Quantcast
Popular

A Parting Gift From Dourson: A Trove of Revealing Emails

By Richard Denison

Last week, the New York Times reported on the withdrawal of the nomination of Michael Dourson to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) chemical safety office—which we applauded as a win for public health.

The Times article mentioned and provided a link to a 400-page trove of emails to and from Dourson that were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request filed in August by Greenpeace to the University of Cincinnati, where Dourson previously worked.


The emails shine a rare spotlight on a network, of which Dourson and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) are a part, that operates largely out of public view. It involves a coordinated effort between the chemical industry and its private and academic consultants to generate science that invariably supports the safety of the industry's chemicals, and pushes back against any regulatory and academic science that indicates otherwise. The emails make for very interesting reading, if you can skip through the myriad emails about scheduling calls and meetings (which make up the bulk of any of our inboxes, I suspect).

To pique your interest, let me start with one email relating to Dourson's nomination.

His nomination was publicly announced by Scott Pruitt on July 17. But nearly two months earlier, in an email (see page 178) dated May 23 and marked confidential, Dourson wrote to Kimberly White at ACC to let her know of his "appointment," and also alluding to the possibility (which came to pass) that he would be hired as an advisor before being confirmed:

Based on the recommendation of EPA Administrator Pruitt, President Trump has appointed me as the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Safety Assessment and Pollution Prevention. EPA wants to get my senate confirmation scheduled before the August recess. They may also want to hire me into the Agency in July, which apparently they can do as soon as the announcement is made. The announcement is made after background checks are completed (40 days is typical). At this point, please keep news of this appointment under wraps.

Now, ACC is no doubt upset by the Dourson withdrawal, having hired Dourson repeatedly to help defend its companies' chemicals and never wavering in support of his nomination. So it should come as no surprise that ACC is also unhappy with the Times' release of the emails, especially given that a large fraction of them involve communications that include Dourson and ACC employees.

Last Thursday the ACC took to its blog to object to the Times article as "misleading." The only specific it takes issue with, however, is that the article "paints a dubious picture of emails between one of our employees and Dr. Michael Dourson."

ACC's specific beef is that the Times flagged emails showing that Dourson and his university colleagues had exchanged drafts of a paper they were working on with an ACC staffer. ACC pointed out that the staffer in that case was a co-author of the paper. Fair enough.

But ACC's nit conveniently ignores other emails. One chain shows direct communications between Dourson and ACC involving another paper he co-authored that was in the final stages of publication in Dourson's go-to journal. Even though no one from ACC is a co-author on this paper, Dourson's emails indicate not only that ACC had the galley proofs of the paper, but that ACC staff seemed to be the keeper of them (see chain around page 213).

ACC's blog post goes on to cite its policy that scientific conclusions and judgments drawn by outside parties ACC hires are not subject to its control. But that policy goes on to state that "the Council shall have the right to review such judgments and conclusions" for "clarification, and format and editorial comments." Seems like an elephant could slip through that opening.

Recall that ACC recently embraced EPA Administrator Pruitt's new directive that bars EPA-funded scientists from serving on any agency advisory panel. The outlandish premise behind the directive is that EPA and the extramural researchers it funds are somehow in cahoots to find problems the agency can then regulate. So it's worth noting that, unlike ACC's contracts, EPA grants have no allowance for EPA to pre-review or edit the papers of researchers it funds.

But back to the emails, when ACC says there's no there there in them, don't believe it.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, seen here speaking to the press about the Flint water crisis in 2016, will be the highest ranking official to stand trial over the public health disaster. Brett Carlsen / Getty Images

Judge Orders Michigan Health Director to Face Trial Over Flint Water Crisis Deaths

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon will be the highest ranking official to go to trial so far as a result of an investigation into the Flint water crisis, The Associated Press reported Monday.

Judge David Goggins ruled Monday there was probable cause for Lyon to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Robert Skidmore and John Snyder that prosecutors say were due to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that Lyon was aware of a year before he alerted Michigan's governor, Michigan Live reported. Lyons is also charged with misconduct in office.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Coal-fired power plant near Becker, Minnesota. Tony Webster / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trump's 'Dirty Power Plan' Could Cost More Than 1,000 Lives a Year

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled on Tuesday its long-anticipated replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. The new coal pollution rules will increase planet-warming carbon pollution and could cost more than a thousand American lives each year, according to the EPA's own estimates.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler released the "Affordable Clean Energy Rule" today under President Trump's directive. The new plan encourages efficiency improvements at existing coal plants to ensure they operate longer and allows states to weaken, or even eliminate, coal emissions standards. That's a clear difference from former President Obama's plan, which was aimed at phasing out coal and transitioning to cleaner power sources to avoid dangerous climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Two workers in protective gear scrape asbestos tile and mastic from a facility at Naval Base Point Loma in California. NAVFAC / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Why Asbestos Is Still a Major Public Health Threat in the U.S.

Reports surfaced this month that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) for asbestos in June, requiring anyone who wanted to start or resume importing or manufacturing the carcinogenic mineral to first receive EPA approval.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Rklfoto / Getty Images

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Wants to End EPA’s Cruel Animal Testing

By Justin Goodman and Nathan Herschler

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress recently pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its "questionable" and "dubious" animal tests. The lawmakers' demand for information on "horrific and inhumane" animal testing at the EPA comes on the heels of a recent Johns Hopkins University study that found that high-tech computer models are more effective than animal tests.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Wikimedia Commons

Strongest, Oldest Arctic Sea Ice Breaks Up for First Time on Record

The Arctic is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and now the region's thickest and oldest sea ice—also known as "the last ice area"—is breaking up for the first time on record, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

The breakage has opened up waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen-solid even in the peak of summer.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Climate Justice Edmonton

These Giant Portraits Will Stand in the Path of Trans Mountain Pipeline

By Andrea Germanos

To put forth a "hopeful vision for the future" that includes bold climate action, a new installation project is to be erected along the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route to harnesses art's ability to be a force for social change and highlight the fossil fuel project's increased threats to indigenous rights and a safe climate.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
A worker inspects recycled plastic in a plastics factory. Getty Images

The Plastic Waste Crisis Is an Opportunity to Get Serious About Recycling

By Kate O'Neill

A global plastic waste crisis is building, with major implications for health and the environment. Under its so-called "National Sword" policy, China has sharply reduced imports of foreign scrap materials. As a result, piles of plastic waste are building up in ports and recycling facilities across the U.S.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Aaron Teasdale

The One Thing Better Than Summer Skiing

By Aaron Teasdale

"There's snow up here, I promise," I assure my son Jonah, as we grunt up a south-facing mountainside in Glacier National Park in July. A mountain goat cocks its head as if to say, "What kind of crazy people hike up bare mountains in ski boots?" He's not the only one to wonder what in the name of Bode Miller we're doing up here with ski gear.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!