FACHEP vs. The People of the State of Michigan: Part VII Love The Alarmist — The Real Story on Shigella and Water Filters

(August 12th, 2016 to December 2nd, 2016)

 

FACHEP: A “KEYSTONE COPs” TRAGICOMEDY

In Part 4, we revealed how Dr. Nancy Love (UM) sampled some Flint point of use (POU) filters in late July 2016, thought she discovered Shigella, and then unleashed an irresponsible hypothesis that the disease was coming from Flint water via Dr. Laura Sullivan (Kettering) on social media. This week, we detail how FACHEP allowed their Shigella rumor to run wild in Flint for 4 months, before they stopped promoting that fearmongering falsehood in favor of a new one.

The term “Keystone Cops” appropriately describes the uncanny antics of FACHEP leadership in 2016-2017. They were destined to exert an “uncommon amount of energy in the pursuit of failure” on the POU water filter issue, while wearing the requisite “facial expressions of dour dignity.” The “Cops” label also works because they carried themselves as if they had actually been deputized by some higher authority, perhaps even by Governor Snyder in some secret ceremony, and maybe even provided with a license to cast wild aspersions about every other entity involved in the relief effort. Or was that just Dr. McElmurry hand selecting likeminded individuals who shared some sort of messiah complex?

FACHEP RUMOR MONGERING IN ACTION: CASE STUDY 1

We pick up our story (from Part 4) one day after Dr. Sullivan posted  instructions from WSU/UM to “boil water before bathing,” on social media due to fears that Shigella was coming from water. Sullivan’s friend Dr. Larry Reynolds wrote on July 23, 2016 that the Genesee County Health Department (GCHD) did not support that hypothesis: “The GC Health Department’s epidemiologist put out a report that they had tested water across the city and county and could not find any correlation with city water.” A dispute was in the making.

We now know that the incidence of Shigellosis was dropping markedly throughout the month of July and that data was reported by Suzanne Cupal (GCHD) during an August 9, 2016 GCHD board meeting (see Figure below). We also want to remind readers that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) later demonstrated that the Shigellosis was likely spread via typical hand to hand contact, and not via drinking water.

Shigellosis cases in Genesee Co. where Flint is located (data courtesy: MDHHS)

The GCHD “good news” for Flint residents was viewed as “bad news” for FACHEP. FACHEP mobilized, to make sure that mere facts would not undermine their baseless claims, or otherwise put a lid on their bubbling desire to scream  “boil your water” from Flint’s rooftops.

On August 22, 2016 at 11:28 am, Dr. McElmurry crafted an email to Ms. Cupal (GCHD), incorrectly claiming the Shigella “outbreak appears to have accelerated.” Just 9 minutes after that email, McElmurry then wrote an underhanded “HIGH” importance email to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (cc’ing FACHEP faculty but leaving off all GCHD personnel), with a false claim that an “increase in the number of cases and rate of Shigellosis that has been observed.” In that email to Mayor Weaver, McElmurry also said that Ms. Cupal was wrong to report that the number of Shigella cases was in decline (again see Figure above). 

Like a well-oiled propaganda machine, Dr. Sullivan (FACHEP’s Designated Trust-builder) then went on social media and stated:

August 22, 2016: … shigellosis confirmed but source not identified by health department. Update on public health: wash hands with antibacterial soap, turn up the temperature on your water heater, drink filtered water ONLY if you are certain that bacteria are removed.

Sullivan’s posting, reinforced FACHEP’s self-serving but false narrative that Dr. Cupal and GCHD were incompetent, Shigella was coming from Flint water, and that the filtered water could not be trusted. Taking Sullivan’s advice literally would require boiling (or some other treatment) of filtered water before drinking. Or, just use bottled water for everything to avoid all of the fear and hassle. Indeed, many Flint residents were literally bathing in bottled water, or even bathing in boiled bottled water.  

FACHEP then continued their campaign to undermine GCHD, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and CDC’s scientifically sound public health messaging on Shigella.  In a “HIGH” importance email to Dr. Larry Reynolds, sent August 26th at 3:47 pm, McElmurry repeated his assertion that Ms. Cupal and GCHD were incompetent, and the false claim that the Shigella incidence was not declining. Just 3 minutes later, Dr. Zervos just happened to email and reinforce that message to Reynolds, writing that GCHD’s Shigella investigation was inadequate and “left many unanswered questions.” At least as far as the Keystone Cops were concerned.

Still not getting the traction they desired, Dr. Kilgore sent an email to FACHEP faculty on August 31st 2016, indicating that the Shigellosis outbreak was “water related to an important extent” and “there is great urgency to improve the public health response.” Kigore did note a potential problem.  Specifically, FACHEP was only funded to study Legionella by MDHHS, but he argued that this work on Legionella should allow them to also meddle in “other potentially water-related diseases like Shigellosis.”

Drs. LOVE and MCELMURRY make some house-calls

The High Priests of Waterborne Disease. In late August, Flint residents were getting their first house-calls from Drs. Love and McElmurry on their NSF POU filter project. Dr. Edwards was in Flint, conducting late night sampling events while sleeping on LeeAnne Walters sofa, when he received an urgent phone call from his distraught Flint friend Ms. Keri Webber.

Love and McElmurry had come to her doorstep and channeled their best “Exorcist” entry, to break very “bad news” about her water bacteria-possessed home. Webber drove to meet Edwards, still shaking with fear and her voice cracking as she related the conversation, the gist of which was also posted on social media that evening:

“I really felt I needed to share this information with Flint residents using the tap filters for lead…..The scariest thing is that the amount of bacteria LEAVING our filter is astronomical. ..we all have to make our own decisions on rather to drink from the Filters or not. As most know we ARE NOT drinking from the filter….thank GOD! We continue to use only bottled water for everything!”

As the Webbers recall their dining room conversation, Love and McElmurry stated that “they had never seen such high levels of bacteria” and ominously warned them to “never drink water coming from the filter, or bath in their water, without boiling it first.” Yikes!

In an apparent attempt to comfort Webber with humor, McElmurry verbally suggested that “the State of Michigan should purchase their home for $250,000,” because the horrible bacteria problems would make it an ideal laboratory for studying the Flint disaster aftermath. The Webbers’ home is lovely, but like many homes in Flint, it has a depressed market value of just $10,000, making the imaginary offer 25X over the asking price very attractive–especially considering the frightening news just delivered.  This report is consistent with that of another Flint resident visited by McElmurry in 2016, who literally abandoned her home due to bacteria fears.

Dr. Love further opined that Mr. Webber’s horrible skin infections could be coming from the Staph bacteria they found in the water and that WSU/UM would report those results soon. Over the next 7 months, Ms. Webber repeatedly requested the Staph data. She was thrice promised the results by Dr. Love and thrice did not receive them. When she finally complained on social media around June 14, 2017,  a FACHEP member eventually hand-delivered her a hard copy. The FACHEP letter did not mention Staph, but only that there were undetectable levels of Shigella

At the time, Edwards attempted to explain to his Flint friend, that contrary to what she had been told, the levels of bacteria measured from her POU filters by Dr. Love were perfectly normal based on his decades of experience. He refrained from telling her that Love and McElmurry were so new to drinking water research, he had doubts they even knew what “normal” was for POU filters installed in tens of millions of U.S. homes. After all, Dr. Love did not even know POU filters were in such widespread use, until she revealed her ignorance on that subject in a phone call with Edwards in January 2017 as mentioned in Part 4.

Realizing that his worst fears about Dr. Love were once again coming true, Edwards delegated an impossible task of trying to reason with Love to his diplomatic colleague Dr. Amy Pruden. Pruden is one of the foremost researchers in the world on building plumbing drinking water microbiology, published numerous papers on the topic, and was Principal Investigator on over a dozen major projects with Dr. Edwards researching waterborne pathogens in building plumbing and is also co-PI of the FlintWaterStudy (now, U.S. Water Study) team.

Pruden tried to gently inform Dr. Love and McElmurry that “all water contains some normal level of bacteria and that there is no known health risk” from the types of bacteria discovered in Webber’s water. Moreover, that “these are pretty typical levels <of bacteria>” for building plumbing.  Pruden further stated that it is “important to keep in mind people use the point of use filters for drinking and cooking, not for showering- so it’s definitely not going to explain <Staph> rashes….”

When Pruden and Love spoke later at an international conference, Dr. Love declared she was strongly committed to careful and responsible communication about the POU water filters in Flint. But while placating Dr. Pruden, Dr. Love was quietly making grand plans behind the scenes.

YOU CAN’T HANDLE DR. LOVE’S “TRUTHS”

In emails September 25 and 27, 2016 to colleagues McElmurry and Masten, Dr. Love expressed a desire to keep Dr. Pruden at arm’s length as she obtained more data on Shigella and developed her personal manifesto related to POU filter use in Flint. Love’s illogical analysis was heavily based on her ignorance of basic potable water science and false assumptions about of filter deployment in Flint, yet her newly formulated recommendation was to eventually be cast in concrete:

” … I think it is best to take filtered water, boil it, and then refrigerate for drinking.  This provides **two** barriers (more in concert with our gold standard of multiple barriers) … It is what I am starting to do in my own house in Ann Arbor… and I cannot in good conscience recommend otherwise to the citizens of Flint, especially given the average health condition of its citizens.

