A second high-level official at the state health department's laboratory was placed on leave this week, following revelations that the lab destroyed a large number of records documenting lead poisoning in Maryland children.
The lab's deputy director, Michael J. Wajda, has been removed from his position pending an investigation by the department's inspector general. The lab's former director, John DeBoy, was also placed on paid leave earlier this month.
DeBoy, meanwhile, said through his attorney Friday that he destroyed lab records only after receiving approval from the office of the state attorney general, an assertion that a spokeswoman for the office did not directly address.
State Health Secretary Joshua M. Sharfstein confirmed Friday that Wajda was placed on "administrative status" this week.
While an investigation into the records destruction continues, Sharfstein said he is increasingly confident that computer experts will be able to recover all relevant information, including the addresses where poisoned children were living at the time.
"Every test we run is confirming that we have recovered the electronic data," Sharfstein said. He added, "I'm very hopeful we're going to have recovered the key information."
Sharfstein said both Wajda and DeBoy have indicated that they plan to retire from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Asked if their departures stem from the destruction of records, Sharfstein said only that "it's a decision they made and we supported."
Wajda did not respond to email and phone messages left Friday. DeBoy referred questions to his lawyer, Steven H. Levin, who said his client was told by the state attorney general's office that he could destroy the records.
"The AG gave advice that there was no legal obligation to retain these records," Levin said. He declined to offer further details, including who in the attorney general's office DeBoy spoke to or why DeBoy wanted to destroy the records.
Scott E. Nevin, a lawyer with the firm of Peter T. Nicholl, which represents lead-poisoned children, said his office received written notice several weeks ago from the state health department that it had no record for a test result requested more than a year earlier.
State agencies can destroy records after a certain period of time, as long as the documents have not been subpoenaed or requested under the state's public records law.
Asked about Levin's claims, Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, said, "No one in the attorney general's office ever advised destroying records that were the subject of subpoenas or Public Information Act requests." Guillory would not comment specifically on whether DeBoy was told he could destroy lab records.
Potentially thousands of test results — original paper slips and electronic backups — were destroyed. Plaintiffs' lawyers say the test results are crucial to pursuing lawsuits seeking damages on behalf of poisoned children and their families.
Sharfstein said he had no information on why the records were destroyed or the full extent of the destruction, though he said it involved "at least several years' worth of paper records."
He ordered an immediate halt to any further shredding or computer erasures after learning about the situation earlier this month, when plaintiffs' lawyers sought a temporary restraining order in Baltimore Circuit Court. He said he has continued to brief those lawyers on his agency's efforts to recover the test data.
"We've been very pleased with Dr. Sharfstein's response," said Nevin. He has yet to see any of the recovered records but said he is confident that lead-poisoning lawsuits will be able to move forward.
Since the 1980s, doctors and health clinics have been required to send the state health department test results showing elevated lead levels in children's blood. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that even in small amounts can cause lasting learning and behavioral problems.
Robert A. Myers, another deputy director at the lab, has been named acting director. Sharfstein said he worked in a different part of the lab from where the records were destroyed.Copyright © 2015, CT Now