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ADEM and Alabama Department of Health Withdraw their Health Advisory on Gadsden Water

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

By Monday, May 23, almost every news outlet in the state had reported that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Alabama Department of Public Health were warning that pregnant women, women who are nursing, infants, and infants on formula should not be drinking any water from the Gadsden Water Authority because of levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooactanoic acid (PFOA) that are above the new maximum standards suggested by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Friday, May 20, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) announced that the tap water from the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority, the Gadsden Water Works and Sewer Board, the Centre Water and Sewer Board, A.W. (Vinemont Anon West Point) Water Systems Inc., West Lawrence Water Co-op, the Northeast Alabama Water District, the Rainbow City Utilities Board, and the Southside Water Works and Sewer Board may pose some health risks according to new standards released by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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Late Monday, the ADPH changed their advisory: “ADEM announced plans to conduct confirmatory sampling in two systems, Gadsden Water Works and Sewer Board and Centre Water and Sewer Board, which supply Northeast Alabama Water District, Southside Water Works and Sewer Board, and the Utilities Board of Rainbow City. Therefore, these five systems are no longer affected by this recommendation. ADPH will review the test results when available to determine if additional recommendations are needed.” “ADPH understands that Vinemont Anon West Point Water Systems, Inc., is now purchasing water from an alternate supplier, and is, therefore, no longer affected by the EPA recommendations.” “Remaining affected by the health advisory is the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority, as well as the West Lawrence Water Co-op and any other systems that purchase water from this Authority.”

State Rep. Mack Butler said on Facebook, “Breaking news! ADEM is standing down on the Health Advisory for the Gadsden Water System based on recent test but they will be closely monitoring the water quality. Alabama Dept of Public Health just notified me minutes ago.”

Rep. Butler said earlier, “I have spoken this morning with Chad Hare at Gadsden Water and they are diligently working on this issue. The samples for the health advisory are from 2014 and 2015. ADEM will be out to conduct new samples ASAP but the water works internal test show it to be below the new levels. Out of the last 4 test they did one was 1 point above the 70 parts per trillion, 2 were well below, and one was undetectable. I also spoke this morning to our state health officer Dr Miller at ADPH and he along with ADEM.”

So what happened between Monday Morning and Monday afternoon?

On Friday, Rep. Butler wrote, “Health Advisory- Today I received a call from our State Health Officer to make me aware of a recent ADEM alert about our water in Rainbow City, Gadsden, and Southside. The advisory is for pregnant and breast feeding women. Currently Rainbow City buys their water from Gadsden who has announced that they are working on the issue. Southside gets their water from wells but is connected to Gadsden for emergencies and Rainbow City is in the process of connecting to Odenville and will be buying water from them rather than Gadsden very soon. This conversion will be complete in a few months. I will post updates as I receive.

On Friday, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced that it is working with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and federal agencies to determine any potential hazards related to perfluorinated compounds in drinking water in the eight north Alabama water systems.

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final health advisory for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooactanoic acid (PFOA). These compounds are man-made chemicals that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. They are found in products such as nonstick cookware, carpet protection products, firefighting foams, and waterproof clothing.

Recent scientific studies suggest that, “Exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), and liver effects.”

EPA’s health advisories are recommendations that pregnant (or women who might become pregnant) and breast-feeding mothers served by the identified water systems consider using alternate sources of drinking water. EPA further states that for formula-fed infants, it is advisable to consider using formula that does not require adding water. Other people served by these systems may also consider these steps.

PFCs can not be removed by boiling the water. Be aware that PFCs will also be in your ice.

Other household uses of water such as showering, bathing, laundry and dishwashing are not a concern as ingestion is the main source of concern.

For the last three years, the levels of PFOS, PFOA and emerging contaminants in surface water have been monitored in all drinking water systems serving more than 10,000 people and in selected systems serving fewer people.

The ADPH says that it will continue to review all studies and recommendations related to ingestion of these chemicals through public water supplies. ADEM is working with the named water systems to collect additional monitoring data where appropriate and to identify methods to reduce the water concentration of PFCs to a level below the final health advisory recommendation.

Before the advisory was lifted, State Representative Becky Nordgren (R-Gadsden) said, “From what I understand the chemical that they are concerned about in the past was allowed to be in the water at a higher percentage. Recently, the EPA reduced the percentage that could be in the water which then put 8 water systems in our State above the allowable percentage and thus the advisory from the EPA was released. I don’t think it is something to panic about but I am buying distilled water and bottled water for my drinking and then I will use the tap water for cooking and bathing and stuff like that. We hope to get an update soon by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.”

