As of last week North Carolina’s chief epidemiologist, Megan Davies resigned after accusing GOP state lawmakers of purposely misleading the states residents when it comes to the safety of their drinking water.
The decision to leave didn’t come lightly. After calling out the biggest utility in the state and Republican Governor Pat McCrory, she gave up her job of nearly seven years and an annual salary of $188,000.
In 2014 a Duke Energy power plant had a spill that resulted in 40,000 tons of toxic coal ash and 27 million gallons of wastewater spilling over into the Dan River. The ash, a byproduct of burning coal, is harmful to human beings and the environment. It contains extremely toxic amounts of chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and silica.
After the spill happened, many people in communities all over the state were concerned about Duke Energy’s 32 coal ash storage facilities. Several facilities were found to be unsafe, uncovered, and sitting in basins that were unlined. Basically, giant pits of coal ash, just sitting there and leaching toxins into the water table.
Shortly after the storage facilities were discovered to be unsafe, households around the storage sites were warned by state officials not to drink the water from their wells, due to water quality concerns. Duke Energy started providing citizens affected with bottled water in April of 2015.
A year after residents were told that their well water wasn’t safe to drink, state officials from the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services contacted those who had been impacted by the issue and told them their water was safe.
Unfortunately, testing showed that the well water near the ash dumping sites was still unsafe, and contained high levels of cancer causing toxins. The only reason the “do-not-drink” order was lifted was because Duke Energy lobbied the state to reverse it, despite the fact that nothing had changed. There were still unlined coal ash sites littering the state and they were still leaching toxins into the water and the environment.
Governor Pat McCrory actually worked for Duke Energy for 30 years prior to becoming the governor and didn’t listen when many state employees disagreed with reversing the “do-not-drink” order. One of those state employees was Ken Rudo, toxicologist for the Department of Health and Human Services. Rudo expressed that he believed the only reason the “do-not-drink” order was lifted is because of Duke Energy’s connection to the government. Rudo also removed his name from the letter DHHS sent out to residents claiming the water was safe to drink.
The Associated Pressed managed to obtain a copy of a deposition that was given last July by Ken Rudo as a part of a lawsuit that was filed against Duke Energy by several conservation groups, including the Sierra Club. Duke Energy company was unsuccessful when it tried to get the documents from the case sealed, but during court Rudo accused his boss, state public health director Randall Williams of lying to the residents of North Carolina affected by the shoddy coal ash dumps.
‘The state health director’s job is to protect public health. And in this specific instance, the opposite occurred. He knowingly told people that their water was safe when we knew it wasn’t.’
Naturally, when the story broke, Williams was angry and desperate to save face. Williams and Tom Reeder, a rep from the Department of Environmental Quality, published an open letter in an attempt to portray Rudo in a negative light, saying he didn’t understand water toxicology. Thankfully though, Rudo wasn’t alone in his fight and Megan Davies, the state’s chief epidemiologist, resigned her position in protest.
In her resignation letter Davies said:
‘The editorial signed by Randall Williams and Tom Reeder presents a false narrative of a lone scientist in acting independently to set health screening levels and make water use recommendations to well owners.’
She also said that she resigning her position was a huge loss.
‘I cannot work for a Department and an Administration that deliberately misleads the public.’
The residents that live near the coal ash dumping sites are still sitting ducks, not sure if they should listen to the scientists or the state officials, who still insist that the water is fine despite the high level of cancer causing chemicals present. Duke Energy insists that despite the fact that they’re still delivering bottled water to the affected households they’re just doing it to be nice, it has nothing to do with the well water being toxic.