State Asks Coast Officials to Keep Health Risk Quiet

file000355500474The Oregon Health Authority has put Newport officials in a quandary by alerting them to a public health risk but then asking them not to disclose the information before July 15.

Newport Mayor Sandy Roumagoux was one of several coastal officials that received an email last week warning of elevated arsenic levels in soft shell clams.

“Please do not share this information outside of your organization until the advisory is publicly released,” OHA environmental health specialist Rebecca Hillwig wrote in the email.

According to Hillwig’s email the states plans to issue a public health advisory asking people to limit consumption of soft shell clams on July 15.

OHA spokesperson Jonathon Modie defended asking public officials not to disclose the health information.

“This is not an acute exposure situation where people are going to get sick immediately upon eating these things,” he said.

Alerting “stake holders” before the public gives them the chance to prepare a public response and give OHA feedback, Modie said.

Some local officials took issue at being told not to share the health information with the public.

“Keeping this information from them for nearly two weeks, as the agency had requested, is just not in the public’s best interest in my view,” Newport City Councilor David Allen said.

Lincoln County Public Health Director Rebecca Austen expressed surprise at learning that the state had asked public officials to keep mum.

 “That’s not exactly how we work in public health. We try to get the word out,” Austen said. “We try not to sit on that information.”

By Larry Coonrod