I normally stay away from politics in this blog, but I find myself in a unique position. Dr. Michael L. Dourson, my Northside neighbor for 28 years, has been nominated for the office of Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention in the EPA. His Senate hearing is imminent. There is much in the press questioning Michael’s ties to industry and expressing worries that he will relax standards. None of this has been written by anyone who actually knows him.
Michael’s wife, Martha, is a dog park regular. I house sit for them when they are out of town. A few years ago, Michael requested my help publishing his Evidence of Faith books. This series is based on classes he has taught at his church for many years, demonstrating how science (including evolution) supports, and it supported by, the Bible. There are currently three books in this series, with a fourth nearing completion.
I took on this project because I was impressed by Mike’s ability to reconcile two traditionally opposed sides of highly inflammatory topics while honoring both; his ability to share this information in a way that is engaging and accessible to anyone; his transparency in citing sources and rationale; his willingness to cite alternative views; and his humility in recognizing that new research and discovery will need to be taken into consideration. I have found him passionate, engaging and empowering to work with.
Some have questioned Mike’s ability to separate religion from his duties, based solely on the fact that he has published these books. In all the time I have known him, Mike has never once asked me about my religious views or discussed his books in a way that suggested he was trying to influence my beliefs—even though some might justifiably feel that my beliefs were relevant to working on this project.
As for relaxing standards, I am no expert and am not qualified to judge his work. I do know that he is an internationally recognized and awarded toxicologist. In any conversations we’ve had about his toxicology work, Mike has been utterly transparent and provided sound reasoning behind his decisions. In his three plus decades doing this work, I am not aware of any instance where Mike’s recommendation resulted in harm. If such instances existed, surely the people expressing concern about his nomination would blare them from their headlines.
As I said, I am no expert. But I know many things about the Dourson family that are not being made public, and say much about Mike’s values as well as his position on ecological matters:
The Dourson family owns both a farm, which they lease out, and wilderness property with cabins that they rent. I’ve eaten many meals in the Dourson home, made with produce from their one-acre kitchen garden, which is 99% organic (Martha uses chemicals to combat potato bugs when they occur). I’ve stayed in their cabins, which are currently managed by one of their sons, who is involved with innovative, ecologically-oriented technologies.
I’m intimately acquainted with the Dourson home. The house was designed for minimal energy usage—well before ecological concerns came into public awareness. They rarely have their air conditioning on. 90% of their garbage goes into the recycle bin or a compost heap. What remains (usually less than a gallon of garbage) is hardly worth putting out on the curb. Their overall lifestyle is modest. They’ve owned the same cars for years. I frequently take photographs of the gorgeous flowers in their natural gardens.
The Doursons are very community conscious. Mike and Martha hold monthly brainstorming sessions with the owner of Happen, Inc., a Northside non-profit dedicated to strengthening families through art activities. Additionally, Happen empowers teens to find employment and learn how to run a business. They also engage in other community building activities. Martha has served as president of the Northside Community Council. She has volunteered at Dress for Success for 15 years.
When I am looking for someone to make decisions about matters which I am not qualified to assess, I have to look at the man, and by extension his family. These are modest people who love living things, are committed to community, and willing to get their hands dirty to make the world a better place. Everything I know about Michael Dourson tells me he acts out of conviction and rigorous research, not for gain; that he is honest, honorable, and uniquely qualified to make difficult decisions that affect millions of lives.