Trump’s pick for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention deemed problematic by Anchorage nonprofit

Michael Dourson during a Senate committee hearing. (Youtube screenshot)

A nominee for a top position at the EPA is drawing both praise and criticism, including concerns from a nonprofit in Anchorage that works to raise awareness about the health affects of hazardous chemicals.

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Michael Dourson, the industry scientist Trump nominated to head EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention was passed out of a confirmation hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in October.

Rep. Steve Chabot, a Republican from Dourson’s home state of Ohio, introduced the nominee and outlined his credentials.

“Dr. Dourson’s excellence in his field of expertise has been recognized time and time again,” Chabot said. “Over the years, he has received four bronze medals from the EPA.”

Dourson told the committee he’s committed to doing the job right.

“If confirmed as the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, I will dedicate my mind, body, and spirit to the work of this office, to working with its dedicated staff, to the protection of the American public, including its most vulnerable, and its environment from exposure to pesticides and otherwise unregulated chemicals,” Dourson said.

But Democrat Tom Carper of Delaware put up a poster of 10 chemicals Dourson was paid by industry to study. According to Carper, in all 10 cases, Dourson found the chemicals were safe at much higher doses than the government allowed. Dourson rejected the implication but declined to say he’d recuse himself if a chemical he’d been paid to study went before the EPA for review.

“Senator, I can give you as many or more examples of situations where the science that we brought forward as a team actually lowered the safe dose or risk position for various sponsors,” Dourson said. “If confirmed, I will rely on the guidance of EPA ethics officials to determine any issues for which I am to be recused.”

The issue of Dourson’s confirmation hits close to home for the executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics. Pam Miller, the executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, says Dourson is a chemical industry scientist for hire.

“He’s worked for many industries such as Dow Agrosciences, the Koch industries, a number of chemical industry associations like the American Chemistry Council,” Miller said. “And his firm has been paid by, I think, more than three dozen corporations or trade associations. He’s even worked for the tobacco industry to justify the safety of secondhand smoke.”

Michael Dourson has not yet been scheduled for a vote by the full Senate.

Alaska Public Media’s Liz Ruskin contributed to this report. Listen to the above audio to hear more from Pam Miller of the Alaska Community Action on Toxics. 

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori