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Lawmaker wants probe of EPA experiments on humans

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FILE: Feb. 9, 2011: Sen. James Inhofe testifies on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. (AP)

A powerful lawmaker is calling for Senate hearings following a lawsuit charging the Environmental Protection Agency conducted illegal human experiments, including some that exposed asthmatic patients to known carcinogens.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., called it “extremely disturbing” that EPA scientists may have exposed people with conditions such as asthma and a syndrome that puts them at higher risk for heart disease and strokes to concentrated, high levels of substances like fine particulate matter and diesel exhaust. The allegations first surfaced after Steve Milloy, an author and publisher of JunkScience.com, learned of the experiments through Freedom of Information Act requests. Milloy's subsequent report led to the lawsuit and now Inhofe's call for hearings.

"Indeed, the EPA may be criminally liable for its conduct.”

- Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.

"It is extremely disturbing that EPA may have conducted illegal human experiments, exposing people with conditions such as asthma and metabolic syndrome to concentrated high levels of substances like fine particulate matter and diesel exhaust," Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, wrote in a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the committee chair. "EPA has repeatedly said that these substances can cause cancer and lead to death so if these allegations of human experiments are true, it just validates the problem that the Obama-EPA's mission is not about public health."

At least some of the experiments predated the Obama administration, however. Landon Huffman, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, participated in experiments conducted at the EPA’s Human Studies Facility in Chapel Hill, N.C., in November 2006 and May 2007. Huffman, who suffers from asthma, believed the experiments were aimed at easing his ailment and claims he was not informed that the pollution forced into his lungs could endanger his health. He is suing in federal district court in Alexandria, Va.

“His health is of utmost importance to him and he is disturbed by the fact that because of his participation in EPA’s human experimentation, his health is in greater jeopardy than when he voluntarily agreed to participate in those studies,” reads Huffman's complaint. “As a result of those studies, he is distressed that he may not be able to provide for his wife and family in the short-term as well as long-term.”

Milloy said records show tests conducted on 41 people exposed them to airborne particulates from diesel truck exhausts at levels 135 times the mean exposure in the United States, increasing their risk of immediate death by 10 percent.

“The law and the rules that the EPA has violated, they’re not just technical, trivial regulations they ran afoul of,” Milloy, who compared the research to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments and to those conducted in Nazi Germany, told FoxNews.com. “These are among the most sacrosanct federal regulations in that they are protecting human subjects in medical experiments.

“No study subject was told that these things cause cancer,” he added, citing the "Common Rule," a set of ethics guidelines governing experiments on people. “It’s shocking.”

Inhofe suggested that the EPA "may be criminally liable for its conduct.”

EPA officials, in a statement to FoxNews.com, said all human exposure studies conducted by its scientists are "independently evaluated" for safety and ethics — and all results are peer-reviewed.

"EPA is one of many federal departments and agencies, in addition to other research institutions, that conduct or support research with human subjects under the governance of the Common Rule," the statement read. "The Department of Justice is representing the United States in the litigation and further inquiry regarding the case should be directed to them."

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill officials said they take the “conduct and oversight” of research seriously and follow all applicable policies and regulations. “Accordingly, we are investigating the circumstances surrounding the exposure studies in question, to ensure that these ethical and regulatory obligations were met,” the school said in a statement obtained by FoxNews.com.

Although the EPA isn't discussing the allegations, agency Administrator Lisa Jackson is on record about the dangers of compounds test subjects were allegedly exposed to.

“Particulate matter causes premature death,” Jackson said at an unrelated Congressional hearing in September, 2011. “It doesn’t make you sick. It’s directly causal to dying sooner than you should.”