It is truly unfortunate that Dr. Love never had a chance to learn basic principles of Sloan MoBE 101, because she had literally scared herself via DNA analysis of Ann Arbor POU filters, to the point that she was actually boiling potable water for her own family. That is perfectly fine, because as we say, to each their own. Millions of Americans make such personal choices every day to either boil their water, purchase bottled water, use filters of many different designs, or even expose themselves to “raw” water.

Yet Dr. Love would soon become dead set on applying her newly minted “gold standard” to all of Flint, and inexplicably, only to Flint. At one level, this was merely formalizing Dr. Sullivan’s “insider” FACHEP “boil water” recommendations already posted on Facebook and Dr. Love’s warnings to residents like Keri Webber. The emails further reveal that because Dr. Pruden would be incapable of handling Dr. Love’s ideas on filter messaging, she would be put in limbo until Dr. Love’s “interesting but incompletely analyzed” data on Shigella was processed — at that time Pruden could be dazzled by Love’s brilliance after the Mayor, GCHD, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), MDHHS and CDC were informed first (see 9/25 to 9/27/2016 emails at the end).

But as we will eventually see, not one of those entities would be able to handle Dr. Love’s illogical “truths” either. And so it was henceforth destined, that Dr. Love would be pitted against the entire relief effort on the POU water filter issue, supported only by FACHEP sycophants. Moreover, in her supreme arrogance, Dr. Love was going to hopelessly outnumber and outvote everyone, and take her “gold standard” public one way or another.   

AGENCIES CORRECT A RUMOR — A FACHEP CRYBULLY COUNTERATTACK

GCHD, MDHHS and CDC were rightly confident in their science, public health messaging and data that Shigella cases were finally in decline, but in early October they could not have yet known about the extent of FACHEP rumormongering. They were about to get a hint.

Just 3 days after Dr. Love laid out her manifesto to deal with alleged dangers of the POU filters and bathing in Flint water, national reporters like Pulitzer Prize-winning Sara Ganim were writing Dr. Edwards that “I’m working on something about a Shigella outbreak in Flint, and that people are not washing their hands…  I’m being told that people in Flint are scared of using hot water..” Obviously, FACHEP was successful in getting their story out.

A concerted effort was then made to correct the rumors and push a “wash your hands campaign,” which rolled out via national stories on CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times on October 4, 2016. A typical Shigella control message was that:

‘People aren’t bathing because they’re scared,’ Jim Henry, Genesee County’s environmental health supervisor, told CNN. ‘Some people have mentioned that they’re not going to expose their children to the water again.‘…but the health agencies were “urging residents to wash their hands.”

Immediately after reading this national Shigella news, Dr. Love wrote about a “weekend chat” with Dr. Sullivan about communicating the FACHEP results.  FACHEP (Dr. Sullivan) and friend (Melissa Mays) then mounted the following, masterful crybully counterattack against the agency public health messaging.


Melissa Mays was feeling fed up.  October 4, 2016 · 

I think I’m going to start a little series called “Blaming the Victims: The Lies our County, State and Federal Government Tell about Flint.” 
Episode 1: “LIE: Flint is full of dumb and dirty people who get sick because they’re not bathing and washing their hands.” 
Shame on you people for saying garbage like that just to try to throw off the fact that the bacteria in our water is making us sick…. I’m ready to turn those shaming tables back around on you. #ItsYourTurnNow

Dr. Laura Sullivan: October 5, 2016

From the, “How to exploit the poor and get good press” playbook:
Tell everyone that the poor are getting sick because they don’t wash their hands.

William Hammond:

And washing hands is not helpful? October 6, 2016 at 3:09am

Dr. Laura Sullivan

(did not answer Hammond’s question about handwashing)

Michael Schock (USEPA):

There’s no evidence that I or my microbiologist specialists colleagues have seen that it’s transmitted by organisms in tap water. Using even less water for washing and bathing is the worst thing they can do.  October 7, 2016 at 6:32pm

The agencies were dumbfounded that standardized messaging about the importance of handwashing, considered acceptable everywhere else in the America, would provoke such a response. However, they were also unaware of how the outrage was actually being manufactured by FACHEP and friends behind the scenes to support their alternative facts communications plan. In future emails, Dr. Seeger (WSU communications expert) would not hesitate to remind the agencies how insensitive they had been to residents, and gullible environmental justice faculty were later duped into writing historical accounts claiming: “the public authorities’ (and media’s) fixation on people’s personal habits… frustrated and shamed Flint residents” [all referencing self-serving FACHEP and Friends Facebook propaganda].

On October 4th Dr. Love also prepared to reveal her “truth” to the public health authorities in a scheduled conference call October 6th. Specifically, she would inform them of her new crusade: that drinking Flint water passing through a POU lead filter without boiling it first was dangerous. Never mind that public health agencies would then have to start contradicting a year of prior advice in Flint, or 14 years of prior advice given to the world. There was one slight impediment to her plan: Dr. Love still did not have any credible data to support her earth shattering conclusion. In an email to McElmurry and Masten she noted that:

“We do not have qPCR results for specific pathogenic species yet… I have given ..<a>.. Oct 14 deadline for first cut results on all samples..We definitely have genera that contain opportunistic pathogens at all houses, but that is the same as we would find in almost every city in America.” 

Let us repeat for emphasis. On October 4th, 2016, Dr. Love did not have a shred of evidence, that bacteria found in Flint homes, were any more dangerous than homes in almost every city in America. Yet because her mind was clearly made up that her new gold standard “boil water” advisory would have to be applied in Flint, without regard to what future data would actually show, she was going to work on a “a communication piece tonight based on a conversation I had with Laura Sullivan.”

OCTOBER 6 CONFERENCE CALL: A WEEK OF PURE FACHEP CHAOS

Chaos ensued after Dr. Love unveiled her POU filter manifesto during a heated October 6th FACHEP conference call with Dr. Wells and others. It also appears that Dr. Wells finally realized that FACHEP was behind some of the harmful rumors circulating about Shigella and bathing fears in Flint.

With just 30-45 minutes notice, Dr. Wells arranged an emergency meeting with some of the world’s foremost experts at the CDC, who dropped everything for a FACHEP “Shigella and Filters Call, Local/State/Federal Partners.” After the Shigella experts at CDC listened to the WSU/UM filter study results, the talking points of the call revealed they were underwhelmed by Dr. Love’s “preliminary” evidence about supposed bacteria dangers in Flint and also would not support anything like a “boil water” advisory. CDC politely dismissed Love’s pathetic waterborne disease sleuthing as an alarmist amateur read of completely normal data.

But Dr. Love and FACHEP were completely unfazed and undeterred. Over the next week there were literally hundred and hundreds of pages of back and forth emails, pitting Dr. Love as a potable waterborne disease expert imposter versus the real expertise of the agencies. We tried to distill it all down to “only” 105 chaotic pages for interested Flintwaterstudy readers and historians in a PDF. Herein, we will superficially detail two areas of contention: FACHEP Rumors and Incompetence-Secrecy.

It is FACHEP’s Rumor, But It is Your Problem. On October 7th and 8th, Dr. Wells made it clear that FACHEP needed to correct their rumors that Shigella was likely to be coming from the POU filters or Flint water. She wrote that we need to get an extremely timely message out to the public due to the fact that the WSU/UM study findings somehow got into the community without context.” FACHEP faculty McElmurry and Seeger initially agreed that this was important, and even explained to Dr. Sullivan on October 9th that “based on the craziness that has transpired over the last few days we think it’s important to get a message out about the filter study.”

The initial press release drafts honestly stated that FACHEP had no evidence that Shigella was coming from the filters or water, but as discussions progressed, it was realized that being truthful would expose them as rumormongers and cost them credibility with Flint residents who had believed them. Dr. Sullivan then proposed a cowards path out, arguing that the press release should not mention Shigella at all!  She wrote to FACHEP:  

 “The residents will ask themselves why you are noting that no Shigella has been found. They’d expect the state to point this out. Not you. ..Let the state point these things out.  Or the CDC. Or the county. Trust in these groups has already been lost. If you or Shawn make a statement that sounds as though you think it’s unlikely that there is a problem, I fear the residents will file your credibility with Marc Edwards.”

The latter point alludes to yet another successful FACHEP rumormongering campaign against Dr. Edwards that will be addressed in a future blog. 

To his credit, McElmurry initially resisted Dr. Sullivan, writing  “I think we would all like to wait another week or two until our results are complete before making any statements. Unfortunately we do not have that luxury. MDSS, GCHD , and CDC are hell bent on pushing out a message that addresses the filters.” He further suggested “stronger language about how incomplete our analysis is and that we continue to look for possible pathogens.

But in the end Dr. Sullivan won out, and FACHEP published the completely pointless press release that did not mention Shigella at all.  McElmurry later explained to GCHD that we were uncertain that there was a risk to warrant additional recommendation <such as boiling water>…it’s just to early in the scientific process to tell.”

