Chemical Industry Shill Nominated to Lead EPA Toxics Program

In May, EWG reported that former chemical industry bigwig Nancy Beck was the scariest Trump appointee you’ve never heard of. We may have spoken too soon.

Yesterday President Trump announced that he will nominate Michael Dourson to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical and pesticides office. Like Beck, who was appointed as one of the deputies in that office, and other recent appointees, he has deep ties to the chemical industry he will be tasked with regulating if confirmed.

Here’s why Michael Dourson may actually be the scariest Trump nominee you’ve never heard of. 

1. He founded a group dedicated to undercutting chemical regulations.

Dourson is the founder and leader of the nonprofit consulting group Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA. TERA, part of the University of Cincinnati since 2015, gets 30 to 40 percent of its funding by helping the industry fight regulations by conducting or peer-reviewing favorable risk assessments for chemicals.

Industry-funded studies have made up more than half of the studies reviewed by TERA since 1995. TERA also provides expert witnesses for chemical companies involved in lawsuits to help minimize liability. TERA has taken funding from the American Chemistry Council and others to create the incredibly misleading (and now inactive) website, which downplayed the risks of chemical exposure to children.

2. He’s helped the tobacco industry.

The dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke are well-known, but that didn’t stop Dourson from working with the tobacco industry to downplay the risks. The Center for Indoor Air Research, a now-defunct tobacco-industry front group, gave TERA funding in 1997 to study the effects of secondhand smoke. He is listed as a co-author on a 1999 study. Emails from Dourson and other TERA employees also show that TERA has worked directly with Phillip Morris.

3. He wants weaker air quality emissions rules.

When the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality decided to weaken the state’s emissions standards for toxic chemicals like benzene and others released by the oil and gas industry, it enlisted Dourson and TERA to review and endorse its work. Other reports seeking to erode or eliminate the EPA’s mercury air emissions rules, have cited Dourson’s work as well.

Even though the office Dourson is nominated to head doesn’t set air emissions standards, it is supposed to consider exposure from sources like air and water when evaluating chemical safety. Dourson’s history shows that he doesn’t take risks from chemicals in air and water seriously, and is likely to grossly underestimate or even ignore those risks.

4. He wants to keep flame retardants in your couches and car seats.

Dourson worked with the American Chemistry Council again when he served on the North American Flame Retardant Alliance Science Advisory Council. EWG has reported extensively on the dangers of flame retardant chemicals in upholstered furniture and children’s products such as car seats, crib mattresses and changing pads. The EPA says exposure to some flame retardant chemicals is linked to cancer, reduced IQ, learning disorders, reduced fertility and thyroid disruption. Nonetheless, the ACC’s flame retardant group and Dourson fought proposals to ban flame retardant chemicals in upholstered furniture and children’s products.

5. He thinks rocket fuel chemicals in your drinking water is no big deal. 

Perchlorate is a toxic, thyroid-disrupting, chemical component of rocket fuel that contaminates the drinking water of as many as 17 million Americans. In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found it in 15 top-selling brands of infant formula. The EPA announced plans to regulate perchlorate in drinking water in 2011, but has failed to do so.

Dourson has done work for the Perchlorate Study Group, which is made up of perchlorate manufacturers and users. The group and Dourson’s research have been used to try to undercut potential federal regulation of perchlorate, particularly in drinking water.

6. He put victims of the 2014 Elk River chemical spill at risk of drinking contaminated tap water.

In January 2014, a major chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River contaminated the water supply of up to 300,000 residents. Before the spill, TERA worked for Dow and Eastman Chemical, two companies that manufactured the chemical implicated in the spill. TERA did not disclose this obvious conflict of interest when West Virginia hired the company to take a leading role in studying the health effects of the spill.

Not surprisingly, in April 2014 the panel concluded that the water was safe, despite a significant lack of safety data available at the time. Dourson’s willingness to reassure citizens without safety studies to back him up is disturbing and sets a poor precedent for the kinds of decisions he’ll be making if confirmed for a high-level position at the EPA.

Trump has only been in office six months, so another chemical industry hack may emerge to claim the mantle of scariest appointee you’ve never heard of. Stay tuned.

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