Scientist with industry ties won't lead EPA chemical risk-assessment program

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The Environmental Protection Agency won’t be hiring a scientist with strong ties to industry to run its chemical assessment program. As the Center for Public Integrity reported in December, one of two finalists for director of the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), which evaluates the health risks of toxic chemicals, runs a nonprofit that does substantial work for the chemical industry.

On Thursday, the EPA told its staff it was giving the job to Vincent Cogliano, who has been acting director of the program since 2010. Cogliano was previously the director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer Monographs program – which identifies environmental factors that can increase the risk of cancer – at the World Health Organization.

Political interference from the chemical industry and Republicans in Congress has prevented the IRIS program from completing many chemical assessments, even though the Obama administration promised to break the logjam. The EPA relies on these assessments to determine whether new regulations are needed to protect the public.

The EPA had been considering Michael Dourson to run the IRIS program. Dourson runs a nonprofit consulting group called Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA.

An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News found that TERA has strong financial ties to industry. More than 50 percent of the peer-review panels TERA has organized since 1995 were for studies funded by industry groups. TERA also runs a risk-assessment database that receives financial and in-kind support from many companies and government agencies.

Dourson has been harshly critical of the IRIS program and promised to bring in outsiders to help with chemical assessments if he were tapped to lead it.

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