Science for sale

Last year, when bipartisan deals were scarce, Democrats and Republicans came together to reform the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) – our nation’s primary chemical safety law. The original TSCA law was nearly 40 years old, and in desperate need of modernization. Our updated version instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to undertake – for the first time ever – a comprehensive safety assessment of every chemical used in consumer products using the latest science and public health standards available.

The long-overdue update to our nation’s chemical safety regulations received across-the-board support, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to environmental advocates like the Environmental Defense Fund, to national public health groups like Mom’s Clean Air Force. The chemical industry also wanted to see these historic reforms enacted since the weak and ineffective federal law had forced states to fill the void and create their own regulations. That meant that companies were dealing with different standards in almost every state, which was confusing, costly and unnecessary. These reforms were good for our environment, good for public health and good for business – a rare win-win-win.

Everyone understood the need to have common sense chemical safety standards based on the latest science and the importance of having a credible regulator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement these critical reforms. Passing the law was a historic step, but the new law is only useful if the person tasked with executing it is a credible regulator who can create certainty and inspire public confidence.

The office within EPA charged with implementing TSCA and updating chemical safety standards for thousands of household products is the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, on which I serve as the top Democrat, will be voting soon on President Trump’s nominee to lead this important office – Dr. Michael Dourson.

Should the Senate confirm Dr. Dourson to lead EPA’s chemical safety office, he will be the person charged with updating our nation’s toxic chemical standards for the first time in 40 years. But never in the history of the EPA has a nominee to lead this effort had such deep ties to industry. Dr. Dourson has spent his career conducting industry-funded science designed to undermine EPA’s public health standards for toxic chemicals. More than 30 times, Dr. Dourson has sold his science to the highest bidder and recommended toxic chemical standards that were tens, hundreds and even thousands of times less protective than EPA’s own standards. Dourson’s work even extended to tobacco companies, conducting scientific studies that downplayed the hazards of second-hand smoke.

As part of TSCA reform last year, Congress instructed the EPA to identify a set of 10 chemicals that it would review first under the new law. Three of those first 10 chemicals set to be evaluated by EPA for potential risks to human health and the environment are chemicals that Dourson has been paid by industry to “evaluate.” When I asked Dr. Dourson at his confirmation hearing if he would recuse himself from working on these same chemicals at EPA to provide assurances about his impartiality, he refused to give me a definitive answer. This would be the definition of the fox guarding the henhouse!

After a career spent recommending less protective standards for the very chemicals he would now be charged with regulating, I fear Dr. Dourson is not the right person to lead an independent, unbiased, science-based review of some of our nation’s most toxic chemicals – including known neurotoxins and carcinogens. Since he was nominated by President Trump, I have received letters and calls from Delawareans and literally hundreds of environmental advocates, public health groups, scientists and even firefighters who all agree – Dr. Dourson is a dangerous choice.

Instead of a nominee who consistently underestimated the risks of chemical exposures to our families and children, we need an independent, public health advocate leading EPA’s chemical safety office. In the weeks of debate to come, I intend to do everything in my power to oppose Dr. Dourson’s nomination. For our families, we must do better.