Dourson’s account of his work on PFOA is incomplete and misleading

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

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

In testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) on October 4 and in responses to Questions for the Record submitted by Senators after the hearing, Michael Dourson, the Trump Administration’s nominee to run EPA’s chemical safety program, provided information about his work on a DuPont chemical called PFOA (also known as C8) that is incomplete and misleading.  His selective responses to Senators’ questions reinforce the already serious concerns about his nomination and his suitability for the job.  

In 2002, the state of West Virginia hired Dourson’s firm, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA) to convene a panel to set a “safe” level of PFOA in drinking water, after the chemical was found to be contaminating water supplies in the state.  Among other implications, the level set would determine the number of communities and people for which DuPont would be required to pay to provide alternative sources of drinking water – and hence which families and communities would continue to drink PFOA-contaminated water because it was found “safe.”

During the hearing Senator Kirsten Gillibrand questioned Dourson about his work on PFOA.  The panel convened by TERA recommended 150 parts per billion (ppb) as the “safe” level for PFOA.  Gillibrand asked Dourson whether he knew that DuPont itself had an internal guideline of 1 ppb.  Dourson responded by saying:  “Our understanding at the time was the 1 part per billion was a placeholder; it wasn’t based on a full reading of the science.”  She then asked whether he knew that EPA has set a health advisory level of 0.07 ppb.  Dourson responded that “the science has progressed, significantly advanced since the time of 2004 [sic] and the new science indicates a lower level.”

We have ourselves noted that EPA’s current level was set in 2016, well after Dourson’s work.  However, what Dourson failed to acknowledge is that in March 2002 – 5 months before the report recommending the 150 ppb level was issued – EPA had imposed a much stricter standard of 14 ppb on DuPont through a consent order, based on a review of the latest science commissioned by DuPont.  That level is over 10-fold more protective than the standard set through Dourson’s work.  Since that time, EPA has steadily lowered its standard, as more evidence emerged about PFOA’s myriad risks, reaching the current level of 0.07 ppb that is more than 2,000 times lower than that Dourson advocated.

Dourson’s response to Questions for the Record (QFRs) submitted by EPW Ranking Member Tom Carper contains other incomplete or misleading assertions.

Dourson asserted that:  “In 2002, 4 governments and one industry recommended TERA as the independent and neutral party to assist in a PFOA evaluation.  A West Virginia judge agreed.”  We know who the company is that recommended TERA:  As reported in The Intercept, that company was DuPont, which argued in an internal memo that has since surfaced that: “TERA (i.e. Mike Dourson) was the leading choice” because TERA had “a very good reputation among the folks that are still in the business of blessing criteria” and had the ability to “assemble a package and then sell this to EPA, or whomever we desired.”

However, the source Dourson cites – the final report of the panel – provides no support whatsoever for his claim that 4 governments recommended TERA for the job and that a judge had agreed.  While several government agencies were involved in the panel, we could find no evidence in the report or elsewhere that supports the claim.  Perhaps this evidence was among the documents that a West Virginia official admitted were shredded after the panel concluded?  If such evidence exists, Dourson should be compelled to provide it.  In any case, this is one of many examples of his obfuscation when it comes to the funding of and engagement in his work by different parties.

Here’s another:  Dourson’s QFR response also states:  “Five panelists were government employees; 3 were from EPA.”  This response is both selective and misleading:  Dourson fails to mention that there were five additional panelists:  3 were TERA employees, including Dourson, and the remaining 2 were DuPont employees.  It also downplays the central role TERA was assigned in the panel process, as described in a November 2001 consent order between the state of West Virginia and DuPont.

These questionable and selective responses Dourson provided to Senators in the context of his confirmation hearing serve again to illustrate why we believe Dourson lacks both the credibility and the trustworthiness needed for the job of overseeing our nation’s chemical safety program.

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