U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., have expressed opposition toward Michael Dourson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to oversee chemical safety for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump announced the nomination in July, and the nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Oct. 25. A Senate-wide vote confirming Dourson’s nomination has yet to be scheduled.
Dourson is a professor of toxicology at the University of Cincinnati and is currently working as a senior advisor to EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. Through his nonprofit, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, Dourson has published numerous reports on safety limits for hazardous chemicals.
The EPA published a press release following Dourson’s nomination citing letters from Dourson’s peers praising his work. Among these was Jay Goodman, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University. In his letter, Goodman said Dourson’s successful career — centered around the risk-assessment of chemicals and science-based safety — makes him the ideal candidate to head the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention with the EPA.
“It is without reservation that I recommend Dr. Dourson to you with my highest level of enthusiasm with regard to his scientific and communication skills, and as an individual of character and integrity,” the letter said.
But not all responses to Dourson’s nomination have been so positive — both Tillis and Burr released statements opposing Dourson and pledging to vote "no" to his nomination.
“Over the last several weeks, Senator Tillis has done his due diligence in reviewing Mr. Dourson’s body of work,” said a statement from Tillis’ office. “Senator Tillis still has serious concerns about his record and cannot support his nomination.”
Pete Andrews, a UNC public policy professor emeritus, said with a history of water contamination at Camp Lejeune, a North Carolina military base, and current issues with GenX in Wilmington water, it makes sense for Tillis and Burr to oppose Dourson.
Wilmington residents are concerned with the possibility of systemic pollution of the Cape Fear River with GenX — a potentially carcinogenic substance produced by an upstream chemical manufacturing plant. Marine veterans from Camp Lejeune and their families blame contaminated drinking water for infant deaths and serious health problems.
“I think there’s a local tie-in with North Carolina’s experiences with Dourson that would guide Tillis and Burr in this case,” Andrews said. “He’s also a very industry-oriented person to be in charge of regulating industrial chemicals, not unlike many others in this administration — I think Dourson can be seen as a pretty egregious example of that.”
Senate Democrats and environmental advocacy groups have expressed concerns with Dourson’s past commitment to industry and his support for weaker regulatory standards. Scott Faber, vice president for government affairs with the Environmental Working Group, released a statement applauding Tillis and Burr for their opposition to Dourson.
“No one who has spent decades arguing on behalf of the chemical industry for weaker safety standards should be charged with reviewing chemicals for the EPA,” Faber said. “It would be like putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department.”
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