It’s been amply established that “drain the swamp” is yet another massive swindle from Donald Trump. His administration is a virtual who’s who of lobbyists and corporate titans.
But the latest Trump appointee in the spotlight may be one of his worst yet. The man he has tapped to be the top regulator for the chemical industry has spent several decades downplaying the risks of toxic chemicals–and has done so on the chemical industry’s dime.
Michael Dourson, a professor at the University of Cincinnati and a former environmental services consultant, is Trump’s pick as assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for chemical safety and pollution prevention. Senate Democrats quickly seized on his tenure as president of Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, a nonprofit that provided chemical risk assessments for clients. In 2015, the last year before it was folded into UC, industry groups and chemical companies sponsored one-third of TERA’s work.
Dourson has been under fire for recommending standards that are far weaker than EPA recommendations, to the benefit of the companies that funded his research. For instance, he concluded that the maximum safe exposure for 1,4 Dioxane, a solvent that the EPA lists as a likely carcinogen, is some 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s recommended standard. He has also testified as an expert witness on behalf of companies facing lawsuits for contamination.
That record didn’t sit well with Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Tom Udall of New Mexico. On Tuesday, they held a press conference outside the Capitol to ramp up the pressure on Dourson. Watch here.
Udall claimed that Dourson is yet another example of Trump picking “some of the swampiest creatures ever” for his administration. He slammed Dourson for his legacy of ‘creating junk science” for the chemical industry. Blumenthal said that the nation’s chemical industry needs a “watchdog, not a lapdog.”
Also on hand were a number of chemical exposure victims. One of them was Gwen Young, a teenager from Hoosick Falls, New York. The Capital District suburb has spent the last two years dealing with toxic levels of PFOA, a suspected carcinogen, in its water supply. The chemical came from a Teflon factory that is now a Superfund site. Young said that she has more PFOA in her system than most other kids in her community. “I don’t want this to have to happen to other kids,” she said.
Also on hand was Michael Hickey, whose father died of kidney cancer after working at the plant. When he paid to have his water tested, he discovered the level of PFOA far exceeded EPA limits. He wasn’t pleased to find out that Dourson had testified for DuPont when it was sued for PFOA contamination in West Virginia, or that he had once recommended PFOA exposure thresholds of 150 parts per billion–some 150 times higher than what DuPont’s own scientists had recommended, and dwarfing the EPA’s recommendation of 0.7 parts per billion. As Hickey sees it, Dourson “won’t be capable” of protecting residents of his town from repeats of this in the future.
When Dourson appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York–who once represented Hoosick Falls in Congress, and lives in nearby Brunswick–asked him to explain his recommendation, which was issued in 2002 after a study funded in part by DuPont. Dourson replied that the science has advanced in the last decade and a half–cold comfort to residents who are dealing with contaminated water.
Dourson didn’t do himself any favors with the Democrats when he balked at recusing himself from cases involving companies with which he worked. Instead, Dourson said he would rely on EPA ethics officials to make that call.
Cory Booker of New Jersey spoke for a lot of people when he called Dourson’s nomination “one of the more shocking I’ve seen.” It’s hard not to agree. After all, Dourson is yet more proof that Trump is overflowing the swamp.
(featured image courtesy Ateneo de Manilla University)