President Donald Trump’s nomination of Nancy B. Beck to a seven-year position chairing the Consumer Product Safety Commission is an affront to the agency’s purpose. The onetime chemical-industry lobbyist has a long record of fighting government restrictions on hazardous chemicals. Washingtonians on both sides of the Cascades have special reason to appreciate why the Senate must reject her as unfit to lead federal consumer safety.

Under a prior Trump appointment, Beck led the office of chemical safety at the Environmental Protection Agency. There, she scaled back regulation of many hazardous chemicals, among them the water-contaminating perfluoroalkyl and polyfloroakyl substances, or PFAS. She helped make it harder to track health consequences PFAS cause, which include birth defects, kidney cancer and immune disorders.

PFAS compounds are found in aviation firefighting foam and consumer goods from nonstick cookware to paints. Excessive levels of them have turned up in testing of wells near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and the drinking water of communities around Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, among other airfield-adjacent Washington sites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a wide majority of residents near the Spokane County base tested in 2019 had more PFAS in their bloodstreams than the average American. 

State government has worked for more than a decade to address PFAS contamination in groundwater. The Legislature voted in 2018 to ban PFAS from firefighting and food packaging. PFAS contamination is national in scope, but Washingtonians have benefitted from the state taking the problem seriously.
Trump’s nominee ducks the issue. When Beck appeared before the Senate’s commerce committee for a confirmation hearing, she repeatedly equivocated as U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., pressed for a clear explanation of her role reducing regulations on PFAS and other chemicals. 

Beck holds graduate degrees from the University of Washington and worked for a time at the state Department of Health. That agency’s current leader, Dr. John Wiesman, along with Ecology Director Laura Watson, sent a letter June 15 to Senate commerce committee members that blasted Beck for “a record of ignoring the advice of scientific advisers and interfering with the development of evidence-based policy.” 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has the power to take federal actions that preempt state laws on dangerous chemicals, as the letter points out. Too much work has gone into building Washington’s safety measures on solid science to move backward. Bipartisan criticism is mounting in the nation’s capitol. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia have joined Cantwell and commerce committee Democrats in opposing Beck.

More senators should learn from what Washingtonians know and push for a nominee who regards chemical dangers appropriately.