State Representative Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) said in a statement on Monday, “Several people have asked me about the water situation in Etowah County and Northeast Alabama. I have spoken today with leaders at the Dept. of Public Health and the Alabama Dept. of Environmental Management (ADEM), and they should be releasing a public press release shortly. “

Rep. Ford said, “The main concern is for pregnant women and nursing mothers, who should avoid using tap water for the time being as a precaution. I am still getting information, and will continue to let everyone know what I hear as I hear it.”

The Alabama Political Reporter will update this story as more information becomes available.

 

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State Board of Education picks Eric Mackey to lead Department of Education

Sam Mattison

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In a close vote, the Board of Education decided to hire Eric Mackey, the executive director of the Superintendents Association of Alabama, to fill the state superintendent position.

The State Board of Education voted 5-4 on Friday to hire Mackey.

Mackey’s hiring came as a shock to some as Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey was considered a favorite for the position.

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Here’s what you need to know about his selection:

Pouncey’s lawsuit

Board Member Ella Bell brought up a potential concern with the vote as the body considered the motion.

After state Superintendent Tommy Bice announced his resignation, a new search for state superintendent happened in late 2016. Of the finalist, the board selected Michael Sentance.

But the selection process has since become a center of controversy.

Pouncey, who was currently a candidate for the position, was an early front runner in the process, but an anonymous ethics complaint derailed his selection.

The complaint alleged that Pouncey had plagiarized his doctoral dissertation, and the complaint attached emails from Pouncey that the complaint said proved the allegation. The anonymous ethics complaint was expedited to the Ethics Commission by a group of individuals within the state Department of Education.

In a subsequent report authored by Attorney Michael Meyer, Board Member Mary Scott Hunter, General Counsel Juliana Dean, Interim Superintendent Phillip Cleveland, and two other attorneys in the department were accused of conspiring against Pouncey. All the alleged conspirators deny they took part in the plot, but the report was forwarded to the Alabama State Bar Association

Pouncey filed a lawsuit against the five conspirators seeking damages. While a judge dismissed three people from the lawsuit, Board Member Mary Scott Hunter stayed on as a defendant.

Bell said that her involvement with the lawsuit may preclude her from voting on the next superintendent. If Hunter’s vote is not counted, the Board would have been at a stalemate as Pouncey and Mackey would have ended in a tie.

Rebuilding trust with the public and the Legislature

While they never passed their committee, several key bills dealing with restructuring the state Department of Education were making their way through the 2018 Legislative Session.

Among them included bills to terminate the state Board of Education, reorganize the Board with non-voting adviser positions, and one that would eliminate the Department of Education entirely.

Sponsoring Legislators have expressed concern that the current framework is no working, and they urged the Board to be rigorous in their search for a new state superintendent.

Mackey, who has appeared before legislators multiple times to pitch legislation, said his already existing relationship with the body would help with BOE-Legislature relations.

The board has faced a lot of scrutiny from the Legislature after a tumultuous period under former state Superintendent Michael Sentence and any on the board were critical of Sentance’s leadership.

Sentance’s departure from the department was characterized with confrontational board meetings that saw board members greatly divided on whether to let him stay. In August, the board members signaled his departure with a sudden evaluation that was premature for Sentance, who had only served in the position for less than 1 year.

Challenges ahead for new superintendent

Alabama faces numerous challenges as it attempts to reform and improve key institutions within its sphere of influence.

Of particular note, is the Montgomery Public Schools takeover that was the brainchild of former state Superintendent Michael Sentance. The takeover recently announced that it would lay-off more than 200 teachers in a bid to normalize the district’s overinflated budget.

The state Department of Education is facing its own reorganization that recently gained steam under interim state superintendent Ed Richardson.

Currently, the state as a whole is facing a pending budgetary crunch that could leave the state with millions of dollars that could be siphoned from the Education Trust Fund, which is the biggest since the Great Recession.

In a statement after the meeting, Gov. Kay Ivey said she looked forward to working with Mackey.

“During the interview, I was impressed by Dr. Mackey’s embrace of my vision to ensure that our children have a strong start to their educational journey so that they have a strong finish when they enter the workforce,” Ivey said. “That is the kind of forward thinking we need at the helm of the State Board of Education.”

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Alabama executes 83-year-old Walter Moody for 1989 murder of federal judge

Chip Brownlee

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Walter Moody, 83, was executed Thursday at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. (via Alabama Department of Corrections)

The State of Alabama executed an 83-year-old man Thursday evening for a 1989 bombing that claimed the life of a federal appeals judge in Alabama.

Alabama put Walter Moody to death by lethal injection at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, making him the oldest death-row inmate put to death in modern American history.

