Muntu Davis, MD, MPH


California Endowment Scholar in Health Policy (2002-2003)

County Health Officer, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Los Angeles, CA; Commissioner, First 5 California Commission, Sacramento, CA

Dr. Muntu Davis is currently the County Health Officer at the Los County Department of Public Health (LACDPH). In this role, Dr. Davis serves as the Department’s medical expert regarding public health matters and provides guidance to leadership across the Department. Working in partnership with DPH colleagues and health professional organizations, he consults on, interprets, and enforces County and State laws and regulations to protect and promote the health and wellness of all residents of Los Angeles County. Previously, Dr. Davis worked at the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) in Oakland, California, where he served both as Director since 2012 and as Health Officer since 2009. As the Director, he provided strategic and administrative leadership, direction and oversight to planning for a full range of public health activities for over 1.6 million county residents. In his role as County Health Officer, he led public health protection efforts, health policy development and served as an advisor to elected and appointed officials, members of the medical profession, and the public on matters affecting public health and safety. For the past decade, he has contributed to statewide and national discussions around how to elevate and implement a health equity framework within government agencies. Dr. Davis practiced medicine in urban and rural primary care and urgent care clinics in Northern and Southern California. Dr. Davis has a MD degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. He completed The California Endowment Scholars in Health Policy Fellowship and received a MPH degree from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.

Learn more about the California Endowment Scholars in Health Policy at Harvard University


An Evaluation of Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Planning: Implications for Policy Improvement at the County Level in California


This study explores the implementation of the current federal and state hazardous materials emergency planning policies at the county level, looking specifically at Tulare County, California.


In 1986, Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA, Title III) federally mandated emergency response planning for hazardous materials or chemical accidents. Planning for this type of incident, as well as others, requires a multi-agency approach at all levels of government, from federal to local. The majority of these activities are financed by federal and state funds, but local governments must also contribute to achieve these goals.

The risks of hazardous materials accidents depend on the chemicals in the environment and the type of business in a particular area. The Central Valley of California is known for its agricultural production. Pesticides are hazardous materials, and, thus, the risk for a chemical accident is increased by the nature of business in the area. For this reason, hazardous materials emergency response planning becomes even more important at the city and county levels in this region.

On November 13, 1999, the residents of Earlimart, California, located in Tulare County, were exposed to a pesticide drift of metam sodium, which had been applied in a nearby field. They experienced immediate nausea, vomiting, burning eyes, mild rashes, and difficulty breathing. To this day, some continue to suffer from episodic breathing problems as a result of the exposure. This pesticide drift resulted in 170 documented pesticide poisonings, the largest group pesticide poisoning in California from 1997 to 2000. Some members of the town were decontaminated, some evacuated, some told to stay in their homes, and others sent for medical care. The emergency response effort by the local agencies enraged many of these residents, who, in the aftermath, viewed the incident as unorganized, not unified, confusing and insensitive. Paul Helliker, Director, Department of Pesticide Regulation, shared this view as well. In a letter to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, he pointed to “a lack of training and a need for a unified response plan that clearly delineates lines of responsibility and courses of action... from various agencies and counties.”


Federal and California State legislation and guidelines for hazardous materials emergency response planning were reviewed. Structured interviews with state and local government agencies responsible for planning and responding to hazardous materials accidents were conducted, as well as interviews with Earlimart residents.


Rapid and well planned responses are the key to effective emergency management. As “first responders”, county and local agencies play an important role in the initial management of a hazardous materials accident. Thus, they need to plan and to practice working together to ensure an effective response.

Therefore, I recommend that the State have more oversight of county-level hazardous materials emergency response planning and preparation and require interagency exercises/drills with evaluation every 2-3 years at the county level. County and local government agencies need to recognize the unique nature of agriculture-related emergencies and prepare accordingly. The public needs to be included in the planning process. This will allow county and local agencies to assess language and other specific needs of their respective communities and address these needs prior to an actual emergency.


Luke Cole, Esq., Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment and CDC-Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registration
Stephanie Miles-Richardson, DVM, PhD, Minority Health Program Manager, Office of Urban Affairs, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Rueben C. Warren, DDS, MPH, DPH, Associate Administrator, Office of Urban Affairs, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry