The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a draft strategy to reduce animal testing, but the agency has been using thousands of animals every year in taxpayer-funded experiments.
EPA’s animal testing facility used about 20,000 animals a year, including rodents, rabbits and fish, according to watchdog group White Coat Waste-reviewed contract solicitation.
EPA published the results of at least 20 animal exposure studies in the past two years, based on a search for such studies in the agency’s science database. These experiments exposed lab rats to air pollutants EPA claims can be deadly in humans.
“Americans don’t like, want or need these outdated, expensive and deadly EPA animal tests that are siphoning money off of important programs that can actually help taxpayers and the environment,” White Coat Waste Project Advocacy and Public Policy Vice President Justin Goodman told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Scientists often fund and carry out these experiments at EPA’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL) in North Carolina. That lab also conducts controversial human exposure studies.
EPA came under fire in 2014 for testing air pollutants on humans without properly disclosing the risks. The agency’s inspector general criticized EPA for exposing people with health issues and the elderly to high levels of pollutants without disclosing cancer and mortality risks.
EPA claims there’s no safe level of exposure for humans to find particulate matter — a component of diesel exhaust — and smog, also called ozone. EPA animal studies exposed lab rats to high levels of both pollutants for hours at a time.
President Donald Trump’s administration’s 2019 budget proposal calls for slashing NHEERL’s funding from $115 million to $71 million. Goodman and Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz want EPA animal exposure studies to be cut from the budget as well.
“I am deeply disturbed that the EPA is spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars for misleading and gruesome pollution tests where lab animals are fed things like lard and coconut oil, forced to breathe diesel exhaust and smog, shocked and killed,” Gaetz told TheDCNF.
EPA released a draft policy Wednesday to promote alternative testing methods to reduce the use of animals in scientific studies as part of chemical safety legislation passed in 2016.
EPA developed the strategy in consultation with animal welfare groups, and the agency intends progress toward reducing then eliminating animal testing studies in the coming years.
“The strategic plan is intended to promote the development and use of alternative test methods to reduce, refine and replace vertebrate animal testing,” Nancy Beck, who heads EPA’s chemical safety office, told TheDCNF.
Animal testing does have scientific merits, for example, in medical fields where the impacts of certain drugs are unknown. Vaccines for polio and other diseases were developed with animal testing, according to the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science.
Critics say the process is fraught with problems when testing air pollutants on rats and applying those findings to humans.
“Mice are not little people when it comes to studying the potential health effects, like cancer, of low-level exposures to chemicals in the environment,” JunkScience.com Publisher Steve Milloy told TheDCNF.
Milloy also questioned why EPA still exposed lab rats to diesel exhaust and smog, despite claiming there’s “no safe level” of such pollutants for human exposure. Milloy is a critic of EPA’s air pollution claims but noted the hypocrisy of claiming pollutants to be deadly then testing them on animals and humans.
“Generally, in order to demonstrate that a chemicals can cause cancer in a rodent or other lab animal, the researcher will have to literally almost poison the animal,” Milloy said. He spent decades scrutinizing EPA science policies and practices.
“In addition to the physiological differences between mice and men, laboratory exposures to chemicals are typically nothing like real-life exposures,” Milloy added.
White Coat Waste identified most abstracts of EPA animal exposure studies do not to explain specific methods, but some give details about how lab rats were exposed to diesel exhaust, smog and other pollutants.
Lab rats were “fasted for six hours and then” force-fed high-fat food through a tube in a March 2017 study. Rats then had breathing and blood tested. Previous work “used treadmill exercise stress in rats to unmask the priming effects of air pollution inhalation,” the study also noted.
Lab rats, some of which were “spontaneously hypertensive,” in other studies, were exposed to high levels of diesel exhaust for hours at a time then given heart medication to see how they responded.
A 2016 study examined how rats responded to ozone exposure after having their adrenal glands removed. Rats were exposed to ozone for four hour periods over two days, four days after the surgery.
Researchers used a “mobile reaction chamber” to expose rats to smog in another experiment. Rats, one day later, were anesthetized, given heart medication, and stuck with a probe to measure the response.
“This is the kind of waste and abuse at the EPA that needs to stop, and I’m glad that Administrator Pruitt is prioritizing the replacement of tests like these with more efficient, effective and humane alternatives to animal tests,” Gaetz said.
The federal government spends as much as $14.5 billion per year on animal experimentation, White Coast Waste found in 2013. Some taxpayer-funded projects went on for decades and resulted in the cruel treatment of animals, the group said.
NHEERL did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment in time for publication.