FACHEP successfully maintained Flint resident trust at the expense of speaking truth. This was merely the start of what was to become a pattern:  FACHEP’s rumor, your problem. A side benefit of sabotaging the press release was that Sullivan could keep telling her urban legend story about getting Shigella from contaminated water.

Incompetence/Secrecy. Even as FACHEP shamelessly refused to correct their rumors about Shigella, their emails dripped with condescension and accusations of incompetence. Here are some examples from October 7th.

Example 1: Dr. Zervos casts aspersions about CDC incompetence, revealing his own.

Dr. Zervos to Wells: 4:09 pm. I don’t agree with many parts of this <CDC written summary on Shigella outbreak after emergency October 6th phone call>

Dr. Wells to Zervos: 4:27 pm. <A>re you saying you think you have epidemiologic information that states that this is not a typical Shigella outbreak?

Dr. Zervos to Wells: 4:41 pm. I don’t have any information myself, other than <that shared by GCHD>….and the filter studies of Nancy Love….  

Dr. Wells to Zervos: 5:11 pm. Basically you just stated that Michael Beach and Vince Hill and their teams at CDC are not valid SME’s.

Dr. Zervos to Wells: 5:52 pm.  I guess I did.

Dr. Wells to Zervos: 5:59 pm. Sorry you feel that way—particularly if you say that and you don’t know them or of them.

Dr. Zervos to Wells: 7:23 pm. whats a sme<?>….

Dr. Wells to Zervos: 8:09 pm. …an SME is a subject matter expert. And these guys are the nation’s best, from CDC, on Shigella and waterborne disease.

Example 2: Dr. Zervos wearing his “independent review” deputy badge, casting aspersions about POU filters and secrecy

Dr. Zervos to Wells: 5:51, 7:23 pm. falsely claimed that the POU “filters are not intended for their current use in relation to bacteria,” and that  “I don’t know why there is so much secrecy about this <shigella>. the reason there is lack of trust in community is related to many factors including not allowing independent review.

Dr. Wells to Zervos: 8:09 pm. “I’m a bit confused as why you think there is secrecy when you could just give me or our Bureau or Suzanne a call and we would’ve shared any Shigella data with you.”

Ms. Cupal (GCHD) 9:49 pm. “to imply secrecy of any kind when a request has not been made is also inappropriate.  Too many assumptions are being made. That does not promote trust. GCHD, MDHHS and subject matter experts from the CDC have analyzed the data.”

McElmurry at 11:47 pm then privately emails Dr. Reynolds to badmouth GCHD yet again: “I wanted you to be aware of the continued BS we get from Suzanne and GCHD. Mark Zervos is really discouraged.[Aside: There is no record McElmurry ever acknowledged FACHEP was wrong about Shigella and Cupal was right]

Example 3: Alleged CDC incompetence.

In an October 8th email, Dr. Love, again posing as a drinking water disease expert, claimed CDC has an “apparent misunderstanding about how PoU filters function.” In a future phone call, Love planned to school CDC waterborne disease experts on the subject of “microbiology and how growth occurs.  Seems like the CDC and others will benefit from such a tutorial.”

Dr. LOVE schools the CDC

Sometime after Dr. Love’s October 14th deadline for her students to actually get the first pathogen qPCR DNA data, for some reason her confidence briefly waned. She wrote a responsible and thoughtful email to CDC, asking for assistance in interpreting her possible Shigella data. Reading the email, we get a sense that Dr. Love, for one brief moment, might have realized the harm from her prior data leaking, and perhaps even considered how her reputation would be damaged if her irresponsible actions ever become public. It was in this October 20 email that we find Dr. Love’s first mention of  Enterobacteriaceae– a family of bacteria that contains both harmless and harmful members—in some drinking water samples.

After the meeting between CDC and Dr. Love, CDC Subject Matter Expert (SME) Vince Hill wrote Dr. Love a polite email offering to assist with Shigella communications. Whatever transpired, by the next day Dr. Love was in a reboot mode. Her initial false alarm that was triggered based on alleged dangers of POU filters from  “possible” detection of Shigella and E. Coli had been abandoned. The team would be “holding on any reporting of results until we have completed all analyses, including Enterobacteriaceae….I have been reading more about the Enterobacteriaceae tonight and believe this is a very important part of the story.”

And just like that, after a night of reading, Dr. Love had a new bogeybacteria to fearmonger Flint residents with.  Enterobacteriaceae would henceforth replace Shigella, E. coli and all other pathogens as the nebulous danger lurking in Dr. Love’s Flint “story.”

FACHEP FIREDRILL:  HERE WE GO! Whoops, it was “ALARMIST CRAP”

By noon November 15th, 2016, Dr. Love was once again feeling confident about going public with a press release on her NSF POU filter study results. Dr. Love signed off her email to FACHEP faculty with an excited “Here we go!”

Within 30 minutes the press release had been forwarded to the City of Flint, GCHD, MDHHS and CDC, with a statement that the WSU/UM NSF POU team would have complete control over what to say and when, but that FACHEP’s “partners” could give input. GCHD immediately forwarded the press release to EPA, where Mark Durno (EPA) thoughtfully lamented “I am concerned about the over-emphasis on the bacterial results and how it may be perceived—especially if these are common findings.” There were many other emails expressing concern, but widespread resignation that Dr. Love and FACHEP were committed to do whatever they wanted, and nothing could stop them.

But this was to be yet another pointless FACHEP FIREDRILL.  By 8:23 pm Dr. Love sent an email to the public health partners, stating any press release would have to wait until after the Thanksgiving Holiday. She then wrote McElmurry, some very unkind comments about her UM colleagues that we have redacted in our attachments because they are not relevant to this story. However, she did note comments about one colleague, that “the <news release> document she sent back out to us today had serious inaccuracies in it that she made up, and, frankly, felt like she was targeting alarmism.” It “was, frankly, crap.”

By November 19th, 2016, there was some good news for Flint residents, but that was once again considered bad news for FACHEP. The CDC Shigella investigation, started in response to the FACHEP chaos of early October, was finally wrapping up.  The outbreak had all the characteristics of Shigella transmitted from person to person, and no characteristics of an outbreak associated with Shigella coming from water. For those keeping score at home:  The public health agencies were right, FACHEP was wrong.  But there is no evidence that McElmurry or FACHEP ever apologized or corrected the record.

DR. LOVE THE ETHICIST

We previously provided a recording from a late October 2016 conference call, where mystified MDHHS employees discussed Dr. Love’s twisted proclamations about the “engineering code of ethics.” Obviously, even more concerns about Love’s irresponsible behavior started circulating in the wake of the incidents reported herein.

And Dr. Love fought back with her code of ethics.  For example, in early December, Dr. Love got wind that a CDC employee had mentioned aspects of Love’s embarrassing “discovery” of Shigella in Flint. Dr. Love wrote a blistering email about the “incident” to CDC, stating:

Over the last few months, I have been surprised at the number of times people in government and outside of my research team have talked about our data or results surrounding our Flint studies in an inaccurate or inappropriate way. It has been more than frustrating and, frankly, disappointing to see how many times we’ve had to deal with such breeches. I believe Federal agencies like the CDC have ethics policies in place to prevent such incidents and I suggest you review them with your staff.

Here, we see Dr. Love expressing outrage about the supposed ethical failings of others, even as she is blind to her own irresponsible and harmful behavior. Seriously, which is worse? A young professional sharing Dr. Love’s mistakes and fearmongering, so that others could learn from them and be forewarned? Or the true danger of FACHEP’s false messaging which harmed Flint residents, damaged reputations of agency employees, created chaos with the Flint disaster response, and denigrated the humanitarian filter donations of Michigan taxpayers– not to mention the logical extension to taxpayer supported bathing in bottled water.

And this week we received yet another reminder of just how important this blog series is. It was announced that Dr. Love has now been selected for the prestigious 2019 American Academy of Environmental Engineering and Scientists (AAEES) Kappe Lectureship and will soon be touring the country, delivering her unique perspectives on the engineering code of ethics. In one presentation she has selected the topic of “Environmental Engineering and Science Academic Scholarship in Service to Society: Our Role and Responsibility.” In that presentation Dr. Love will be discussing case studies “…ensuring our work in communities is done in a manner that is respectful, mutually beneficial and does harm to none.”  

Based on the facts laid out in our blog series so far, and her pattern of behavior, we can only venture to guess what these case studies will be. Here are a few possibilities that come to mind:

  1. How I Exposed the Great 2016 Flint Waterborne Shigella Outbreak That Never Was
  2. Anyone Can Be a Waterborne Disease Expert SME. What’s an SME?
  3. Engineers Shall Perform Services Only in Areas of Their Competence
    -Co-presented with my ethical soulmate Dr. Shawn McElmurry
  4. How to Crybully a Felony Case: The State of Michigan vs. Dr. Eden Wells
  5. Fearmongering with Crap and Alarmist Data- Or Even No Data at All
  6. Foreshadowing the Next Blog: BOIL WATER-DANGEROUS BACTERIA!

