Spat with public health officials a ‘disagreement among scientists,’ McCrory says

Bryant Gobble hugs his wife Sherry as they look at an ash pond at Duke Energy's Buck Steam Station near Salisbury in 2014.
Bryant Gobble hugs his wife Sherry as they look at an ash pond at Duke Energy's Buck Steam Station near Salisbury in 2014. AP

Gov. Pat McCrory views the dispute between his administration and two of the state’s top public health officials as a difference of opinion among scientists, Raleigh’s WRAL reports.

The state epidemiologist, Dr. Megan Davies, resigned Wednesday, accusing the state health department and McCrory’s administration of misleading the public about tests of private wells near Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds.

The administration has accused the state toxicologist, Kenneth Rudo, of lying under oath in saying he was summoned to the governor’s office and spoke briefly to McCrory about those tests.

"We basically have a disagreement among scientists," McCrory told WRAL Thursday after a ribbon-cutting for a new section of highway near Fayetteville. "One group of scientists, which I support, believe the public ought to get all the information about the water, not limited information and one opinion."

McCrory’s office has made Rudo the focus of a dispute over the testing standards applied to hundreds of private wells near Duke’s power plants, and the safety of contaminated water in those wells. Davies, his boss, says Rudo was only one scientist among many involved in the process.

Rudo and Davies have both testified in legal depositions that the governor’s office was involved in the way test results that found contamination in nearly 400 wells were communicated to well owners. McCrory is a former Duke employee.

Rudo said he refused to add his name to “scientifically untrue” health advisories about potentially unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium, which causes cancer, because environmental officials added wording that said those levels meet federal standards. There is no federal standard specifically for hexavalent chromium.

The Department of Environmental Quality has said it had concerns about treating residents near coal ash ponds differently from people who use municipal drinking water that is regulated by federal standards.

Davies has testified that she disagreed with a decision by the state health director, Dr. Randall Williams, to rescind those advisories in March. McCrory defended the state’s actions, WRAL reported.

"We're providing all the information necessary to ensure that we have safe drinking water, and the public knows exactly what the value of that drinking water is," McCrory said.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender