Who’s in charge of chemical safety?

“It’s a betrayal,” said Senator Merkley. “It’s immoral,” said Senator Markey.  “We have not done the right thing,” said Senator Carper. These are the words that U.S. Senators used on Wednesday, October 25 to describe their committee’s approval of Michael Dourson to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) chemical safety office.

Because Michael Dourson has made a career of defending toxic chemicals against regulation, the appointment is akin to a fox guarding the henhouse.

Dourson has headed a consulting firm with a long tradition of manipulating scientific research to benefit Dow, Monsanto, and DuPont (see The New York Times). Time and again, Dourson has suggested that toxic chemicals are “safe” at levels that are hundreds, or even thousands, of times higher than the standard set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Now, Dourson is poised to be in charge of the very program he has so long opposed.

On Wednesday, October 25 the US Senate Environment and Public Works committee voted to approve the nomination of Michael Dourson to lead the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. If approved by Congress, Dourson would oversee the program that controls chemicals used in everyday products—the chemicals that end up in our homes, our communities and our bodies.

Experts across the nation have raised concerns about Dourson. As the nomination goes to the full Senate for approval, it becomes all the more important to voice these concerns.

Oregon has reason to be particularly outraged.

On several occasions, Oregon has led the nation with policies that protect people from toxic chemicals. And in the process, we have become familiar with the aggressive power of national chemical industry interests as they undermine efforts to protect public health.

It’s a familiar tactic for hired scientists to defend the multi-billion-dollar industry by downplaying the health risks of chemicals in everyday products. The more attention we pay to these hazards, the more urgently companies have worked to defend their chemicals.

For years, we worked to pass Oregon’s Toxic Free Kids Act, requiring manufacturers to disclose toxics in children’s products and to replace them with safer alternatives. Our law is now up and running, and will be fully in place in the next few years – bringing much needed safety and certainty for parents and consumers around the state.

Oregon’s law collects data that will help protect kids in our state, and could be very useful to EPA as they begin to review the health and safety of chemicals in use across the country. But what if, under Dourson, EPA is not making public health a priority? At best, Oregon’s data will simply be ignored the federal government. At worst, we could see more efforts to weaken or hamstring Oregon’s law.

When industry interests come before public health in our federal system, it becomes all the more important for states like Oregon to take the lead. Oregon has a unique opportunity to make a bold difference. This year, Oregon’s Health Authority will continue to put the Toxic Free Kids Act to work on identifying toxic chemicals in children’s products and moving towards safer alternatives. See more about the Act.We’ll need to remind our decision-makers how important it is to make protecting health a top priority.

We will need Oregonians on our side. If you aren’t already part of our action network, join us now; we will be asking you to speak up in defense of health and our environment.

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1 Reply to "Who's in charge of chemical safety?"

  • B Scott Taylor
    October 27, 2017 (2:36 pm)

    Talk is cheap.
    There are practical options for toxic chemicals. Takes leadership to demand them.