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Policy

Nominee to lead EPA chemicals program withdraws

Toxicologist with close ties to chemical industry fails to garner enough Senate support

by Britt E. Erickson
December 14, 2017

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Credit: University of Cincinnati
Dourson
Credit: University of Cincinnati
Dourson

The top spot in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s office that oversees commercial chemicals and pesticides remains vacant. President Donald J. Trump’s pick to lead the office, Michael Dourson, withdrew his nomination on Dec. 13 amid growing concerns about his ties to the chemical industry and insufficient votes to clear the Senate confirmation process.

Trump nominated Dourson, a board-certified toxicologist, in July. Dourson left his position as a professor in the Risk Science Center at the University of Cincinnati in October and had since been working for EPA as an adviser. It is unclear where he will land now, but he is expected to leave the agency.

Dourson is best known for his work as founder and director of the Cincinnati-based consulting firm Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, where he worked from 1995 to 2015. In that role, he helped chemical and pesticide manufacturers evaluate the safety of their products. Prior to that, Dourson worked at EPA from 1980 to 1995.

The Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee approved Dourson’s nomination along party lines in late October. But following concerns raised by a few Republican senators, and an unexpected win for Democrat Doug Jones this week to fill an Alabama seat, it became clear that Dourson did not have enough votes to clear the full Senate.

Many environmental groups and Democrats are welcoming the withdrawal of Dourson’s nomination. “I sincerely believe he is the wrong person to hold this important position,” the top Democrat on the Senate EPW Committee, Tom Carper (D-Del.), said in a statement. Carper claims that Dourson “has spent most of his career promoting less protective chemical safety standards.”

Richard Denison, lead senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, called Dourson “a dangerous choice,” adding “he would have undermined public health and damaged the historic chemical safety reforms passed by Congress last year.”

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