Supporting evidence:

Primary author: Dr. Marc A. Edwards

FACHEP vs. The People of the State of Michigan: Part VI Unfair Competition: Wayne State University and Vegans do it better


An investigative science reporting series by Flintwaterstudy.org


NOTE FOR THE QUEASY:

This blog series involves heart-wrenching whistleblowing—the sort that comes from alleging misconduct of your own professional colleagues for actions harming the public and others. We cannot imagine that any reader is more sickened than we are, by having to air “dirty laundry” that includes sharing personal emails and discussing unethical behavior. But given the continued damage that would arise from remaining silent, we feel morally obligated to present evidence against FACHEP leadership in relation to:

– falsifying qualifications to win a multi-million dollar sole source grant during a federal emergency

– literally making a felony criminal case, out of legitimate criticism directed at their unprofessional work, which is best characterized as narcissistic victimization (a.k.a. “crybullying”)

– spreading malicious rumors, to ingratiate themselves with Flint residents at the expense of others

– violating the ASCE second canon, harming others through their incompetence

– wrongly taking credit for research ideas and data, belonging to others (e.g., Dr. Faust and Dr. Masten)

Please also be aware that FACHEP supporters have been FOIAing Flintwaterstudy, Dr. Edwards, Dr. Masten (MSU) and Dr. Maya Trotz (President AEESP) since Fall 2017. In fact, proving that no good deed goes unpunished, emails of 40+ members of our Flintwaterstudy team have been subpoenaed, for dozens of Michigan lawsuits and criminal cases that we are not even party to. Emails from the FOIA have been misrepresented by FACHEP supporters on social media to denigrate Virginia Tech undergraduate students, Dr. Sid Roy, Dr. Masten and Dr. Edwards. FACHEP faculty have even smeared Dr. Trotz as “unethical.” Dr. Edwards has filed a defamation lawsuit, which is partly related to actions of FACHEP faculty and their supporters as described herein. The facts presented in this series shed light on how such an unthinkable tragedy could unfold.

Cast of Key Characters Parts 1-5

Name Institution Role
Dr. Shawn McElmurryWSU – Civil Engineering FACHEP’s Founder, Witness in Felony Trials
Dr. Marcus ZervosWSU – Infectious DiseaseFACHEP co-PI, Witness in Felony Trials
Dr. Paul KilgoreWSU – PharmacyFACHEP co-PI, Witness in Felony Trials
Dr. Nancy LoveUM – Civil EngineeringDr. McElmurry’s Enabler/Defender; Water Filter Research, Engineering Ethics Pontificator
Dr. Yanna LambrinidouParents for Non-Toxic AlternativesFriend of FACHEP, Adversary of Flintwaterstudy
 
Dr. Eden WellsMI Chief Medical OfficerAccused of obstructing FACHEP/justice
Mr. Nick LyonMI Health Chief Accused of obstructing FACHEP/justice
 
Marc EdwardsVT – Civil EngineeringFlintwaterstudy leader – Author of this blog Series; Potable Water Legionella, Lead, Ethics Expertise
Dr. Amy Pruden VT – Civil EngineeringVT Flint research co-PI; Potable Water Legionella and Microbiology Expertise
Dr. Kasey FaustUT – Civil EngineeringPhD work in Flint 2013-2015 on Shrinking Cities; Dr. McElmurry was on her PhD Committee
Dr. Sue MastenMSU – Civil EngineeringFACHEP Member and Whistleblower; Drinking Water Treatment Expertise

PART 1: Dr. SHAWN McELMURRY

CONSIDERING THE UNIMAGINABLE-DID McELMURRY COMPLETELY FABRICATE HIS STORY OF WORK IN FLINT?

PART 2: FACHEP’S TROUBLED BIRTH

PART 3: FACHEP MAKES A MOCKERY OF ETHICAL CODES—THE WHISTLEBLOWER FROM MSU

PART 4: LOVE THE ALARMIST:  THE REAL STORY ON SHIGELLA AND WATER FILTERS (Pre-FWC to August 12, 2016)

PART 5: TRIAL BY ORDEAL WITHIN AN ACADEMIC BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES


PART 6: UNFAIR COMPETITION: WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY AND VEGANS DO IT BETTER

Wayne State University (WSU) faculty lead FACHEP and play multiple roles in the felony criminal cases against Dr. Wells and Mr. Lyon. Star witnesses Drs. McElmurry, Kilgore and Zervos hail from WSU. Mr. Noah Hall (WSU) served as a special assistant attorney general on the cases and also frequently opines to the media. Dr. Larry Reynolds (WSU alumnus) and Mr. Hollins (former WSU Vice President) initiated the sole source funding to FACHEP and testified in the court cases. All of this weighed on our mind as we pondered WSU’s repeated obfuscations under Michigan FOIA law, and examine yet another WSU connection in the Wells and Lyon trials herein.

Edwards vs. Wayne State.

Our FOIA case against WSU grinds forward thanks to great work by Attorney Derk Wilcox and others (MACKINAC CENTER LEGAL FOUNDATION), despite stubborn resistance to laws designed to ensure access to public documents and communications. We provide one simple example of how absurd the entire experience has been in the paragraphs that follow. Our experience also reveals the lengths to which WSU will go to protect its “Wayne Cares for Flint” brand, and the pipeline through which millions and millions in grant funding continue to flow due to Dr. McElmurry’s claim of “unique qualifications” and work in Flint 2010-2015.

Above photo of Dr. McElmurry provided courtesy of MLive/The Flint Journal. McElmurry’s quote illustrates how he channels Dr. Kasey Faust’s dissertation and life story for self-promotion (12-5-2015 MLive article).

Consider Dr. Edwards third and very straightforward WSU FOIA request filed March 3, 2018. We knew that on October 27, 2017, McElmurry gave a public presentation entitled “The Challenge of Mitigating Risk Associated With Aging Drinking Water Infrastructure in Shrinking Cities” at Michigan State University. Edwards requested copies of the PowerPoint slides in order to follow-up on serious concerns that McElmurry was taking ideas from others without proper attribution.  Our specific concern was Dr. Kasey Faust’s dissertation data and her work on shrinking cities– materials McElmurry had access to while serving as an external member of her PhD committee.    

Due to blatant stone-walling on the part of WSU, we finally had no choice but to file a lawsuit to force WSU to follow Michigan FOIA law.  They eventually provided most slides, but are still fighting to withhold four slides to protect Dr. McElmurry’s “intellectual property” from our “unfair competition.” You read that correctly, WSU is afraid we might steal McElmurry’s intellectual property.

We appealed that decision on the basis that he had already publicly presented the slides. The Wayne State response to the appeal came November 21, 2018 as follows:

The contents of the power point presentation…were not made completely available to the audience. Dr. McElmurry took steps to protect and preserve the confidentiality of the redacted materials (slides 22, 23, 25 and 33) from unfair competition and copyright infringement. The audience was not allowed to make photographic copies of any of the slides and none of the slides remained on screen long enough for anyone to be able to retain the information presented in slides 22, 23, 25 and 33…  Furthermore, the presentation was not made in a forum that was open to anyone in the academic community. This was an invitation only, educational symposium…

This is fascinating on so many levels we scarcely know where to begin. For starters, it seems WSU is inventing an academic equivalent of the “five-second rule” applied to determine whether it is okay to eat food dropped on the floor.  Exactly how many seconds did McElmurry allow the slides to remain on the screen, to be sure that the information was not retained by the audience? And isn’t taking steps “to protect and preserve…confidentiality” and prevent an audience from retaining information, contrary to the intent of a public presentation in the first place?

And if this is not already beyond ludicrous, McElmurry himself took pictures of other presenters’ slides at the same forum!  He even proudly emailed one photo to Dr. Masten, in which the slide contents can be easily read (below). Perhaps McElmurry will now face severe WSU disciplinary action for retaining information given at a public presentation.  

Other possible explanations 

While we remain open to the idea that McElmurry has created intellectual property that must be shielded from our “unfair competition,” we have developed a certain amount of cynicism. We cannot help but ask, “What could WSU really be hiding?”

With this very question in mind, Dr. Sue Masten (MSU) did some searching. Lo and behold, she found an earlier McElmurry PowerPoint presentation entitled “The Flint Water Crisis: An Engineering Perspective, that was apparently given at Iowa State University in 2016. Masten requested Dr. McElmurry’s PowerPoint presentation materials by email on February 20, 2016. When he forwarded the file to her, McElmurry confessed: 

 No problem! After all, as you will see, more than half of this presentation is YOURS!

That was a truthful statement.  Literally, more than half the slides in McElmurry’s presentation, were taken from a prior presentation Dr. Masten had previously created. There is no evidence anywhere in the presentation, that McElmurry gave Dr. Masten any attribution for use of her slides. Shamefully, the PowerPoint presentation that we reviewed still had Dr. Masten’s speaking notes embedded within it.

But taking Dr. Masten’s slides was just the start. It also turns out that that some of the figures appearing in McElmurry’s powerpoint presentation (i.e., the slides he did NOT take from Dr. Masten) were lifted from Dr. Faust’s dissertation work (example below).

