Flint Water Team leader details indiscretions, progress

Feb 26, 2016

Dr. Marc Edwards was central in confirming a serious water problem in Flint and leads ongoing analysis that will determine when it’s safe to drink again. We talk with Dr. Edwards about how long it will be before Flint’s water is safe and reforms he says are needed to protect America’s drinking water.

Blacksburg, Virginia is a long way from Flint. 548 miles away, to be exact. 

But it was the work of a Virginia Tech University professor there that helped expose the toxic lead levels in the Michigan city’s drinking water. 

Civil engineer Dr. Marc Edwards led a team of researchers that analyzed Flint residents’ water last fall. Their findings confirmed that people in the city had been ingesting lead at dangerous levels. This was after the city began using the Flint River as a source for water in 2014. For over a year, state officials denied there was any problem with the water.

Now, Edwards is helping lead the efforts to help the city recover from its water emergency as the head of the Flint Water Team at Virginia Tech. The city of Flint has hired Edwards to oversee ongoing testing of Flint’s water to help determine when it will be safe to drink again.  

Current State sat down with Dr. Edwards to discuss his work in Flint and who he thinks is to blame for the city’s public health crisis.

Edwards says the lack of response from government officials, both at the state and federal level, was at the heart of the problem. Neither the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality nor the federal Environmental Protection Agency took steps to make sure that corrosion controls were in place before the switch to Flint River water.

“When the environmental policemen and the civil servants we pay to protect us are deceiving you, and trying to cover up the fact they aren’t following the law – who’s to blame?” says Edwards.

Edwards says the Flint water crisis is also indicative of a nationwide problem.

“The public health service in the United States has completely betrayed the trust of the American people when it comes to lead in water,” says Edwards.

According to Edwards, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is more likely to point to lead paint or dust as the cause of lead poisoning in children. 

“They view lead in water as a threat to their business model, which is largely based on mitigating lead paint risk,” says Edwards.

The Virginia Tech professor contends that the CDC isn’t the only federal agency to fail Flint children. He also gives a scathing indictment of the U.S. EPA.

“Frankly, based on what I’ve seen [the EPA] doesn’t care about kids drinking lead-poisoned water,” says Edwards. “They sit there as water companies have been cheating for decades.”

A 25-year old federal law establishes the maximum lead and copper levels allowed in drinking water, but Edwards says the law is rarely enforced.

His team will conduct another round of water sampling beginning in March, which should start to provide a clearer picture on when the water will be safe to drink.

“If we go back to those same houses now, we can do a point-by-point, home-by-home comparison of how much better things are. Our hypothesis is that it’s at least 3 to 4 times better.”

But for now, Edwards cautions that all Flint residents should still be using filtered or bottled water. 

Article by Ethan Merrill, Current State intern