The following year he created a nonprofit consulting firm that became a line of first defense for companies facing health and safety challenges from the E.P.A.
Mr. Dourson has a popular sideline as a writer of books that combine Bible stories with his views on science. His series, “Evidence of Faith,” is an examination of the intersection of evolution and bible history.
At a time when the E.P.A. is in the early stages of putting in place Congress’s 2016 overhaul of the law governing toxic chemicals, Mr. Dourson’s nomination to become the agency’s assistant administrator for chemical safety has alarmed Democrats and some former E.P.A. officials.
“Dr. Dourson’s consistent endorsement of chemical safety standards that not only match industry’s views, but are also significantly less protective than E.P.A. and other regulators have recommended, raises serious doubts about his ability to lead those efforts,” said Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, the ranking minority member on the panel that will assess Dr. Dourson’s qualifications. “This is the first time anyone with such clear and extensive ties to the chemical industry has been picked to regulate that industry.”
Neither Mr. Dourson nor the E.P.A. would comment on the criticisms of his industry ties. A notice on the E.P.A.’s website praises Mr. Dourson’s achievements in toxicology and the quality of his research. Trade groups for the $800 billion chemical industry are supportive of the nominee. CropLife America, which lobbies for purveyors of pesticides, fungicides and rodenticides, called Mr. Dourson “a perfect fit.”
“We welcome Dr. Dourson’s nomination,” CropLife America notes on its website. “His extensive experience in risk assessment and science, both in government and private sector make him a valuable addition to the office.”
The confirmation hearing for Mr. Dourson and others had been scheduled for Wednesday, but it has been postponed and a new date has not been set.
Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming and chairman of the Senate committee that will hold the hearing, defended Mr. Dourson’s nomination.
“Dr. Dourson is an experienced toxicologist who deserves full and fair committee consideration, followed by a Senate vote,” Mr. Barrasso said. “That should be the case for all of the nominees for leadership roles at the E.P.A.”
The nonprofit consulting firm that Mr. Dourson founded and ran, TERA, became part of the University of Cincinnati in July 2015. The department changed its name from the TERA Center to the Risk Science Center in January 2017. The center disclosed that it collected about 30 percent of its funding from for-profit sources in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Mr. Dourson’s ethics agreement says that he will not, once confirmed, participate for one year in any “particular matter involving specific parties” related to University of Cincinnati work he has done.
But Mr. Dourson’s financial disclosure report — filed after he was nominated — shows no direct payments to him from any chemical company, meaning any company-funded research Mr. Dourson did in the last year would likely have been paid for through the University of Cincinnati or another organization.
As a result, it is unlikely ethics rules would bar him from overseeing issues related to chemicals manufactured by companies he has conducted research for. Grants given by companies to universities, but not to the scholars themselves, generally do not create conflicts that require individuals to recuse themselves from matters involving the companies, said Walter Shaub, the former head of the federal Office of Government Ethics.
Mr. Dourson’s firm’s clients have included the American Chemistry Council, the industry’s top lobbying group. The firm also advised individual companies, makers of flame retardants, compounds that are called “chemicals of concern,” and pesticides.
In some cases, his firm provided results that suggested the health risk of a certain chemical or product was less than the assessment by the E.P.A. and other researchers.
PPG Industries, for example, a paint and coatings manufacturer, uses a chemical called 1,4-dioxane, which the E.P.A. designated “a likely carcinogen,” in its products. The substance is also created incidentally in some shampoos, cosmetics and personal care products through chemical reactions.
PPG hired Mr. Dourson’s group, which proposed establishing a safe level for 1,4-dioxane that would allow 1,000 times more risk than the E.P.A’s recommended level.
Other clients have included Albemarle, which makes flame retardants; Dow AgroSciences, which makes the pesticide chlorpyrifos; Waste Management; and Monsanto. He has also helped DuPont defend a chemical called PFOA, used to make nonstick substances, from states, including West Virginia, that sued the company to clean up contaminated water.
Each of the four chemicals has been associated with severe health issues, like cancer, birth defects and developmental problems in children. Mr. Dourson’s studies frequently concluded that the risk associated with these substances is much lower or more dubious than what E.P.A. scientists and independent researchers have found.
The most striking discrepancy between findings by the agency and his firm is likely Mr. Dourson’s research funded by Dow AgroSciences on the pesticide chlorpyrifos, in which the authors recommended a safe level that was actually 33 times higher than the agency’s standard, according to an analysis by Richard Denison, lead senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund.
The agency subsequently lowered its standard even more, to a level nearly 6,000 times less than Mr. Dourson’s, according to Mr. Denison’s analysis. E.P.A. scientists then recommended that the product be banned for commercial use as a pesticide.
But E.P.A. Administrator Scott Pruitt overruled a staff recommendation for a ban, after objections were raised by Dow and other industry players.
More recently, Mr. Dourson published a report titled “A case study of potential human health impacts from petroleum coke transfer facilities,” that was funded by Koch Industries, which has a subsidiary that handles petroleum coke and coal. The report concluded that human exposures, if any, “are well below levels that could be anticipated to produce adverse health effects in the general population.”
Adam Finkel, executive director of the Penn Program on Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, who worked as a partner on a project with Mr. Dourson, said he observed a disturbing pattern.
“Most of what he has done over time is to rush headlong to exonerate chemicals,” Mr. Finkel said, adding that he stopped working with Mr. Dourson based on these concerns.
“Pretty much every piece of work he’s ever done, it just so happens that when they are finished with it, the risk is smaller than when they started, the doubt is larger, the concern is less.”
But Oliver Kroner, now a Cincinnati city environmental official, praised Mr. Dourson, with whom he worked at TERA for nearly 10 years.
“I think Mike is widely misunderstood,” Mr. Kroner said. “Here in chemical regulation, we’re faced with a decision of whether we accept all the health science available to us, or if we exclude some science depending on the source.”
“Mike has worked hard to help strengthen the regulatory environment by improving the science coming out of industry and bringing a collaborative peer review approach to help assess the quality of industry-derived science,” Mr. Kroner said.
Three other E.P.A. nominees will be vetted at the confirmation hearing, one of whom also has spent much of his career defending businesses against the E.P.A.: William L. Wehrum, named to head the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation.
Mr. Wehrum, who was acting assistant administrator for air and radiation from 2005 to 2007, is now a partner in Hunton & Williams, which has a large energy and environmental law practice.
In the past few years, Mr. Wehrum has represented the Rubber Manufacturers Association, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Forest & Paper Association, and electric utilities, among others, against the E.P.A., legal records show. Mr. Wehrum did not return messages seeking comment.
Liz Bowman, an E.P.A. spokeswoman, pointed to Mr. Wehrum’s decades of working for the government and private sector as evidence of his qualifications for the new job.
“Mr. Wehrum’s career includes over 31 years working in the environmental field through engineering, legal practice, and administrative duties,” said Ms. Bowman, who used to work for the American Chemistry Council, in a statement. “This addresses that criticism directly.”
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