Notice that McElmurry may have re-colored Dr. Faust’s figure and added the following improper attribution to the bottom of his slide [Faust, et al. (2015)], which follows a citation on a prior slide:

Faust, K.M., Abraham, D.D.,
McElmurry, S.P. (2015) Sustainability of Water and Wastewater Infrastructure
in Shrinking Cities. Public Works Management & Policy, 1-29. DOI:
10.1177/1087724X15606737

In other words, after McElmurry took a figure from Dr. Faust’s work, he added a citation to a paper on which he was generously included as the third (i.e., least contributing) co-author. In so doing he created an illusion that he had intellectual co-ownership of her “shrinking city” work. However, the reality is that the paper he cited, literally has nothing to do with the above figure at all. This is the exact same unethical sleight-of-hand trick McElmurry used to claim intellectual ownership of Dr. Faust’s work in his 2015 NIH proposal.  

McElmurry has repeatedly abused his third authorship position on Dr. Faust’s peer reviewed journal paper to lay claim to Dr. Faust’s entire dissertation, academic identity and work “in Flint” whenever it suits him. In retrospect, we wonder if he realized, the very instant he was informed Faust’s paper was published with his name on it October 1, 2015, that this could be transformed into such a golden ticket. Recall that he immediately wrote Dr. Faust: “Wonderful! This is amazing timing. I hope you two have been keeping up on the disaster that has been unfolding in Flint with their drinking water supply….. We should talk tomorrow. I’ll try calling you.”

Following their phone conversation, Dr. Faust handed over to McElmurry her dissertation hydraulic model on the false pretense she would be included on a forthcoming “ <NIH> emergency proposal..<and> NSF and EPA grants.” After he received the models by email, McElmurry never included Faust on future grants, but simply puts “Faust, K.M., Abraham, D.D., McElmurry, S.P. (2015) or Faust et al. (2015)” to falsely take credit for her work. The extent to which he has used this trick again and again, without remorse, apology, or consequence, is truly sickening.

But even that was not the end to McElmurry’s intellectual property theft in the presentation we reviewed. We also discovered slides and photos in the body of his work that were lifted from Flintwaterstudy.org and passed off as his own.  Consider the remarkable similarity between this slide in McElmurry’s presentation and our Flintwaterstudy graph from October 2015.  There is no attribution whatsoever.

(Left) McElmurry presentation slide at Iowa State — 2016 and (Right) Flint Water Study graph posted on this website — 10-04-2015

To be fair, McElmurry did personalize our Figure for his presentation, by removing the black frame that appears on our version, akin to how he changed some colors on the EXCEL pie charts in Dr. Faust’s dissertation figure. But only in McElmurry’s world does removing a frame or recoloring a graph create intellectual ownership. 

Which brings us back to the 4 slides that WSU is fighting to withhold. In the presentation viewed above, we describe how he took ideas without proper attribution from three different individuals. It seems highly unlikely he could outdo that performance with just the four slides withheld by WSU (i.e., could the 4 withheld slides be appropriated from 4 different people?). 

That said, it would be hypocritical, to say the least, if it turns out that WSU was asserting an “intellectual property” or “unfair competition” exemption for slides that were actually the work of others (e.g., Dr. Faust or Dr. Masten). At this point, after the trauma of reviewing the Iowa State PowerPoint, we also confess to having a deep desire to see even one example of true intellectual property created by McElmurry. We have thus committed ourselves to pressing on with the fight to see all four slides.

MACKINAC CENTER LEGAL FOUNDATION RESPONSE TO WSU

Just last week, Mackinac submitted the following absurd interrogatories to WSU, in response to their prior absurd answers about their rationale to withhold the slides:

You have stated that this presentation was made at an “invitation only, educational symposium.” Please provide a list of invitees.  Please provide the names and identifying information for all security personnel who controlled entrance to this event…<and> who controlled and/or monitored attendees to ensure that they did not photograph or otherwise record the presentation.

You have stated that “none of the slides remained on screen long enough for anyone to be able to retain the information presented in slides 22, 23, 25 and 33.” Please state with specificity how long these slides remained on screen. In regards to the previous question, please state how it was determined what length of time was sufficient for the audience to see the slides, yet not “retain the information.”

WSU VEGAN SEX AUTHOR AND EXPERT WITNESS FOR PROSECUTION 

We now shift gears, to the important matter of just who was selected for compensated expert witness work for the special prosecutor in the Lyon and Wells case. A critical and somewhat controversial expert is cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn (Wayne State University). In the pre-trial hearings, Dr. Kahn provided testimony for the prosecution on the role of Legionnaires’ Disease in death of a patient. The defense in Lyon argued Dr. Kahn is unqualified and should be tossed from the case “because he does not have training in infectious disease, pulmonology or Legionnaires,” whereas the prosecution begged to differ.  

We dove deep and determined that Dr. Kahn claims a wide range of expertise, and is also something of him an entrepreneur. Among his featured intellectual contributions, is co-authorship of the book Vegan Sex: Vegans Do it Better– Dump your meds and jump in bed.” Dr. Kahn’s youtube video pitching the book has now been viewed slightly more than 500 times. The 16 reviews on the book are clearly bi-modal, with roughly 2/3 respondents giving it 5 stars and 1/3 giving it a one star. The reviews are worth a read if you are looking for a little free entertainment. We also found a WSU youtube video that has been viewed 100 times, in which Dr. Kahn jokes that he is also an “expert in neurobiology because I watched Animal House 100 times (listen @ 2 minutes and 45 seconds).”

We obtained FOIA documents that indicate Dr. Kahn has indeed been financially compensated for providing his expertise in the Lyon and Wells pre-trials. While he bills a lower rate of $500/hour for normal work on cases, for any court appearance he charges a flat fee of $7,500. So for example, on February 16nd, 2018, when he testified less than 1 hour, he billed $7500 because that was a “court” day. In total, Dr. Kahn has received $100,000 from Michigan taxpayers to date for his pretrial work and testimony. We sincerely hope that the question of his expertise be further investigated and resolved, before the State of Michigan starts to spend really serious money during the full trial.  

WAYNE CARES FOR FLINT

Reviewing Dr. Kahn’s billing records prompted us to start making a list of all the ways we are aware of that WSU and its employees could receive taxpayer compensation related to the Flint Water Crisis and the criminal cases. We do not have a problem with any of this, mind you, provided that all of the work originated from truthful statements and fair competition.

The list currently includes: 

  1. Tens of millions in government research grants, snowballing directly or indirectly, from McElmurry’s claims of work “in Flint” 2010-2015 and unique expertise.
  2. WSU estimate that taxpayers would have to provide $280,000 to pay 1.4 years of Dr. McElmurry’s salary at $96.93/hour, to produce FOIA documents requested by Mr. Lyon’s defense. WSU stated: Due to the highly technical nature of your requests, Dr. McElmurry is the lowest paid employee of the University who is capable of performing the necessary review…. We realize that the cost and time frame estimates may seem excessive to you. They are not. Rather, they are dictated by requests that are very broad and require painstaking review for responsiveness and exemptions by a fully engaged faculty member.” As a point of comparison, Virginia Tech charges less than $15/hour to review FOIA and faculty are not allowed to engage in the process. 
  3. Dr. Kahn’s compensation for expert witness work (= $100K)
  4. Mr. Noah Hall’s (WSU) likely compensation for his role as assistant special prosecutor.

It strikes us that there can be a fascinating synergy to all of this. Consider a completely hypothetical example where a faculty member falsifies their work record to land a huge government grant, then proceeds to crybully their way to a felony charge against a government official attempting to manage their incompetence. Those criminal charges, in turn, create new cash flow opportunities: faculty expert witness testimony, faculty employment on the special prosecution team, and faculty employment to produce emails to the defense team. All the while, publicly waving a “We Care for Flint” banner and pontificating about upholding the “engineering code of ethics.”

There is obviously a lot of food for thought here. Perhaps Michigan taxpayers should plan an outing to Dr. Kahn’s (WSU) Greenspace Cafe restaurant, which just so happens to be highly recommended by Mr. Shawn McElmurry (see below), to share a nice dinner and conversation about unfair competition, FACHEP, Vegan Sex, and how much “Wayne Cares for Flint.”


Supporting Documentation

Primary Author: Dr. Marc A. Edwards

Part V: Trial by Ordeal within an Academic Bonfire of the Vanities

The questionable tactics of the Flint Area Community Health and Environmental Partnership and Friends (F+F) have recently been covered in major media. Steve Kolowich at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Perry Stein at the Washington Post and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones have all given their take on this distasteful situation. 

As Perry Stein perceptively noted, when it comes to the F+F instigated crybully attacks on Dr. Wells, Flintwaterstudy or Dr. Edwards, the key question is:

 “Clearly, a betrayal had occurred. The question was, who betrayed whom?”

This blog provides revelatory new facts to answer this very question.

This week we disclose FOIA emails from a friend of FACHEP, which, in our view, are so unhinged, that they had to be sanitized in the above publications to make them suitable for public consumption. A careful analysis provides some insights to what a modern “trial by ordeal” within F+F’s academic bonfire of the vanities looks like—a nightmare that makes all the political attacks appear both quaint and principled by comparison. 

What follows is a tragic tale of betrayal, both real and imagined.

Dr. Lambrinidou becomes a FACHEP supporter

Kolowich correctly described the sad end to Edwards’ decade plus collaboration with Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou [Affiliate Faculty in Science, Technology and Society (STS)]. Edwards and Lambrinidou worked intensively together from 2007-2010 to expose the D.C. Lead Crisis Coverup, co-founded an innovative engineering ethics class and had several funded research projects together. 

