Nominee underestimates health impact of food chemicals

President Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention has a long history of underestimating the health impacts of food chemicals, while accepting funding as a researcher, consultant, and expert witness for food companies, and should not be confirmed, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.  The nonprofit watchdog group today urged Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), the committee’s ranking member, to reject the nomination of Michael Dourson.

Dourson, who founded and ran his own consulting firm, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, which subsequently moved its operations to the University of Cincinnati, consistently accepted funding from food and chemical companies, according to CSPI.  In one case, Dourson reviewed the safety of acrylamide, a carcinogen that occurs as a natural contaminant in french fries, potato chips, and other foods, on behalf of McDonald’s, Burger King, Frito-Lay, and others.  According to the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News, Dourson’s proposed safety estimate was 10 times less protective of public health than the standard developed by EPA scientists. 

In another case, Dourson’s firm sought to weaken the safety estimate for diacetyl, a chemical sometimes used by manufacturers of microwave popcorn to simulate butter flavor.  That study, funded by Orville Redenbacher’s and Act II’s parent company, Conagra, and other affected food interests, proposed a safe level 40 times less protective of public health than the standard recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.  Diacetyl has been shown to cause fatal lung disease in workers who handle the chemical.

“Dourson has devoted much of his career to downplaying concerns about the safety of chemicals used in foods, on farms, in workplaces, and elsewhere,” said CSPI president Dr. Peter G. Lurie.  “Michael Dourson is Donald Trump’s early Christmas present to the chemical industry.  He is wholly unsuited to police the industry that has funded him so frequently and whose interests he has so often supported.”

Dourson has also long downplayed the risks of several controversial pesticides at the behest of their manufacturers or the industry trade association.  Major environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and Environmental Working Group are also voicing their opposition to his nomination.