State epidemiologist quits, says agencies misleading public about well water safety

Posted August 10, 2016

— The state's epidemiologist resigned her position Wednesday afternoon, accusing officials in the state's environmental and health agencies of misleading the public and pushing a "false narrative" in their criticism of a state scientist who helped develop safety advisories for well owners near Duke Energy coal ash ponds.

In her resignation letter, shared with several members of the press, Dr. Megan Davies said an editorial issued earlier in the week from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Environmental Quality incorrectly attributed the establishment of health screening standards solely to Ken Rudo, a toxicologist in Davies' division.

"Upon reading the open editorial yesterday evening, I can only conclude that the Department's leadership is fully aware that this document misinforms the public," Davies wrote. "I cannot work for a Department and and Administration that deliberately misleads the public."

Davies' resignation is effective immediately. She was an eight-year employee of DHHS whose prior position was a medical epidemiologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Today, we have accepted the resignation of Dr. Megan Davies," said DHHS Secretary Rick Brajer in a statement. "We wish her well in her future endeavors.

"It is important for North Carolina citizens to know that, while there are differences of opinion and we respect those differences, ensuring citizens’ safety and communicating are our top priorities," Brajer continued. "Throughout this process, we’ve provided full information to homeowners about the safety of their drinking water and have taken appropriate steps to reassure citizens who had been unduly alarmed. We remain committed to the health and safety of our citizens."

Requests for comment to DEQ and the Governor's Office were not immediately returned Tuesday.

The editorial issued Tuesday afternoon was signed by by DEQ Assistant Secretary Tom Reeder and DHHS Deputy Secretary for Health Services Dr. Randall Williams. In it, the two officials say Rudo created "unnecessary fear and confusion" for well owners with elevated levels of toxic elements such as hexavalent chromium in their water and claimed he used "his own threshold" to evaluate safety – a threshold much more stringent the federal standards.

Sworn testimony from Davies and even Williams himself has disputed the suggestion that Rudo acted on his own, and Davies reiterated in her resignation letter that the health screening level was calculated and agreed upon by toxicologists and other scientists in DHHS and DEQ.

"My staff presented the levels and the rationale for them to me, and we briefed Division and Department leadership extensively, including the Department counsel," Davies wrote. "The course of action followed was fully vetted and approved through to the Secretary of Health and Human Services at that time, Dr. [Aldona] Wos."

The editorial from Reeder and Williams came days after the release of a partial transcript of sworn testimony Rudo made under questioning in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups against Duke. Rudo said in his statement, part of a public court filing, that he was called to a meeting at the governor's office to discuss how to communicate findings of elevated levels of hexavalent chromium and other elements to homeowners. In that meeting with communications staffers from the Governor's Office and DHHS, Rudo said Gov. Pat McCrory called in and joined the discussion.

It's a claim the Governor's Office vehemently denied in a rare late-night news conference, accusing Rudo of lying under oath. They've also attributed Rudo's comments to a political campaign by environmental groups to discredit McCrory over coal ash.

Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr said Davies' resignation over the statements from Williams and Reeder "shows this administration and its political appointees are choosing to protect polluters over people.

"The fact that she is willing to and did resign, ending her career with the state, speaks volumes to her respect … for Dr. Rudo," Starr said. "She has literally put her career on the line to back up his position and his deposition."

Dr. Zack Moore, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical epidemiologist, has assumed the role of acting Epidemiology Section chief and state epidemiologist.


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  • Tim Britton Aug 11, 8:37 p.m.
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    I hear Carolina has an opening in its African American Studies Department. WRAL, Easley entered a felony plea agreement, Purdue only served 4 years and did not run again because of what she had done, but WRAL did not run hardly any stories. McCrory is doing an excellent job having to deal with a bunch of Democratic sore loses who are at his throat about everything. HB2, voter ID, and precinct lines.

  • Stacie Hagwood Aug 11, 8:04 p.m.
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    I agree Jimmy Jones, this problem should have been addressed long before, however, this is the hand McCrory has been dealt. Does he rise to the challenge of a gravely serious problem? No. He blames media and calls scientists liars all why maintaining close relationships with those responsible for this disaster.

  • Lee Outland Aug 11, 4:02 p.m.
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    Ooops.. with all due respect... Her name is Dr. Shehee not Sheehan. Sorry Dr.

  • Lee Outland Aug 11, 3:54 p.m.
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    Rodge, leopards can't change their spots, but people can grow-up to be Class A liars. I find it amusing that the whole McRoar-y administration is singing "Liar, Liar!!" in unison about someone who is calling them out for what they are. Stith, Gerlach, Ellis, Reeder, Williams - all have something to lose... their jobs!!! They figure if they ALL sing the same lie, then ignorant folks will say, "Wow, they all said Rudo lied, so I believe them, cuz I voted for Pat!!! Durrrrr..." I believe Davies, Sheehan and Rudo, NOT their "superiors."

  • Lee Outland Aug 11, 3:46 p.m.
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    Well, "Skip"... I DO realize that WRAL commenters are supposed to treat other WRAL commenters with respect, but the rules don't say anything about making fun of elected/appointed state officials names... By making humorous names, I can lighten the mood for those of us who are appalled that our state leaders are selling us out for the almighty Duke Energy Dollar!!! Your comments on my post as well as others' posts indicate you like to speak down to those with whom you disagree... Not being very respectful of them and their views, if you ask me. (Did your parents like peanut butter when they thought of children's names?) ;-) Lighten up, sir... Good Day to you!

  • Roger Chance Aug 11, 12:18 p.m.
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    Pure politics. You have not likely known Pat since he was 16. Honest to a fault.

  • George Herbert Aug 11, 12:12 p.m.
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    One of McCrory's biggest problems is that there wasn't a pool of talented people to appoint to political positions when he was first elected--plus the fact that the number of patronage jobs increased exponentially. This problem has led to unqualified people being put in charge.

    When career state employees--those who are not political appointees--are allowed to continue to do their jobs effectively, the system still works. But some of the political appointees are not satisfied with being a figurehead over a bureaucracy. They want to shake things up, ignore science, flout the law.

  • Skip Harris Aug 11, 11:00 a.m.
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    None of that matters? You are saying that history doesn't matter? This is a failure of government on both sides. There is plenty of blame to be spread all around. McCrory's administration is at fault but so are the prior Democratic administrations. Fault shouldn't stop at ideological lines. Believe it or not but the people with the D or the R that you support are just as capable of being incompetent and corrupt as the other.

  • Skip Harris Aug 11, 10:55 a.m.
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    I hope that you do realize that any credible point you may have articulated was made moot by your childish name calling. Do you think that changing someone's name to something "funny" is clever or proves a point? The only point it proves is that you are petty and juvenile.

  • Matt Wood Aug 11, 8:59 a.m.
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    None of that matters. McCrory was the sitting governor when the Dan River spill happened, and it is his job to mitigate the disaster. He has failed miserably!