In the Flint saga, Edwards introduced Lambrinidou as “the best” to Melissa Mays, to help organize the September 15th, 2015 press conference. Edwards also recommended Lambrinidou for other prominent roles in the Flint Water Crisis, providing a basis for claims that she was an activist “in the Flint, Michigan, crisis” during interviews in Rolling Stone and Al Jazeera. She even gave public presentations through at least April 2016, providing “insights from the prize-winning Virginia Tech research team that uncovered the drinking water crisis in Flint Michigan.”  

As we will detail herein, Lambrinidou eventually turned against VT, Flintwaterstudy and Dr. Edwards, to become a fawning ally and supporter of FACHEP. In 2018, Dr. Lambrinidou signed the Flintcomplaints letter, which we consider defamatory to Dr. Edwards and defensive of FACHEP. We even suspect Lambrinidou helped instigate that anonymously written letter and the associated Facebook Flintcomplaints page, using both as a cudgel to attack our team’s reputation. Dr. Lambrinidou was eventually named as a defendant in Dr. Edwards’ defamation case in July 2018 (original case filing put online by buzzfeed) and FACHEP faculty have been rallying to her support ever since. For instance, Lambrinidou was invited to give a guest lecture at the University of Michigan in Dr. Love’s “ethics” class in October 2018.

Her vitriolic public attacks on Dr. Edwards intensified from 2016 to 2018, with claims he was an exemplar of unethical Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) faculty, who allegedly steal credit that should be given to STS “social justice” activists like herself. Lambrinidou’s first public critique of Dr. Edwards was August 2016, when she claimed to the New York Times that he should not have attended the Flint press conference.

The Press Conference: A STEM “Pearl Harbor” like Aggression?


September 15th, 2015 — a date which will live in infamy — the residents of Flint, MI were suddenly and deliberately attacked by STEM forces of the empire of Virginia Tech. #decolonizeSTEM

Our only slightly exaggerated characterization of Lambrinidou’s hyperbolic Flint critiques  (apologies to FDR).

Dr. Edwards started collaborating with Flint Mom LeeAnne Walters and EPA Scientist Miguel Del Toral in April 2014. Over the next three months Edwards reported hazardous waste levels of lead in Walters home, contributed scientific data to Del Toral’s EPA memo outlining the imminent and substantial endangerment to Flint residents, and collaborated with ACLU-Michigan reporter Curt Guyette on his investigative reporting. All of that work was done behind the scenes to the extent possible, minimizing Edwards’ public role.  It was only after Del Toral was silenced in late July 2015 that Flintwaterstudy launched publicly.

As data from our citizen sampling campaign rolled in, it became apparent there was a massive city-wide water lead problem, at which point Guyette and other Flint residents requested that Dr. Edwards and Sid Roy attend a press conference (September 15, 2015) to make public the alarming scientific results. THE PRESS CONFERENCE is a defining moment in every account of the Flint Water Crisis, including the Lifetime Movie “Flint” and the NOVA documentary Poisoned Water.

The Press Conference:  Fully anticipating that our every word and deed at the press conference would one day be misrepresented by social justice faculty, we left nothing to chance. Dr. Edwards and Roy stood in the background, spoke succinctly on the safety and public health issues before moving once again to the background. We also videotaped the entire event so you can watch it and form your own opinion (Roy speaks from 1:44-4:08 or 144 seconds and Edwards from 4:11-7:29 or 198 seconds).

The very next day (September 16, 2015) Dr. Lambrinidou wrote to her Virginia Tech colleague Dr. Donna Riley (who is now Dean of Engineering Education at Purdue), describing the press conference as follows (emphasis added to all quotes in this blog): 

“You are catching me at an especially cynical moment… Marc colonized Flint so completely this week, that the press conference I recommended to the residents in order to support them to take power back and become visible again turned into a Marc-fest with Marc at the center of everything.

Link

Lambrinidou’s ludicrous characterization of Edwards’ role at the press conference has now been presented in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Times Magazine, Lambrinidou’s editorials, and in numerous disparaging STS presentations all over the country. Not only is that story completely contradicted by the video, but she falsely tries to take credit for recommending the press conference to residents.  When Sid Roy directly contradicted his former ethics professor’s account of a “Marc-fest” during a May 2016 conversation, he felt it important to note that she did not even attend the event whereas he had. Undeterred, Lambrinidou mysteriously responded: sometimes you have to be far removed from actual events to know what is really going on.”

Filter GoFundMe: Unfortunately, Lambrinidou was just getting started in her September 16, 2015 email to Dr. Riley. She next extended her distorted social justice lens to question the motives and ethics of Flintwaterstudy students. After Anurag Mantha started a GOFUNDME campaign to help Flint residents purchase lead filters, Lambrinidou described the good deed as follows:

“On top of that, in Blacksburg the research team decided to create a crowdsourcing site that asks the world to make a donation for water filters for the low-income people of Flint…..So we have a bizarre noblesse oblige set-up that in reality seems self-promoting. If I were a resident of Flint, I would be offended. Actually, I am not a resident of Flint and I am offended.

Link

Sid Roy Tweet: Completing a “land, water and air” characterization of the VT STEM colonialist assault on Flint, Lambrinidou then called out two tweets Sid Roy sent after the successful press conference.

Lambrinidou’s analysis of Sid’s tweet:

“The climax of the colonization was last night in the form of a tweet from Sid …who upon his return home thanked the Flint residents for “coming out” to their OWN press conference (I suspect that Sid and many other grad students have grown somewhat confused about WHOM the Flint situation is about?).

Link

Lambrinidou ended her email claiming that this VT STEM colonization story would make a great introduction to a new book she wanted to co-author with Riley on Environmental Justice. Riley agreed.

It is also important to note that until her May 2016 conversation with Sid Roy, Lambrinidou never once shared this sort of criticism with Dr. Edwards or the rest of the Flintwaterstudy study team. In fact, she was outright duplicitous, as evidenced by public praise for our team’s efforts through at least January 2016.  Consider her October 8, 2015 tweet “Thks to VT..for helping to uncover the truth,” or her January 19, 2016 email to Edwards:

“I am also LOVING seeing the results in Flint which are totally concrete and undeniable. In great part thanks to your work. 🙂 Yanna

She also emailed: “Marc, congratulations!!!,” celebrating his pivotal role in the resignation of Ms. Susan Hedman (EPA). We hope our readers agree that this is a very fascinating situation. What on earth could cause someone to live such an “academic double life” in the first place? And, what could cause someone to eventually give that double life up? We will answer the latter question first.  

For really interested readers, here is an audio recording from a October 8 2015 podcast interview between Sid Roy and Dr. Lambrinidou, where she is clearly alluding to the strains of her situation and decisions:

“I’LL GO CRAZY” and it is “EATING ME UP ALIVE”

Science published a short feature on Dr. Edwards’ work in Flint entitled “The Water Watchdog” on March 11, 2016. When asked what colleagues thought about his activism, Dr. Edwards honestly replied:

I engage in activism as a last resort, after every scientific path has failed. Since I personally find activism distasteful, I forgive the academics who also view it negatively.

Upon reading the interview Dr. Lambrinidou took grave offense. At no point in the interview did Dr. Edwards disrespect activists, but merely said that for himself, activism was a last resort he found distasteful. Reacting angrily, Lambrinidou’s activist faculty colleagues said unethical ME <Edwards> is not a good scientist, not a good engineer, not a good teacher, and not a good citizen.” Lambrinidou thanked them for their support, stating “I honestly sometimes get scared that i’ll go crazy…. Sometimes i can’t take it anymore.”

Rolling up their sleeves to conduct research for their book on environmental justice, Lambrinidou actually started counting “hero” references to characters in the Flint story, eventually creating the graph depicted below, which she sent to Dr. Riley on April 4, 2016, along with an explanatory caption.

Lambrinidou: “I also did a quick and dirty analysis of media articles about Flint that name someone (anyone) a hero. And then I looked at the number of months (and dogged work) that these heroes have devoted to the water crisis. As you can imagine, hero mention increases with higher professional status and lower time-commitment to the cause.”

Even though Dr. Edwards was in third place on the graph (for a biased analysis ignoring all the work behind the scenes from April to August 2015), he was strangely the sole target of Lambrinidou’s angst. She emailed Dr. Riley:

“this work, although i know it’s important, is making me sick. an hour ago i just took my first ever anti-anxiety med (i almost never take meds for anything). the injustice of it all, the exploitation, the abuse, and the national narrative of celebration and heroism is eating me up alive. it’s like looking at your rapist <Edwards> get the nobel prize for gender equality.….

Link

Dr. Riley offered Lambrinidou the following solace:

“I think this is why so many justice folks talk seriously about self care – because it does eat us up. And often it’s not the opposition but supposed allies that inflict the most betrayal and harm. There is nothing wrong with you. You are having a very human response to it all.” 

Link

Based on Lambrinidou’s response when he asked her about the above emails produced by FOIA, Kolowich (Chronicle of Higher Education) wrote:

“…she’s not ashamed of what she wrote in her private emails. The real shame, Lambrinidou said, would be if people mistake her criticism of Edwards’s work for a personal vendetta rather than a serious critique of the power dynamic between experts and the people they are supposed to serve.”

