EPA nominee faces grilling over ties to chemical industry
Critics question funding and research of non-profit he heads
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.
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.