Health officials face backlash following state epidemiologist's resignation

RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina epidemiologist is quitting her state job because she says health agency officials are trying to mislead the public about warnings concerning well water near Duke Energy coal ash pits containing a cancer-causing chemical.

Dr. Megan Davies resigned Wednesday. She said a letter from top members of Gov. Pat McCrory's administration falsely blamed a colleague for contributing to fear and confusion of people who live near the pits and whose well water is tainted with cancer-causing hexavalent chromium.

Following the resignation, the North Carolina Democratic Party has called for a coal ash investigation and will hold a news conference Thursday afternoon outside the Government Center in uptown Charlotte.

Residents from the Charlotte-area traveled to Raleigh Thursday morning with other citizens from across the state. They all live near Duke Energy coal ash ponds, and held a rally near the governor's office, chastising his administration.

They said state health officials painted a misleading picture about the state of their drinking water.

One protester who made the trip from Rowan County told Channel 9 that the state health director, Dr. Randall Williams, should step down.

“Williams needs to be fired and Dr. Davies needs to be replaced in his position,” Deborah Graham said.” We are seeking truth and justice in our state.”

Channel 9 has reached out to Williams directly for comment but has not heard back.

State officials on Tuesday criticized state toxicologist Ken Rudo for his work urging people near the Duke Energy plants not to drink their well water. The officials blamed Rudo for "questionable and inconsistent scientific conclusions."

State officials reversed the warnings in March and said the water is safe.

A state toxicologist says officials in North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory's administration are the ones responsible for fear and confusion about the safety of well water near Duke Energy coal ash pits found to contain a cancer-causing chemical.

Toxicologist Ken Rudo says in a statement issued by his attorneys late Tuesday that the state's environmental and health agencies last year agreed on a safety standard for hexavalent chromium in groundwater after intense scientific discussions. Officials this year decided that standard was too high and declared the water safe to drink.

North Carolina's public health director and an assistant secretary at the Department of Environmental Quality on Tuesday blamed Rudo for sowing fear about dangerous chemicals near Duke Energy sites with "questionable and inconsistent scientific conclusions."

Eyewitness News Anchor Allison Latos asked Davies if residents should keep using bottled water or drink from their tap again.

“They are best served by the original recommendation they received from public health,” she said.

Statement from the Department of Health and Human Services

“Today, we have accepted the resignation of Dr. Megan Davies,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Rick Brajer. “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. 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.”
Zack Moore, MD, MPH, pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical epidemiologist has assumed the role of acting Epidemiology Section Chief and State Epidemiologist. Dr. Moore came to DHHS’ Division of Public Health as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, then later transitioned to a medical epidemiologist position within the division.”

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