Personal Vendetta or Serious Critique?

To shed light on the “double life” question, and the issue of a “serious critique” versus “personal vendetta,” we now have to go back 8 years.

As detailed in the lawsuit, in 2010 Dr. Lambrinidou sent Dr. Edwards emails that he interpreted as romantic advances. Such emails stopped after he made it clear he was committed to his then 22 year marriage. But in July 2013, Lambrinidou made the following comment, copying three of her 20-something male VT graduate student advisees, on the topic of “listening”: 

“This might sound weird, but to me the question sounded almost as personal as a question about the last time you had a really meaningful sexual encounter. Think about standing up in front of a crowd and telling them about the last time you felt really listened to… Exposing, yes?”

Link

Now that you mention it, that does sound weird.

Over the next month or so, there were many other “weird” events that can be documented in writing, including Lambrinidou claiming that Edwards “humiliated” her by “flirting” with another female faculty member while at a professional banquet. Or Lambrinidou writing about an “attraction between us that we discussed many times,” in reference to conversations Edwards recalls differently. Or warning “how good <Lambrinidou> was at leaving people” but that this that is “not a skill I am proud of, btw.” (These emails are not provided herein).

Edwards still respected Lambrinidou as a valued colleague that he had worked with for 6 years at that point, but he made it clear that boundaries to their communications would be necessary if they were to continue working together. After they could not reach agreement on that issue, they began a long process of finishing up several major grants in progress, which included co-development of an Engineering Ethics class.

Over the next several years Edwards continued to professionally support Lambrinidou by extolling her strengths publicly. He called her “the best” in his September 4th 2015 email introducing her to Flint activists, and he recommended Lambrinidou for other roles in the Flint water crisis in 2016 as mentioned earlier. And as with all his advisees and colleagues, he repeatedly attempted to boost her spirits about the value of their work (see exemplary emails January 18-January 21st, 2016).

But unbeknownst to Edwards, back in 2013 Lambrinidou plotted a different path. In an October 20th, 2013 email to a friend regarding the distancing that occurred in their personal relationship (profanity edited with ## below):

 “some absolutely mortifying developments a few weeks ago. Like I was dealing with a psychopath sans a soul. Like, if he lived close to me, he would come stab me to death. …He wrote back within 3 seconds and told me to fu## myself (in essence)… So, on the one hand I am doing MUCH better, but on the other, I am still in shock and very much grieving. I have never had any experience with a human being like this before — he even accused me of expecting too much of people…It’s all finished. Totally finished. But the idea that he thinks of me as some little pain-in-the-butt psychotic bit## scares me and stuns me and leaves me in disbelief…, and that’s because a) I am none of these things at all, and b) in truth I gave him everything, everything I have, the very best of me, just gave him all.”

Link

Seventeen months later, Lambrinidou was still preoccupied with Edwards, as evidenced by a March 18th, 2015 email to her friend just a few weeks before Virginia Tech engaged in Flint (emphasis added):  

“Indeed, slowly but surely Marc is starting to fade away from my heart and mind. I think of him as a coward, like all narcissists are, because he doesn’t have the emotional and spiritual strength to enter relationships where he is not being feared and worshipped. How pathetic that seems to me. What a spineless way to live one’s life. Marc is the quintessential example of the subjugating engineer who colonizes people….”

Link

Clearly, Lambrinidou’s issues with Dr. Edwards dated back to at least 2013. Her private accusations of colonialism and much worse, predate the “critique” in her September 16th, 2016 email. For nearly three years, Dr. Edwards was completely unaware of what his colleague was doing or saying about him behind the scenes, which included a March 11, 2016 FWICC meeting when Lambrinidou greeted him warmly, took an adjacent seat and passed him personal notes.

Lambrinidou sitting next to Edwards and Hanna-Attisha at the March 11, 2016 FWICC Meeting

Escalating Attacks

Once Lambrinidou went public with her criticism in August 2016, her attacks inexorably intensified. At one dinner in late 2016 with Flintwaterstudy students who formerly had Lambrinidou as an ethics professor, she claimed Dr. Edwards was unethical. She then asserted that Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, with whom Edwards was closely collaborating and sharing awards, was actually a cowardly figure who had to be talked into doing her famous blood lead study. When Dr. Edwards heard this, he immediately fact checked the story with the only people who would know—Lambrinidou’s vindictive statement was refuted.  Along the same lines, in April 2016 Lambrinidou wrote that Edwards and Hanna-Attisha’s Time100 award represented a “grave injustice.”

Shortly thereafter, another Flintwaterstudy student heard shocking claims that allegedly came from a mutual friend of Lambrinidou. First, there was the assertion that the Flintwaterstudy effort was unethical and opportunist from the start (consistent with Lambrinidou’s newly revealed September 16, 2015 email to her VT faculty friends). But it was also alleged that Dr. Lambrinidou never liked Dr. Edwards, that he had stolen credit from her for the ethics class, and he had even threatened her. All rumors that have been circulating ever since.

In late 2017, Dr. Riley publicly tweeted analogies to #metoo and claims of “structural bullying” in relation to Dr. Edwards, during a conference presentation by Lambrinidou—apparently this sort of unfounded personal attack is cutting edge scholarship in STS social justice warrior events. At that point we were finally compelled to respond publicly. Dr. Riley’s bizarre public tweets, are now viewed as a perfectly logical extension of years of disparaging email communications between Riley, Lambrinidou and their other social justice faculty colleague. Those emails include dozens of pages in which they attempt to negatively influence press reporting of Edwards and sabotage his award nominations (these emails are not included herein).

Further, recall that Dr. Riley and Lambrinidou, both cowardly refused to discuss their tweets or presentations about Edwards when we confronted them. Dr. Riley even flat out lied in writing to our team, when she claimed her tweet had nothing at all to do with Dr. Edwards or our work in Flint.

FlintComplaints and Allegations of Unethical Behavior

These attacks became ever more aggressive as detailed in the lawsuit. On April 27 2018, Lambrinidou sent this #decolonizestem tweet, citing “the brutality he <Edwards> inflicts on innocent ppl” and “institutional betrayal” by “intoxicated” “#Engineering & #STEM establishments.” We suppose this is another yet serious STS critique not to be confused with a personal vendetta.

Just two weeks later, the anonymously authored “flintcomplaints” letter was sent to numerous STEM organizations, requesting that Edwards be subject to an immediate investigation of unethical behavior, and face a kangaroo court that includes…. Environmental Justice leaders who have expertise in abuses of professional power against poisoned communities like Flint. Two FACHEP faculty signed the letter, which prominently criticized Edwards allegations about Dr. McElmurry, and also denied FACHEP ever claimed Shigella came from water.  

As the saying goes, all is fair in love and <<the academic culture>> war—heaven forbid if the two are ever conflated.

Who Betrayed Whom?

Exposing these emails is both tragic and revelatory. The narcissistic victimization narrative of F+F would be laughable were it not for the real-world harm as measured by damaged reputations, lost trust in science/government, and millions of dollars in taxpayer funding.

Recall FACHEP’s claim that they were being “set upand that the State of Michigan “completely screwed us and the people of Flint,” all because they were only provided $3.4 million dollar in a sole source project based on unverified “unique qualifications?” And the testimony that “Dr. Kilgore turned red and pounded his hand on the table and said, “People are going to Fu##ing die” if the <$13 million> in research was not able to proceed immediately and as planned.”

And we now have Dr. Lambrinidou, writing that she was being “eaten alive” by Edwards’ acclaimed role in Flint, becoming physically ill as she counted “hero” references one by one, and then invoking an outrageous rape analogy to justify her malaise. And her friend Dr. Riley, asserting this is all a normal human response to “supposed allies that inflict the most betrayal and harm.”

In this case and all the others, “Who betrayed whom?”

Supporting documentation

Dr. Lambrinidou’s podcast interview excerpt

Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards

FACHEP vs. The People of the State of Michigan: Part IV Love The Alarmist — The Real Story on Shigella and Water Filters


An investigative science reporting series by Flintwaterstudy.org


NOTE FOR THE QUEASY:

This blog series involves heart-wrenching whistleblowing—the sort that comes from alleging misconduct of your own professional colleagues for actions harming the public and others. We cannot imagine that any reader is more sickened than we are, by having to air “dirty laundry” that includes sharing personal emails and discussing unethical behavior. But given the continued damage that would arise from remaining silent, we feel morally obligated to present evidence against FACHEP leadership in relation to:

– falsifying qualifications to win a multi-million dollar sole source grant during a federal emergency

– literally making a felony criminal case, out of legitimate criticism directed at their unprofessional work, which is best characterized as narcissistic victimization (a.k.a. “crybullying”)

– spreading malicious rumors, to ingratiate themselves with Flint residents at the expense of others

– violating the ASCE second canon, harming others through their incompetence

– wrongly taking credit for research ideas and data, belonging to others (e.g., Dr. Faust and Dr. Masten)

Please also be aware that FACHEP supporters have been FOIAing Flintwaterstudy, Dr. Edwards, Dr. Masten (MSU) and Dr. Maya Trotz (President AEESP) since Fall 2017. In fact, proving that no good deed goes unpunished, emails of 40+ members of our Flintwaterstudy team have been subpoenaed, for dozens of Michigan lawsuits and criminal cases that we are not even party to. Emails from the FOIA have been misrepresented by FACHEP supporters on social media to denigrate Virginia Tech undergraduate students, Dr. Sid Roy, Dr. Masten and Dr. Edwards. FACHEP faculty have even smeared Dr. Trotz as “unethical.” Dr. Edwards has filed a defamation lawsuit, which is partly related to actions of FACHEP faculty and their supporters as described herein. The facts presented here shed light on how such an unthinkable tragedy could unfold.

