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Michael Dourson tapped to lead U.S. EPA chemical program

Toxicologist’s nomination garners praise and concerns

by Britt E. Erickson
July 18, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 30

Michael Dourson
Credit: University of Cincinnati
A headshot of Michael Dourson.
Credit: University of Cincinnati

Michael Dourson, President Donald J. Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s office that oversees commercial chemicals and pesticides, is a board-certified toxicologist with decades of experience in risk assessment. Dourson’s close ties to the chemical industry, however, have some environmental groups raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest.

Dourson is a professor in the Risk Science Center at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Prior to joining the university in 2015, he directed the Cincinnati-based nonprofit consulting firm Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), which he founded in 1995. Dourson also held several positions at EPA from 1980 to 1995.

Well known in the toxicology community, Dourson has served on numerous U.S. government panels and toxicology journal editorial boards. He has also held multiple positions for the American Board of Toxicology, Society of Toxicology, Society for Risk Analysis, and Toxicology Education Foundation.

Dourson’s July 17 nomination, which requires confirmation by the Senate, drew praise from the chemical manufacturers trade group, the American Chemistry Council. The group is urging the Senate to quickly confirm Dourson, noting that his nomination comes at a critical point in EPA’s implementation of the revised Toxic Substances Control Act. “His knowledge, experience, and leadership will strengthen EPA’s processes for evaluating and incorporating high-quality science into regulatory decision making,” ACC says.

In contrast, some environmental advocates say they are troubled by Dourson’s nomination, citing his extensive ties to the chemical industry and previous connections to big tobacco. Dourson “has a history of undertaking work, often with significant funding from industry, to undermine public health protections and the science underlying them,” claims Richard Denison, lead senior scientist with the activist group Environmental Defense Fund.

For example, “Dourson and TERA have worked extensively for the Texas Department of Environmental Quality to undermine EPA air pollution regulations,” Denison says. While at TERA, Dourson also received funding from ACC to set up a website for children on chemical safety, Denison adds.

Dourson is the author of a book series, “Evidence of Faith,” that aims to integrate science and religion. His “judicious integration of faith and the sciences has struck me as impressive as it is rare,” says the Rev. John Arthur Nunes, president of Concordia College, a Lutheran school in New York.



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