EPA toxics nominee has been paid by dozens of companies to work on dozens of chemicals

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.

[My colleagues Dr. Jennifer McPartland, Lindsay McCormick, Jon Choi and Ryan O’Connell assisted in the research described in this post.]

[Use this link to see all of our posts on Dourson.]

I blogged earlier about EDF’s strong concerns with Michael Dourson’s nomination to head the EPA office charged with implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Among these concerns are his extensive, longstanding financial ties to the chemical industry – an industry that, if he is confirmed, he will be in charge of regulating.  And not only does Dourson have these financial ties to the industry, he has made a career of helping industry play down concerns about chemicals.

A case in point is described in an article published just last week in The Intercept about his work in the early 2000s in West Virginia on behalf of DuPont and its still ongoing woes over water contamination involving the “Teflon” chemical PFOA.

Dourson’s paid work for industry goes back over two decades, starting just after he left EPA in 1994, and it includes work he did for the tobacco industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  As I noted in my last post, his work for the chemical industry included developing a website, “kidschemicalsafety.org” (now defunct, but archived here), that consistently downplayed concerns about chemicals.

To illustrate the extent of his more recent conflicts, we examined the funding sources, where disclosed, for the several dozen papers he authored or co-authored that are listed in PubMed as published between 2005 and 2017.  Some of what we found is reported in this post; there will be more to come on the substance of these papers.  

For about a quarter of the papers, funding sources were not disclosed.  Half of the remaining papers were funded exclusively by industry sources, while most of the other papers were partially funded by industry or represented workshop reports and reviews involving mainly industry-affiliated participants.

Across the papers, Dourson or his company Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA) were paid for their work by more than three dozen companies or trade associations.  That work involved about three dozen different chemicals.  At least two of these chemicals – TCE and 1,4-dioxane – are right now under active review by the very EPA office Dourson has been nominated to head.  Another – the pesticide chlorpyrifos – was the subject of a recent highly controversial decision by EPA Administrator Pruitt, who overruled his science advisory panel; Dourson testified before that panel in April 2016 on behalf of CropLife America, the trade association for the pesticide industry.  Dourson’s job at EPA would also entail running the pesticides office.

Notable among these are papers on:

  • the pesticide chlorpyrifos, paid for entirely by its manufacturer, DowAgroSciences (two papers);
  • petroleum coke, paid for entirely by Koch Industries;
  • trichloroethylene, paid for entirely by the American Chemistry Council (ACC);
  • the flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), paid for entirely by ACC’s North American Flame Retardant Alliance, the members of which are the flame retardant manufacturers, Albemarle Corporation, Chemtura and ICL-IP;
  • 1,4-dioxane, paid for entirely by PPG Industries;
  • petroleum substances, paid for entirely by the American Petroleum Institute;
  • acrylamide (produced in the frying of certain foods), paid for entirely by Burger King Corporation; Frito-Lay, Inc.; H.J. Heinz Company; The Proctor & Gamble Manufacturing Company; The Proctor & Gamble Distributing Company; and Wendy’s International (two papers);
  • methyl isothiocyanate (MITC), paid for entirely by Amvac Chemical Corporation and Taminco and Tessenderlo-Kerley (two papers); and
  • perchlorate, paid for entirely by the Perchlorate Study Group, consisting of Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation; Goodrich Corp.; Aerojet; Lockheed Martin; American Pacific; Alliant; and Boeing.

Now, Dourson certainly has every right to make his living however he wishes.  And the chemical industry has every right to hire whomever it wants.  But a line simply must be drawn at installing such a toxicologist-for-hire at EPA to run its toxics office and oversee implementation of the TSCA reforms adopted just last year.

In finally embracing TSCA reform, the chemical industry said it needed a neutral referee, an impartial arbiter of the many disputes over the safety of chemicals.  EDF wants the same thing, which is why we sounded the alarm when a senior ACC official came over to EPA and was given wide latitude to rewrite the new law’s framework rules.  Now with Dourson’s nomination, any remaining semblance of impartiality and balance is gone.

The chemical industry needs to be seriously asking itself:  Is this any way to restore confidence in this country’s chemical safety system?

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