EPA nom­i­nee faces grilling over ties to chem­i­cal in­dus­try

Crit­ics ques­tion fund­ing and re­search of non-profit he heads

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Deirdre Sh­es­green Dour­son

WASH­ING­TON A Univer­sity of Cincin­nati pro­fes­sor nom­i­nated by President Trump for a top job at the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency is com­ing un­der in­tense scru­tiny for his fi­nan­cial ties to the chem­i­cal in­dus­try.

Michael Dour­son is a tox­i­col­o­gist who spe­cial­izes in en­vi­ron­men­tal risk as­sess­ment, now tapped to lead the EPA’s Of­fice of Chem­i­cal Safety and Pol­lu­tion Preven­tion.

Much of Dour­son’s re­search has been funded by the very in­dus­tries he would reg­u­late if he wins con­fir­ma­tion. Among the in­ter­est groups fi­nanc­ing his work: the Amer­i­can Pe­tro­leum In­sti­tute, the Amer­i­can Chem­istry Coun­cil and the Amer­i­can Clean­ing In­sti­tute.

Crit­ics fear Dour­son would use the EPA post to weaken safety stan­dards for a raft of chem­i­cals and pes­ti­cides, po­ten­tially set­ting what they say are dan­ger­ous lev­els for con­tam­i­nants al­lowed in ev­ery­thing from cos­met­ics to paint thin­ner to drink­ing wa­ter.

“We think he would be an atro­cious choice for this po­si­tion,” said Richard Deni­son, a se­nior sci­en­tist at the En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund, a Wash­ing­ton­based ad­vo­cacy group. “Hav­ing some­one of his ilk, who is so tilted in one di­rec­tion, would just be re­ally a prob­lem.”

Dour­son re­ferred ques­tions about his work to the EPA. An EPA spokes­woman did not re­spond to emailed ques­tions. But in an­nounc­ing his nom­i­na­tion in July, the agency touted his cre­den­tials.

“Dr. Michael Dour­son has been a foun­da­tional thinker in the pro­tec­tion of hu­man health from chem­i­cal ex­po­sure,” Oliver Kroner, who works in the city of Cincin­nati’s Of­fice of En­vi­ron­ment and Sus­tain­abil­ity, said.

Dour­son has worked at the EPA be­fore, serv­ing in var­i­ous po­si­tions from 1980 un­til 1994. He has been af­fil­i­ated with the Univer­sity of Cincin­nati since 2015, and is a fac­ulty mem­ber at the school’s Risk Sci­ence Cen­ter.

Dour­son could re­ceive a con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing as soon as next week.

In prepa­ra­tion for the grilling, Sen. Tom Carper, the top Demo­crat on the En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, has asked Dour­son for a raft of doc­u­ments re­lated to his re­search and the in­dus­tries that have funded it.

In an Aug. 4 let­ter, the Delaware sen­a­tor asked Dour­son to de­tail any work he’s done on be­half of chem­i­cal com­pa­nies en­tan­gled in law­suits, to spec­ify any cor­po­rate work that might force him to re­cuse him­self from EPA de­ci­sions, and to item­ize the fund­ing sources for his non-profit re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion, among other queries.

Carper noted that Dour­son’s nom­i­na­tion comes at a piv­otal mo­ment — as the EPA im­ple­ments a chem­i­cal safety law, passed last year. Un­der that law, the of­fice Dour­son is nom­i­nated to lead will eval­u­ate the risks and set safety stan­dards for a bevy of chem­i­cals.

“It is im­per­a­tive that we make sure EPA is up to the task of im­ple­ment­ing those crit­i­cal re­forms in a cred­i­ble and ob­jec­tive way, and giv­ing all Amer­i­cans the pro­tec­tion and peace of mind they de­serve,” Carper said in a state­ment to USA TO­DAY. “Based on his record, I’m not con­vinced Dr. Dour­son is the right per­son for this im­por­tant job.”

Dour­son’s role as president of Cincin­nati-based non-profit Tox­i­col­ogy Ex­cel­lence for Risk As­sess­ment is per­haps the most con­tro­ver­sial item on his ré­sumé.

TERA says its re­search is ob­jec­tive and it op­er­ates in­de­pen­dently of its fun­ders.

But oth­ers say TERA is any­thing but bal­anced or neu­tral.

A 2014 in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­tegrity and In­sid­eCli­mate News found that TERA’s cor­po­rate ties were ex­ten­sive.

“More than 50% of the peer­re­view pan­els TERA has or­ga­nized since 1995 were for stud­ies funded by in­dus­try groups,” the in­ves­ti­ga­tion found.

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE, AP

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who sits on the En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, has asked Michael Dour­son to pro­vide details about work he’s done on be­half of chem­i­cal com­pa­nies in­volved in law­suits as well as other in­for­ma­tion.

UNIVER­SITY OF CINCIN­NATI

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