A hired gun for tobacco and chemical industries, this EPA nominee would undermine chemical safety

Jack Pratt

Jack is EDF's Senior Political Director.
Published September 12, 2017 in Health \ Chemicals

A man who has defended tobacco and chemical industry interests, supported the use of a dangerous pesticide, and played down concerns over toxic toys may soon be in charge of chemical safety for our entire nation.

Michael Dourson’s nomination fits a pattern that has become all-too-familiar since the Trump administration took charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year and began to roll back public health protections. The nominee faced some tough questions from senators at his confirmation hearing this week, but remains in the running.

If confirmed to head the EPA’s chemical safety program, Dourson could well accelerate the administration’s push to return America to its toxic past. It’s easy to see why.

Defended tobacco and Teflon

Dourson

If confirmed to the top job at the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Dourson will be regulating his old industry friends. It’s a pattern we keep seeing with Trump’s administration as the president and his appointees turn the federal government’s mission to protect public health on its head.

Dourson’s paid work for industry goes back several decades and includes work he did for the tobacco industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Also on his resume is his work involving the “Teflon” chemical PFOA, which continues to affect drinking water in places such as West Virginia, Ohio, New York and Vermont. And he worked for the manufacturer of the controversial pesticide chlorpyrifos, which Dourson defended and the Trump EPA decided not to ban despite expert calls to do so.

Dourson: Toxic toys? Kids should wash hands.

Among other things, Dourson’s company used industry money to develop and run a now-defunct website, “kidschemicalsafety.org,” with copy penned by staff from chemical industry consulting firms who sought to put chemical hazards “into context.”

The website told parents, for example, that even water can be toxic at high exposure levels, “but few people would want to ban” water.

It also played down concerns about chemicals in products such as toys, shifting the burden to parents by suggesting they make sure to read labels, keep toys out of their children’s mouths, and make sure kids wash their hands after playing.

Dourson: “Jesus hung out” with shady people, too

Of course, none of Dourson’s work will come as a shock to anyone who has followed industry tactics closely. Whether professional climate deniers or big tobacco, manufacturing doubt is a well-known dark art.

The problem here is that if the Senate votes to confirm him, Dourson will speak from a government office.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration installed a top official from the main chemical industry lobbying group to direct  changes to rules that will determine how chemicals are reviewed for safety. The changes she made could undermine efforts to protect us from harmful chemicals for many years to come, according to Politico.

Given his track record, we don’t see Dourson taking steps needed to stem the use of dangerous chemicals.

After all, this is the man who defended his work for tobacco to downplay concerns about second-hand smoke by saying “Jesus hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors.”

That logic may help Dourson sleep at night, but it won’t provide much solace to those of us who were hoping the new law would do a better job protecting  us from toxic chemicals.

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