NewsLocal NewsInvestigations


Delray Beach water inspector says city fired her for disclosing contamination

Christine Ferrigan files whistleblower lawsuit after January termination
City of Delray Beach water tower closeup
Posted at 5:40 PM, Apr 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-19 18:15:03-04

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — A former Delray Beach employee has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city, claiming she was harassed and terminated for disclosing alleged contamination of the city's drinking water.

According to the lawsuit, the city terminated wastewater inspector Christine Ferrigan in January, claiming "reorganization" although her position had been approved and funded.

The lawsuit contends the city terminated Ferrigan following a series of public health-related disclosures she made to her management and other state and city officials about alleged contamination of Delray Beach's drinking water.

The suit also claims city officials terminated her in part to prevent her from disclosing information about the utility department's handling of cross connection and drinking water contamination issues to oversight agencies.

Ferrigan's previous disclosures about backflow and other alleged contamination problems in the city resulted in a consent order and $1 million fine last year from the Florida Department of Health.

As Contact 5 previously reported, the consent order accused the city of nine violations surrounding its reclaimed water program including claims that the city submitted false statements, failed to conduct inspections and failed to implement a cross-connection control program, which is meant to prevent contamination into drinking water.

A report released last May by the Palm Beach County inspector general "found evidence that certain city staff were aware of at least one report of sickness caused by the drinking water at the time the city falsely reported to the Department of Health that no reports of sickness or illness had been received."

"You knew from watching this case for the last year-and-a-half, I was the one who kept bringing things to their attention and I was getting beat up along the way," Ferrigan said. "I just can't believe I'm in this. I was doing my job and this is how they treated me."

In a prepared statement sent to Contact 5, the city touted the utilities director's accomplishments and awards but made no mention of the lawsuit or its claims.

"Since June 2020, under the leadership of Director of Utilities Hassan Hadjimiry, staff has worked diligently to bring the city of Delray Beach's utilities department into compliance and ensure that our water meets all health advisory standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Health. Director Hadjimiry brings decades of award-winning experience and accolades to Delray Beach. His efforts to improve the utilities department include more rigorous testing, an increased level of transparency and reporting, improved oversight and accountability, and a focus on timely equipment maintenance and inspections.

The city's drinking water is tested daily to ensure it meets all standards for quality and safety. The city also regularly tests for PFAS chemicals, and the results are published on the city's website. This level of transparency goes above and beyond what is done by most cities in South Florida.

All the city's water storage tanks and treatment plant clear wells have been inspected and cleaned, ensuring they are all in compliance. A great deal of work has been done to enhance the city's cross-connection control program. A citywide audit is underway to determine how many customers will need to come into compliance with installing and/or completing the certification process for their backflow preventors.

Moving forward, the city plans to further strengthen utilities infrastructure through the implementation of a number of sustainable capital improvement programs, including a new water plant, which will ensure the city meets and exceeds our community's future needs."

According to the lawsuit, the city terminated Ferrigan's son from his job in the Public Works Department in March, just one day after the city's attorney received a letter from Ferrigan's attorney.

"This is what separates us from third-world countries — water and sewer," Ferrigan said. "You don't expect taxpayers' money and city workers to just look the other way. There's a bunch of good employees there, but they're just fearful. I knew I had protection, so I was willing to come forward."

Email the Contact 5 Investigators
Share your news tips and story ideas with WPTV's investigations team.