The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now a monument to irony, a place where scientists are bullied, censored, and dismissed, and its chief is as friendly to coal as he is hostile to climate science. It’s hard to see what the point of it is at the moment, and its latest job posting doesn’t do anything to soften this viewpoint.
As announced by the White House, one Dr Michael Dourson is set to be the head of the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP). The purpose of this division is to “protect you, your family, and the environment from potential risks from pesticides and toxic chemicals” using “sound science”, as per the agency’s website.
Dourson may have been picked by the notoriously anti-science, EPA-hating President Trump, but his CV seems pretty stellar at first. He’s an award-winning professor at the University of Cincinnati, founded his own nonprofit for toxicology consultancy, has appeared on multiple government advisory panels and is a member of three toxicology journals. He’s even a former EPA employee, one that spent 15 years at the agency.
At this point, you’re probably wondering if there’s a catch. Well, of course there is! Several, in fact.
As first pointed out by InsideClimate News back in 2014, that nonprofit – the Toxicology Excellent for Risk Assessment (TERA) – has very close ties to the chemical manufacturing and tobacco industries.
Remarably, of the 240 scientists that have served on TERA's advisory panels over the years, just a handful had an exclusively environmental or ecological background. Over half of the advisory panels that TERA has organized since 1995 were funded by industry groups, and regularly gave toxic chemicals weak safety guidelines compared to those given by the EPA.
One of TERA's greatest hits under Dourson's tenure include suggesting that a possible carcinogen found on several types of fast foods is 10 times less dangerous than an official finding by the EPA. Considering that he is now in charge of the government department that decides which chemicals are safe and which are not, we’d say that this history screams conflict of interest.
Dourson is also an evangelical Christian. While this isn’t inherently a problem, BuzzFeed News has highlighted that the White House press release on his new job posting contains praise from two religious figureheads. You’d think that his scientific credentials would be the only thing that mattered here, but it seems his faith was a key selling point too.
One such religious referee explains that “Michael’s judicious integration of faith and the sciences has struck me as impressive as it is rare.” BuzzFeed also points out that Dourson regularly writes Bible-Science stories – BS stories, if you will – wherein he somehow mashes up scientific fact with religious parables.
So Dourson has strong ties to industry, and regularly combines religion and science in his daily life. This hasn't escaped the attention of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), who have since released a stinging statement on the nomination.
“We are deeply concerned over the nomination of Michael Dourson to head the toxics office at EPA,” it begins. “Unfortunately, this nomination fits the clear pattern of the Trump Administration in appointing individuals to positions for which they have significant conflicts of interest.
“Dr Dourson has extensive, longstanding ties to the chemical industry (as well as earlier ties to the tobacco industry).”
Here’s the question, then: why not hire someone to this senior post who doesn’t have such deep industry ties, and who isn’t emphatically praised for “integrating faith and the sciences?” How about a qualified, independent academic instead?