not warn him about the dangers he was facing by inhaling PM2.5 at the Human Studies Facility.

“I was 18 years old and just interested in making a little extra money,” he told the station. “It seemed like a relatively easy and safe thing to do.”

Huffman said he earned $3,000 dollars over the course of a year for his participation.

“They convinced me that what I was doing was harmless,” Huffman said. “That I was breathing air from outside… Why would they lie to me, why would they mislead me like that?”

So where the federal government, the justice system and the medical community are failing, some North Carolina state lawmakers are deciding how to protect their citizens. Besides banning the PM2.5 experiments and making them a felony, the proposed law also calls for a broader study by the state Commission of Public Health to investigate risk factors of humans in studies “involving exposure to harmful or potential harmful substances.” The findings could have implications for what EPA is permitted to do at its Human Testing laboratory.

Regardless, the disingenuousness of Lisa Jackson and the EPA is appalling. As Milloy has said, either PM2.5 is truly lethal and thus the experiments were highly immoral, or the agency has exaggerated those claims and therefore excessively regulates power plants and industries based upon scientific lies.

Is it within a state’s legal authority to throw EPA minions or doctors in jail if they conduct such experiments within its jurisdiction? We may find out before too long.

“EPA has said that it can be deadly, it can cause cancer and it can cause respiratory problems,” state Sen. Chad Barefoot told WNCN, “so we have an obligation here at the state to make sure no one is deliberately exposing people to these types of chemicals.”

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes, an aggregator of North Carolina news.