U.S. Water News Online
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. -- A hundred volunteers are
participating in a drinking water study which requires them to take
pills containing an industrial pollutant found in rocket fuel.
Volunteers were recruited by Loma Linda Medical Center and are
being paid $1,000 apiece to see if a pollutant called perchlorate is
harmful to human health, the Los Angeles Times has reported.
The experiment, funded by Lockheed Martin, has raised questions
about whether scientists should allow people to ingest chemicals or
pesticides to research the dangers of environmental contaminants.
But those who perform these human experiments compare them to
clinical trials for drugs. Scientists strengthen their case by saying
that perchlorate is not just a pollutant but also a drug used to
However, medical ethicists say clinical trials are done to help
find treatments for sick people while consuming a pollutant has no
``These tests are inherently unethical,'' said Richard Wiles,
research director of the Environmental Working Group, a national
environmental group opposed to human clinical trials for pollutants.
The six-month perchlorate experiment, which began in August,
reportedly is the first large-scale study to use human volunteers to
test a water pollutant. Pollutants are usually tested on lab animals.
Of the 100 volunteers involved, half of them ingest the pollutant
and the others get a placebo.
Those taking the perchlorate are swallowing up to three milligrams
daily -- 83 times more than a person would get from drinking water
containing the amount allowed by California's Department of Health
At high doses, perchlorate can inhibit production of thyroid
hormones. Normal thyroid function is critical for regulating the
growth of fetuses and young children and the metabolism of adults.
Experts are trying to determine whether small doses of perchlorate
-- like those found in water supplies in San Bernardino, Azusa, Santa
Clarita, Riverside, and other areas -- interfere with thyroid glands.
A study published this year shows that infants in the Lake Mead
area of Arizona -- where water contains perchlorate -- are born with
altered thyroid function. But other studies, in
perchlorate-contaminated areas of Las Vegas and Chile, have shown no
The volunteers in the Loma Linda experiment are undergoing
extensive medical testing to ensure that they face no threats while
participating in the study. The examinations include monthly tests to
measure their thyroid, liver, and kidney function.
There is currently no government agency that regulates human
experiments. However every institution has a review board that must
approve every study.
The boards of three medical institutions approved Loma Linda's
perchlorate tests, said Anthony Firek, who is directing the study.
In addition to Loma Linda, the study was approved by Boston
University -- which employs one of the researchers -- and the Jerry
L. Pettis Memorial VA Medical Center, where some of the tests are
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