A social-media post about an informational meeting on thyroid cancer and coal ash has left a lot of people scratching their heads this week – and resulted in an over-capacity RSVP list.
The meeting – scheduled tomorrow from 9 a.m.-noon at the Charles Mack Citizens Center – is being hosted by Commissioner Lisa Qualls and her employer, Movement Mortgage. According to a widely shared graphic on Facebook, the purpose of the meeting is to update area realtors with “facts, not fake news” about Mooresville’s unusually high numbers of thyroid cancer cases and how they correspond – or don’t – with the coal ash that has essentially been treated as dirt here through the years.
The provided panel-list includes only government officials: N.C. Sen. Vickie Sawyer, Rep. John Fraley and Brady Freeman, director of environmental health for the Iredell County Health Department.
Not on the list: doctors or experts on thyroid cancer nor the Duke University scientists who have been studying Mooresville’s environment the past couple years.
Former Mooresville resident Susan Wind commissioned those chemists after her daughter, Taylor, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer while attending Lake Norman High School: a school that has graduated – and buried – several kids with cancer.
The school is also situated next to land where 40,000 tons of coal ash was dumped in 2001. A project planned for the site was eventually abandoned there. So was the coal ash. But it was exposed after torrential downpours in 2018, around the same time Mooresville was learning it has some of the state’s highest incidences of thyroid cancer.
References to “fake news” have recently been lobbed on social media as tensions have risen between some government officials and Wind and her supporters on her Team Taylor Environmental Grant page on Facebook. That same reference on the graphic about tomorrow’s meeting – which was shared this week by the Town of Mooresville and Mayor Miles Atkins on Facebook – drew sharp criticism.
“The reference was disgusting and offended a lot of people,” Wind said. “We have a health issue here. There’s nothing fake about it.”
Atkins said he regrets having shared the meeting’s graphic. “I shared it immediately upon seeing the words ‘thyroid cancer,’ ‘coal ash,’ and ‘public welcome’. I regret that I did it,” he said this week. “As anyone who has followed this issue from day-one knows, Susan Wind and her team of scientists have my full support. I have not shied away from stating publicly that coal ash must be ruled-out as a potential cause of all the cancer cases here, and I will not stop advocating for that.”
Qualls said no new information will be presented at tomorrow’s meeting: “All the presentation will be is what the health department has already presented; I wanted all the information to come from the working group.” Qualls is not in that working group of local and state elected and health officials that meets regularly to discuss updates.
“Under my mortgage hat, I wanted to reach out to the real-estate community because we are getting questions from the community about where people can find information on this,” she said. “In our business, we need things quick and skinny. I wanted the working group to share with those who haven’t been to previous events where we can go to sort through all the information.”
When reached for comment today about tomorrow’s meeting, Wind had a one-word response: “Agendas.”
Despite its focus on the realty community, the meeting was advertised as open to the public. The graphic contained the Town of Mooresville seal, and the town’s Facebook page promoted the meeting. On the graphic itself: “public welcome, recommended for realtors.”
But event planners apparently weren’t prepared for the community response. “This wasn’t intended to be a 200-person event,” Qualls said. “We had 50-75 planned.” Capacity, she said, is 150.
People who clicked “going” on the meeting’s Facebook event page are not technically RSVP’d. The graphic directed people to email RSVPs to Qualls.
That event page lists the Charles Mack Citizens Center as host of the event. But Qualls said Movement Mortgage – whose logo is on the shared graphic alongside the Town of Mooresville’s – is actually hosting.
That has led to more confusion and social-media discussions about potential conflicts of interest. Considering the town’s promotion of the meeting – and the host, at least on the event page, being listed as a town-owned facility – who is paying for the space in which the meeting will be held?
In an email to the Scoop earlier this afternoon, Mooresville Public Information Officer Kim Sellers said citizens-center staff sent the meeting graphic to her office on Monday to be posted. Said Sellers: “When I asked Lisa Qualls for more details, she provided the following:
‘This is a realtor event.
The Town only provided the room for the meeting and is not a town event.
I am the sponsor for the event under Movement Mortgage.
The panelists will be offering where to find the scientific data, how they have been involved since the beginning, and what ongoing efforts are underway for further research.
The realtors are the front porch to our area and we want them to have as much detail as they can to offer their clients.'”
Qualls told the Scoop today that the Citizens Center “is helping with the space, but I’m still paying for it.”
In a second email to the Scoop later this afternoon, Sellers said: “Qualls wanted to make sure it is clear that she is paying for the space.”
Members of the press – including television news media – have RSVP’d to the event, Qualls said. While information shared on social media indicated the meeting would not be recorded or streamed, Qualls said people nor the press will be prevented from recording.