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EPA nominee has ties to WV chemical controversies


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A longtime industry consultant picked by President Donald Trump to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety arm was involved in several major public health controversies in West Virginia.

Toxicologist Michael Dourson

Toxicologist Michael Dourson was involved in the long saga over DuPont Co.’s contamination of Mid-Ohio Valley drinking water supplies with the chemical C8. Dourson also was a contractor for a team that then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed to investigate the potential impacts of the January 2014 Elk River chemical spill.

The Trump administration nominated Dourson to be assistant administrator in charge of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
Dourson has most recently been a professor in the Risk Science Center at the University of Cincinnati.

Dourson worked for EPA for about 15 years, and then formed a nonprofit consulting firm, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, that The New York Times has said “became a line of first defense for companies facing health and safety challenges from the EPA.”

The EPA has cited “widespread praise” for the Dourson nomination, but environmental groups are strongly opposing his confirmation by the Senate.

“Dourson has made a career as a hired gun for the chemical industry, helping clients play down concerns over toxic chemicals with known and potentially severe health effects,” said the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups opposing Dourson. “If confirmed to the top job at the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Dourson will be regulating his old industry friends.”

Dourson is scheduled to face questioning Wednesday from members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee during a confirmation hearing.

In West Virginia in the early 2000s, Dourson and TERA were brought in by the state Department of Environmental Protection to help the government respond to concerns about the contamination of drinking water supplies with the toxic chemical C8 from DuPont’s plant near Parkersburg.

The committee Dourson and his firm worked with came up with a standard that set the safe level of C8 in drinking water at 150 parts per billion. Citizen groups warned at the time the number was wrong, and that the committee’s work was slanted toward DuPont.

Later, Dourson testified for DuPont in a trial that resulted in a $1.6 million judgment against the company. That case and several others last to a $671 million settlement with thousands of residents.

In 2014, Dourson was brought in by the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project, an effort created by the Tomblin administration to assess the contamination of the Kanawha Valley region’s drinking water system following the Jan. 9, 2014, chemical spill at Freedom Industries.

The WVTAP review concluded that a “screening level” for drinking water, set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had allowed higher levels of contamination than it should have.

But a health-effects panel chaired by Dourson also pulled some punches in its discussion of the potential impact of the spills, not making its criticism of the CDC especially clear to residents. Also, Dourson was criticized for not making clear from the outset any potential conflicts of interest involved with his previous work for companies that made chemicals that were spilled.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at [email protected], 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

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