Photo credit: Catherine Clabby

By Catherine Clabby & Rose Hoban

++ February 2014: Storm water pipe breaks under a 27-acre coal ash pond, spilling 38,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River and sending a plume downstream in the direction of municipal water intake.

The pipe that spilled coal ash into the Dan River. Photo courtesy Catawba Riverkeeper

++ August 2014: North Carolina General Assembly passes Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA). It requires Duke Energy to shut down coal ash waste dumps on 14 properties and a survey of drinking wells near the waste.

++ February 2015: Department of Health and Human Services attorney Chris Hoke briefs division of public health officials on CAMA’s requirements for assessing risk from potential coal ash contaminants in well water.  Since no state or federal standards exist for unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium, they develop new ones, based on latest research. (Source: Rudo deposition, page 75)

++ As directed by CAMA, state health and environmental officials use state groundwater regulations to assess health risk levels in well water near coal ash plants. That involves a formula establishing the level above which hexavalent chromium poses a one-in-a-million risk of causing cancer. (Source: Davies deposition, page 82).

++ Two DEQ toxicologists calculate the level, which is .07 parts per billion. DHHS toxicologists, including Ken Rudo, review and agree with level. (Source: Megan Davies resignation letter.)

Excerpt from Megan Davies’ resignation letter where she outlines the procedures followed to determine minimum levels of chromium 6 and vanadium in drinking water wells neighboring Duke Energy coal ash dumps.

++ Mina Shehee, an environmental program manager at DHHS, has the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm that North Carolina level uses the correct “cancer slope” calculation. (Source: page 53, Shehee deposition)

++ DHHS leaders, including then-DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, review and approve the approach used to set levels for hexavalent chromium. (Source: Davies resignation letter.) North Carolina joins California in having the lowest health levels for metal in the country.

DEQ Undersecretary Tom Reeder. Photo credit: Coastal Review Online

++ March 2015: DEQ Assistant Secretary Tom Reeder wants DHHS to add language in do-not-drink advisory letters for owners of wells near coal ash waste with levels of hexavalent chromium above the new screening level. Language stresses that the contamination don’t exceed federal standards for public drinking water supplies. (Source: Rudo deposition, page 37)

++ March 2015: Rudo summoned to the governor’s mansion for a meeting with press secretary Josh Ellis to discuss the wording of the letters sent originally to warn well owners of contaminants. He says McCrory called Ellis during the meeting. (Source: Rudo deposition, page 42)

++ March 2015: Rudo refuses to have his name included on state health risk evaluation letters due to the added language, which does not note that, currently, no federal standards exist for hexavalent chromium in public drinking water. (Source: Rudo deposition, page 3)

State Health Director Randall Williams after a meeting at the North Carolina General Assembly. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

++ July 2015: Randall Williams takes over as state health director; state epidemiologist Megan Davies briefs him on process used to reach new health screening level for hexavalent chromium. (Source: Davies resignation letter)

++ Williams meets with staff members of Senate Pro Tem and Assembly Speaker who tell him letters advising people not to drink well water have alarmed people in ways disproportionate to the risks. (Source: Williams deposition, page 24)

++ January 2016: Williams grows concerned that people who live far from coal ash are needlessly worrying that levels of hexavalent chromium and a second metal, vanadium, in public drinking water supplies pose dangers. He alerts staff that the do-not-drink recommendations are disproportionate and unwarranted. (Source: Williams deposition, page 68)

++ March 2016: Letter signed by Reeder and Williams sent to well owners who were previously advised not to drink water due to elevated levels of hexavalent chromium or vanadium. The new letter says: “We updated our recommendation after extensive study of how other cities, states and the federal government manage the elements … we have now concluded that water out of your well is as safe as the majority of public water systems in the country.”

++ April 2016: Reeder speaks at public appearance at UNC Institute for the Environment saying letters rescinding do-not-drink advisories came after DHHS decided to revise its health risk evaluations and make them consistent with federal rules.

Well owner Deborah Graham holds up a photograph of the coal ash pit that’s several hundred yards from her home in Salisbury while at a May press conference at the General Assembly in Raleigh. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

++ May 2016: In her sworn deposition, Davies reveals discord among health officials saying that she opposed the letter rescinding the do-not-drink advisories because the language saying well water with elevated hexavalent chromium or vanadium compared to cities did not match data she saw from Raleigh and Charlotte. (Source: Davies deposition, page 58)

++ August 1, 2016: Rudo’s deposition released, the news that Gov. McCrory participated by phone in meeting discussing language in the letters causes a stir.

++ August 2, 2016: In a hastily called, late-evening press conference McCrory Chief of Staff Thomas Stith accuses Rudo of perjury, insisting the governor did not participate in the meeting. Rudo stands by his statement.

++ August 9, 2016: Reeder and Williams issue a letter to media outlets criticizing Rudo for “questionable and inconsistent scientific conclusions.”

++ August 10, 2016: Megan Davies resigns “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. I cannot work for a Department and Administration that deliberately misleads the public.”

Excerpt from Davies’ resignation letter.
At protests in Raleigh on Thursday, critics of the state’s response to possible coal ash risks to well water praised Megan Davies and Ken Rudo, while calling for Williams’ and Reeder’s resignations. Photo credit: Catherine Clabby

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Catherine Clabby

Catherine Clabby (senior environmental reporter) is a writer and editor. A former senior editor at American Scientist magazine, Clabby won multiple awards reporting on science, medicine and higher education...