Editor's note: Dec. 9, 2014: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Sciencecorps as a consulting firm.
A scientist with deep ties to the chemical industry is one of two finalists to lead the office at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that determines which chemicals can make people sick, and in what doses.
Michael Dourson is being considered to direct the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), whose scientific reports are used by the EPA and states to draft regulations to rid air, water or soil of toxic chemicals.
Dourson runs his own nonprofit consulting group, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, which does substantial work for chemical and drug companies. TERA maintains a database of chemicals as an alternative to IRIS. It includes data typically showing the chemicals at low doses are safer than the EPA says.
The other finalist is Vincent Cogliano, the acting director of IRIS and previously the manager of chemical assessments at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization.
The chemical industry has long accused the EPA of exaggerating the harm done by chemicals in its scientific assessments. Because of intense pressure from the industry over the past 20 years, the IRIS program has averaged only five assessments a year, even though the EPA once said it needed to complete 50 a year to do its job properly.
In 2008, the Government Accountability Office reported that the IRIS database of toxic chemicals was updated so infrequently that it was in danger of becoming obsolete.
The Obama administration has failed to increase the number of IRIS assessments, largely because of pressure from Congress and lobbying by the chemical industry. Assessments that have been delayed for more than a decade include those for cancer-causing chemicals such as arsenic, formaldehyde and hexavalent chromium.