Moody was convicted in 1991 after an exhaustive federal investigation found that Moody delivered a package containing a homemade pipebomb to Federal Judge Robert Smith Vance’s home in Mountain Brook. That bomb exploded, instantly killing Vance and seriously injuring his wife.

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“For our system of government to work properly, the judiciary must be able to operate without undue outside influence. By targeting and murdering a respected jurist, Mr. Moody not only committed capital murder, he also sought to interrupt the flow of justice,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey Thursday in a statement, after she allowed Moody’s execution to continue despite some calls for clemency in his case because of his advanced age.

The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily delayed his execution with a stay Thursday night to consider last-minute appeals in which Moody’s attorneys argued that the lethal injection would be difficult because of his age and his “spider veins.”

They also said that Vance — who had been chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party before being nominated by President Jimmy Carter to the federal bench — had been personally opposed to the death penalty.

They eventually allowed the execution to continue, and so did Ivey.

“After considering the facts of his horrendous and intentional crime, I have allowed Mr. Moody’s sentence to be carried out in accordance with the laws of this state and in the interest of ensuring justice for the victim and his family,” the governor said.

A complicated federal trial that involved the recusal of all circuit and district judges in the United States 11th Circuit, where Vance was on the bench, led to Moody being convicted on all counts. He was also found to be responsible for the murder of a black civil rights attorney, Robert E. Robinson, based in Savannah, Georgia, who was killed in a separate explosion.

Years earlier, in 1972, Moody had been convicted of possessing a pipebomb that exploded and seriously injured his wife in their kitchen. The earlier case was a major factor in Moody’s 1991 conviction. Investigators said Moody was angry with the federal judiciary after they refused to vacate his sentence.

Vance was not on the panel that made the decision, but Moody seemed to target him anyway. He was also found to have sent four bombs in total:  one to Vance, one to Robinson, and two more that were found and defused before exploding at the 11th Circuit’s headquarters in Atlanta and at the Jacksonville, Georgia, office of the NAACP.

Investigators believed that Moody sent the additional bombs to the NAACP and Robinson because he hoped to throw investigators off his trail by adding a racial element to the crime.

He was later convicted on state charges for Vance’s murder and was sentenced to death by electrocution on Feb. 10, 1997.

The Department of Corrections said Thursday in a statement that Moody’s execution began at 8:17 p.m., and he was pronounced dead at 8:42 p.m. He gave no final statement.

“Walter Leroy Moody was convicted of Judge Vance’s murder in both federal and state courts,” said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Even though he was also convicted of a similar pipe bomb death of a Georgia attorney, Moody has spent the better part of three decades trying to avoid justice. Tonight, Mr. Moody’s appeals finally came to a rightful end. Justice has been served.”

Vance’s son, Bob Vance, is now a Jefferson County circuit judge in the running for the State Supreme Court. Judge Bob Vance did not attend the execution.

Moody’s execution drew national attention because of his age. Before Moody’s execution, the oldest death-row inmate to face the death penalty since it was reinstated by the Supreme Court in the late 1970s was John Nixon, who was 77 when he was executed in 2005.

As states are carrying out fewer executions because of court litigation and the scarcity of some lethal injection drugs, the age of many death row inmates is rising. Georgia executed a 67-year-old earlier this year, and Alabama executed 75-year-old Thomas Arthur last year who had escaped the death penalty seven times before.

Death Row inmate Thomas Arthur executed after seven previous attempts

The average age on Alabama’s death row is low, sitting now at 32 years old, though there are three inmates on Alabama’s death row aged 68 or older, according to ADOC records, and many more who are nearing that age.

The oldest now is Charlie Washington, 70, who was sentenced in 2004 to death row for murder in the course of a robbery or burglary.

More than 180 people, the vast majority of which are men, remain on death row.

Another case involving an elderly death-row inmate will make its way to the Supreme Court after the justices this year agreed to hear the case of Vernon Madison, 67, who was convicted of killing a Mobile, Alabama, police officer in 1985.

His attorneys say he has no memory of the crime after suffering multiple strokes; therefore, capital punishment can’t serve its purpose in his case.

 

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State Board of Education to select new superintendent today

Sam Mattison

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The State Board of Education is scheduled to hire a new state superintendent today after a 7-month long search.

After interviewing the candidates for the position today, the members will select who will take the position. Finalist for the position include the following candidates:

  • Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey
  • Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy
  • Superintendent Association of Alabama Executive Director Eric Mackey
  • Former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott

The search for the new head of the department came after Michael Sentance, the former superintendent, resigned amid tensions with the board.

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Sentance’s resignation came after the board was slated to fire him after a series of tumultuous board meetings.

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ADEM and Alabama Department of Health Withdraw their Health Advisory on Gadsden Water

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 6 min
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