On December 13, after six months of vocal opposition from a united front of environmental, labor and civic organizations, and hundreds of thousands of citizens affected by toxic chemicals, Michael Dourson withdrew his nomination to lead the toxics program at the EPA.
Dourson had a history of supporting weakening standards for toxic chemicals to the detriment of people’s health—working for the tobacco industry to downplay the effects of secondhand smoke, the chemical industry to bless Teflon, and the Koch brothers to dismiss the health concerns related to petroleum coke.
As a friend to chemical companies and Big Tobacco, Dourson had no business deciding what chemicals are safe for children, and what toxics should be put into the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the products we use every day. His presence at the EPA would have undermined last year’s chemical safety reforms and increased the likelihood Americans would get sick or contract cancer.
Dourson’s withdrawal followed the release of several hundreds of pages of correspondence he had with chemical industry officials, whose products were scheduled for priority review by the EPA. The documents showed that Dourson’s toxicology center at the University of Cincinnati accepted money from the American Chemical Council and other companies for research and solicited chemical industry edits of a draft research paper before submitting it to a journal for publication.
But to the dismay of many, a January 23 Politico article reported that, in fact, Dourson has yet to leave the job he never had. He’s been advising EPA Administrator and climate change denier Scott Pruitt (who built his political career attacking clean air and water safeguards) on chemical issues since October. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt infamously sued the EPA 14 times to block such standards while raising money from the companies that would benefit from looser pollution rules.
Were the shouts of joy by advocates of environmental and public health on December 13 misplaced? Were the headlines reporting the withdrawal of Dourson’s undeserved nomination misread? Thankfully, no. Politico goes on to note that Dourson recently updated his LinkedIn profile to indicate his time at the EPA will end this month, and multiple sources said he is no longer listed as an employee in an internal directory.
Nominating a chemical industry insider to oversee an office that’s supposed to protect people from unsafe chemicals is only a symptom of a much larger sickness at the EPA. While his defeat warrants celebration, it is but one battle of a much larger war to reclaim the integrity of the EPA. What we need is an EPA that isn’t controlled by chemical industry insiders that have profited from poisoning Americans; an EPA that will defend our health by keeping dangerous chemicals like lead, asbestos, and BPA, out of our water, air, food, and surroundings; an EPA that will fight for our future.
While Dourson was rejected as unfit for the role, there are additional protections still needed to ensure the EPA can fulfill its mission–to protect the health of people and the environment. This includes that EPA staff who have received donations or compensation by chemical companies recuse themselves from decisions involving toxic chemicals produced by their former donors’ clients, and employers, and that rules issued by the EPA are designed to protect the health of the many Americans who live near toxic facilities, drink polluted water and use everyday products with untested chemicals.
Goodbyes are usually hard. But not in this case. Dourson, a junk science peddler for the chemical industry, should never have been working at the EPA in the first place. His defeat represents an important step towards preserving the health of all Americans. Now the country can breathe a big sigh of relief as he walks back out and won't return.