The Senate must protect families and reject the nomination of scientist Dr. Michael Dourson
© Camille Fine

One of the important constitutional responsibilities I have to the people of Illinois is to carefully review the qualifications of every individual who requires Senate confirmation. I am very familiar with how the Senate carries out its responsibility to provide advice and consent because, not long ago, I went through it myself when President Obama nominated me to serve as an Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).

In that job, and in the United States Senate, I have spent every day trying to honor the courage and the sacrifice of the servicemembers who saved me in Iraq. Since I woke up at Walter Reed, fighting for those who serve our country has been my life’s work and it is a privilege to advocate for servicemembers, veterans and their families. That is why I was so alarmed that President Trump could nominate someone like Dr. Michael Dourson – who has defended the use of chemicals that have been linked to high cancer rates in servicemembers and veterans – to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

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Dr. Dourson has a long track record of manipulating scientific research for profit to benefit corporate interests at the expense of public safety. He has been paid by companies like Koch Industries to falsely claim that dozens of dangerous chemicals are safe for common usage, most alarmingly chemicals like Perchlorate, Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), Trichloroethylene (TCE), and 1,4,-Dioxane.

Each are dangerous in their own way and all have been associated with causing adverse health effects like cancer, birth defects and developmental problems in children, and the EPA office Dourson has been nominated to lead actively tries to prevent humans from coming in contact with them. Unfortunately, industry research from people like Dourson has prevented the EPA from achieving its goal and endangered servicemembers in places like Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where TCE contamination in drinking water has been linked to high rates of cancers like Leukemia.

How skewed in favor of industry has Dourson’s research been? PFOA, for instance, has been linked to prostate, kidney and testicular cancer. Dr. Dourson recommended a level of 150 parts per billion (ppb) was safe. By contrast, the chemical manufacturer DuPont, which manufactures the chemical, set an internal safety level of 1 ppb and the EPA set a health advisory level even lower at 0.07 ppb, which is 2000 times less protective.

That’s why, after PFOA was discovered in drinking water at a Navy base in Chesapeake, Va., the Navy began handing out bottled water to its personnel – and it’s why the military has been so concerned to discover PFOA contamination at eleven different bases like Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho and Brunswick Air Force Base in Maine. The U.S. Department of Defense recently announced they are examining nearly 700 sites nationwide to investigate whether the water our servicemembers drink is safe, which is why it would be so alarming to put Dr. Dourson in any position of power.

Dr. Dourson’s reckless work hasn’t just been limited to these chemicals either – his work has frequently and consistently produced results that are far less protective than EPA’s standards, the agency for which he is now seeking a job.

When he appeared before the Environment and Public Works Committee last month, I confronted Dr. Dourson on how his pseudoscience helped push dirty air polluted by petroleum coke – another harmful chemical – into the lungs of my constituents in the South Side of Chicago. I expected remorse, or at least an acknowledgement of wrong doing. Instead, what my constituents and I heard was an arrogant and unapologetic stubborn refusal to take responsibility for the lives he helped harm.

Simply put, Dr. Dourson lacks the commitment to protecting public health, objectivity and impartiality my constituents need and rightfully expect from our civil servants. I am not alone in this view, which may be why not a single credible public health organization endorsed the Dourson nomination. Protecting our families, servicemembers and veterans should not be a partisan issue. I hope all of my colleagues join me in fighting to block Dr. Dourson’s confirmation to be in charge of chemical and toxic safety.

Duckworth is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.