FLORIDA - Health Dept. Worker Claims He Was Fired for Refusing to Alter Report on Aerial Spraying

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Health department worker claims he was fired for refusing to alter report

News-Journal Wire Services, March 19,2000

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Health Department has fired an epidemiologist who recommended an end to the aerial spraying of malathion bait on urban populations.

Omar Shafey was dismissed a little more than a year after he refused to alter a draft report linking illness in Medfly spray zones to malathion bait.

But health officials said they fired Shafey for several reasons, including falsifying travel records and for engaging in conduct unbecoming of a public employee.

The falsification of records charge stems for "an overpayment of $12.50" which resulted from Shafey's submission of an expense report for a November trip to Chicago, according to agency documents.

State employees are entitled a $50 per day reimbursement while on a business trip. The department's inspector general determined Shafey worked three-quarters of the day one day while on the trip and was not entitled to the entire payment.

Shafey called the accusations "false and malicious." He said he plans to sue the agency under state and federal "whistleblower" laws.

Shafey coordinated the state's Pesticide Poisoning Surveillance Program during the 1998 campaign to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly.

He said he was asked to alter the conclusions of a draft report documenting acute pesticide-related illness in Lake, Manatee and Highlands counties, according to an internal memo he wrote to a superior at the agency early last year.

Shafey's bosses rewrote the report to conclude that an association between the spray campaign and rashes, breathing problems and other documented health effects had not been established.

Detailed case histories that included physician diagnoses and the severity of symptoms, some of which required hospitalization, were removed from the document.

Health department officials said the changes were the result of "genuine scientific disagreement."

The Medfly poses a serious threat to the state's agriculture industry, and malathion bait sprayed from planes and helicopters has long been viewed as the cheapest, most effective remedy.

Health officials won't comment on the dismissal, citing the possibility of future litigation.

The agency's March 3 letter firing Shafey made no mention of the Medfly affair. ) 2000 News-Journal Corp. . news-journalonline.com


-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 19, 2000

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