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Damning emails once again underscore McCrory administration’s failures on coal ash pollution

Coal ash water pollutionIf you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out the latest story from Winston-Salem Journal reporter Bertrand Gutiérrez (“State toxicologist: Claim that NC well water was safe was ‘scientifically untrue'”) on the ongoing controversy concerning wells contaminated by Duke coal ash chemicals. As was explained in a May edition of the N.C. Policy Watch Weekly Briefing, there is a strong case to be made that the McCrory administration has been recklessly exposing North Carolinians to unnecessary risk of sickness and disease in order to save Duke Energy from the hassle and expense of delivering clean drinking water to households located near coal ash dumps.

Yesterday’s article — which quotes newly released emails obtained through public records requests — seems to further bolster this conclusion. This is from the new story:

“Emails obtained through public-records requests by a conservation group show that State Toxicologist Ken Rudo forcefully resisted the McCrory administration last year as it moved to alter the do-not-drink letters sent to hundreds of well owners near coal-ash pits owned by Duke Energy.

In March 2015, after Rudo had drafted the letters advising well owners — many of whom had elevated levels of the carcinogen hexavalent chromium — against using their water for drinking or cooking, department administrators pushed Duke Energy’s position that the water would generally be considered safe to drink under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to Rudo, one of the most experienced health experts in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, that claim is just not true.

‘Since we now have an absolutely scientifically untrue human health statement insofar as it pertains to chromium … I am removing my name from the HRE form (do-not-drink letter),’ Rudo said in an email to co-workers on March 15, 2015.

‘I cannot from an ethical and moral standpoint put my name on a form with this absolutely untrue human health statement, insofar as it pertains to chromium,’ he said.

The email comments come to light as Duke Energy moves to prevent testimony that Rudo provided earlier this month in a deposition related to coal-ash litigation from being publicly released. Saying that the deposition is not finished and that some of the testimony is based on hearsay, Duke Energy has requested that a judge issue a protective order sealing the testimony.”

The story continued:

“The Rudo emails, which were obtained by Therese Vick of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and provided to the Winston-Salem Journal, speak volumes, particularly at a time when the public cannot gain access to Rudo’s deposition, she said.

‘What else are they ignoring their experts on?’ asked Vick.

Rudo was not the only state health expert who opposed attempts to convey a message that the water was safe enough under the federal standard.

The federal standard is ‘unacceptable,’ according to an email written in 2015 by Sandy Mort, who handles health assessments at the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, or OEEB, at DHHS’ Division of Public Health.

‘I do not believe that it provides the well-user with the most appropriate information as it pertains to their potential exposure and health. I do not want to have my name included on the form as a reviewer or contact resource since this would imply I agreed with, or was comfortable with, the statement,’ Mort said.

As the story notes in conclusion, the the state’s new and controversial coal ash law does require the provision of unpolluted water for those impacted by coal ash pollution by 2018, but the latest revelations provide another sobering reminder of who it is North Carolinians must rely upon for protection when it comes to this most critical of all public services.

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