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September 2, 2011

DHEC commissioner announces retirement

COLUMBIA – Earl Hunter, Commissioner of the S. C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has announced his plan to retire from the agency on February 1, 2012, the agency reported today.

Hunter has served the agency in various capacities for 31 years and was named DHEC Commissioner in August, 2001. His 10 years as commissioner is the longest tenure of any commissioner in the agency’s history.

Formed by the S.C. General Assembly in 1973 from the former State Board of Health and the Pollution Control Authority, DHEC serves as the public health and environmental protection agency for the state.  It is overseen by a seven member board representing each of the state’s congressional districts, and an at-large member who serves as chair.

“When you devote so many years of your life to an effort, it’s always difficult to walk away,” Hunter said.  “But after discussions with the board, I believe the time is right for me to make this change. I can’t say enough about the agency and the efforts of its staff through the years.  It’s never popular to be a regulatory agency.  But the efforts given by our staff to follow the laws of this state and meet the federal mandates we must meet, are beyond what most people can imagine. Most of these efforts happen quietly everyday and are never realized by the public we serve.  I have been honored to work with them and to serve as their commissioner,” he said. 

As a result of Hunter’s retirement, the board plans to conduct a nationwide search for his replacement.  Hunter has agreed to remain with the agency for a short time following his retirement to assist with the transition of the agency to a new commissioner.

Hunter’s time with the agency has included work in various front-line environmental positions, all focused on monitoring and protecting the state’s water quality.  After 12 years in the agency’s Bureau of Water, Hunter was promoted to Assistant to the Commissioner. He served in that position until being named commissioner by the board in 2001.

Hunter is nationally recognized and respected for his efforts at the state level, and in December of 2010, was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, an organization made up of the chief public health officials of each of the nation’s states, territories and the District of Columbia.  He previously served on the ASTHO board as the representative of Regions 4, 5 and 6, and chaired a workgroup on issues surrounding environmental health.

During his tenure as DHEC commissioner, Hunter has overseen the agency during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the corresponding development of a public health preparedness program; multiple threats from tropical storms and hurricanes; a massive train derailment and chlorine spill in Graniteville, S.C.; mass immunizations during the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, and numerous other emergency response situations. 

His tenure has also seen a steady overall decrease in the state’s infant mortality rate; an overhaul of the state’s vital records program to decrease wait times for birth and death certificates; updating and streamlining of the state’s Certificate of Need program; the development of the Shoreline Change Advisory Committee and the Blue Ribbon Committee on Coastal Issues; an update of the state’s Demonstration of Need regulation to better address the issue of landfills and waste capacity in the state; the passage of a surface water permitting program; the expansion of the Brownfields redevelopment initiative; the expansion of HIV testing efforts and cancer prevention efforts; the creation of an expedited permit review program; and numerous other successes. 

He leaves the agency with a 93.9 percent positive customer service rating for overall quality of services provided by the agency to the customers it serves, based on the most recent survey.  In the last 12 years, overall customer satisfaction with DHEC services has averaged 92 percent, well above the national American Customer Satisfaction Index of 71 percent during the same period.   


For more information:
Thom Berry – (803) 898-3885
E-mail –