WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency won't rush to cancel a study on how pesticides affect children despite threats from Senate Democrats to hold up confirmation of the new EPA administrator until the study is canned.
Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida demanded Wednesday that EPA end the study, saying they will block a Senate vote on the confirmation of Stephen Johnson to be the agency's administrator.
But the agency said Thursday it is awaiting a report from a science advisory panel before it decides whether to cancel the planned study. EPA has suspended the study, and the advisory panel's report is not expected until May, said EPA spokesman Rich Hood.
Johnson, a career EPA scientist, has been acting administrator since Mike Leavitt left the agency in January to become secretary of the Health and Human Services Department. He was nominated by President Bush in March to succeed Leavitt.
Hood said EPA would consider canceling the pesticides study "depending on what this outside panel comes up with."
In the meantime, he said, the lack of Senate confirmation is preventing Johnson from naming deputies necessary "to keep the agency working on all cylinders."
Johnson suspended the pesticide study last November before it began. "That was a full suspension, not to do any recruiting, not to do anything," he told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday.
The study is to determine how pesticides, which can cause neurological damage in children, and chemicals such as flame retardants, might be ingested, inhaled or otherwise absorbed through food, drink, soil, crop residue and household dust.
EPA had planned to give participating families $970 plus a camcorder and children's clothes, but critics inside and outside the agency said that might encourage low-income families to use pesticides in their homes. The two-year study was to be conducted on the families of 60 children in Duval County, Fla.
EPA also had agreed to accept $2 million for the $9 million study from the American Chemistry Council, a trade group that represents chemical makers.
Nelson said the study would be conducted among residents of "a low-income minority neighborhood."
He said he would use against Johnson "every parliamentary procedure that is available to me under the rules of the Senate to protect the children of my state until he, as the future head of the EPA, will signal that he will cancel the program."
© 2005 The Associated Press