Cast of Key Characters Parts 1-3

Name Institution Role
Dr. Shawn McElmurryWSU – Civil Engineering FACHEP’s Founder, Witness in Felony Trials
Dr. Marcus ZervosWSU – Infectious DiseaseFACHEP co-PI, Witness in Felony Trials
Dr. Paul KilgoreWSU – PharmacyFACHEP co-PI, Witness in Felony Trials
 
Dr. Eden WellsMI Chief Medical OfficerAccused of obstructing FACHEP/justice
Mr. Nick LyonMI Health Chief Accused of obstructing FACHEP/justice
 
Marc EdwardsVT – Civil EngineeringFlintwaterstudy leader – Author of this blog Series; Potable Water Legionella, Lead, Ethics Expertise
Dr. Amy Pruden VT – Civil EngineeringVT Flint research co-PI; Potable Water Legionella and Microbiology Expertise
Dr. Kasey FaustUT – Civil EngineeringPhD work in Flint 2013-2015 on Shrinking Cities; Dr. McElmurry was on her PhD Committee
Dr. Sue MastenMSU – Civil EngineeringFACHEP Member and Whistleblower; Drinking Water Treatment Expertise
   
Introducing in Part 4:
Dr. Nancy LoveUM – Civil EngineeringDr. McElmurry’s Enabler/Defender; Water Filter Research, Engineering Ethics Pontificator

PART 1: Dr. SHAWN McELMURRY

CONSIDERING THE UNIMAGINABLE-DID McELMURRY COMPLETELY FABRICATE HIS STORY OF WORK IN FLINT?

PART 2: FACHEP’S TROUBLED BIRTH

PART 3: FACHEP MAKES A MOCKERY OF ETHICAL CODES—THE WHISTLEBLOWER FROM MSU


PART 4: LOVE THE ALARMIST:  THE REAL STORY ON SHIGELLA AND WATER FILTERS

Pre-FWC to August 12, 2016

Dr. Love enters the Flint Water Crisis on McElmurry’s Coatails

Pre-FWC History. Part 3 ended with an audio recording of mystified MDHHS employees discussing Drs. Nancy Love and McElmurry’s misguided moralizing about the engineering code of ethics. Others who witnessed Dr. Love’s work in Flint or years prior had similar shared concerns about her behavior and treatment of others.

In full disclosure, Dr. Edwards and Dr. Love worked one office apart for nearly a decade at Virginia Tech, during which time Edwards grew to admire her hard-working nature, remarkable commitment to students, and expertise in sewage treatment. However, Edwards also grew wary of her tendency to overcommit and drive herself to a point of exhaustion, which often left other people in the lurch. Even worse, her passion and personal ambition, occasionally compromised her moral humility, characteristics which eventually had horrible consequences in Flint as we will soon see. Love and Edwards functioned effectively together for several years as colleagues at Virginia Tech, collaborating on one peer-reviewed paper and research project, but gingerly avoided each another in the years before she left to become Department Chair at the University of Michigan (UM) in 2008.

From 2002-2015, during the Washington D.C. lead crisis and years that followed, Dr. Love was shockingly hurtful to Dr. Edwards as he navigated the trauma associated with exposing corruption of government scientific agencies. If one can imagine, that ordeal made experiences on the FWC look like a walk in the park. Edwards overheard Love on the phone just down the hall, questioning the sanity of his public battle with EPA, CDC, and other powerful agencies. That was understandable because Edwards agonized over those exact same questions every hour of every day. After he was partly vindicated in 2007, Edwards overheard Dr. Love expressing jealousy about his resulting awards and media coverage. After he was almost completely vindicated in 2010 by a congressional investigation, he heard a spurious rumor about a “financial conflict of interest” that was supposedly affecting his professional judgment.

Acting on a tip, Edwards FOIA-ed documents, submitted as comments on his nomination to serve on an EPA Science Advisory Board in 2011 focusing on lead in water issues. Therein was an email from Dr. Love, implying that Edwards had a disqualifying financial “conflict of interest” because he “self‐funded some of the research once his EPA (?) grant was pulled.” While Dr. Edwards did indeed pay out of pocket to fund urgent research needed to expose the depths of the D.C. and Flint Water Crises, Love certainly had a novel interpretation of a “financial conflict of interest” that would serve as a basis for malicious rumors. When Edwards later asked Dr. Love point blank about the rumor in October 2012, without revealing he knew she was the source, Love claimed a complete lack of knowledge or responsibility for the situation. This same sort of gaslighting tactic would be deployed repeatedly by Love’s FACHEP team against MDHHS, GCHD and Flintwaterstudy in Flint. As a revelatory aside, the same FOIA-ed EPA email chain, illustrates Dr. Love’s notorious habit of overcommitting and underdelivering, thrice promising and thrice failing to complete required EPA ethics training before she abruptly quit.

Dr. Love Enters the Flint Water Crisis. Given the above history, Edwards literally cringed, when he read what appeared to be the first personal communication received from Dr. Love in the 8 years since she left VT. Expressing concerns about his health, which had indeed been compromised during the D.C. crisis in part due to backstabbing from professional colleagues like herself, she eventually got around to the real reason for the email—funding. Like hundreds of faculty who grew interested in the Flint story AFTER the Federal emergency declaration January 2016, she heard about it on Rachel Maddow and at an overseas conference. While acknowledging her general lack of relevant expertise, she pitched a research idea on point of use (POU) lead water filters as part of a UM team coordinated by Dr. Lut Raskin.

Figure 1. Dr. Love and McElmurry (photo UM)

Dr. Raskin is also a faculty member at UM, as well as a renowned scientist of admirable expertise and character. Raskin is one of the nation’s foremost experts on how microbial community structure changes during potable water filtration and distribution, a topic on which Dr Pruden and Edwards’ team were also working on. Drs. Raskin, Pruden and Edwards were also part of a larger pioneering scientific community built by the Sloan Foundation Microbiology of the Built Environment (MOBE) program, 2011-2017, which engaged experts on research involving appropriate use of molecular tools (e.g., targeting DNA through tools such as qPCR and next-generation sequencing) to identify and build fundamental understanding of microorganisms in buildings and homes. This community learned hard lessons which we will term “Sloan MOBE 101” that can be partly summarized as follows: 1)  “Don’t ever claim that finding DNA of a pathogen in an environmental sample is a health risk–it could just be a dead bacteria,” 2) “Without proper experimental controls you can scare yourself and others needlessly,” and 3) “Gee, it is very easy to contaminate a sample.”

Ever the naïve idealist, Edwards rose above personal pettiness and immediately made the first introduction of Dr. Love to Dr. McElmurry. Four days later when Dr. Raskin and Dr. Teri Olson (also at UM) made a video independent of Dr. Love highlighting some important basic scientific questions about POU water filters, he figured this would be a great way to engage Raskin, Olson, and Love’s expertise in the FWC response.  He recommended that the National Science Foundation (NSF) support three research proposals aimed at studying POU filters in Flint–McElmurry thanked Edwards February 10th in writing when the projects were funded.

By the time FACHEP Phase 2 was taking shape in July 2016, Dr. Love had somehow become Dr. McElmurry’s mentor, chief enabler, and mutual pontificator on the engineering code of ethics to MDHHS and others (Figure 1). McElmurry grew to count on Love’s supposed expertise in potable water disease and Legionella, once informing Dr. Pruden “<When it comes to Legionella> I just do whatever Nancy tells me.” For her part, Dr. Love bet every ounce of a reputation gained over a respectable career studying sewage treatment, backing McElmurry’s newly concocted prowess in “urban infrastructure and human health.” Neither McElmurry nor Love ever showed the slightest reservation about allowing people to believe they were drinking water experts. Even worse, those with true expertise were mysteriously excluded.

We previously described how Dr. Rose was cut out of FACHEP. When Edwards supported the POU water filter research, it was predicated on Love’s written assertion she was on a UM team coordinated by Dr. Raskin. Somehow, someway, by about June 2016, Love and McElmurry had jockeyed themselves into leadership positions where they not only had the NSF water filter funding, but also largely controlled the millions in FACHEP research funding bearing the seal of approval from Governor Snyder himself. For those conducting research and understanding such matters, is inconceivable that McElmurry and Love would be leaders of FACHEP’s Legionella investigation, while world class talents like Dr. Rose and Raskin were brushed aside. What makes this outcome even more nauseating is that both Dr. Rose and Raskin were volunteering their efforts on the FWC in 2014 and 2015, well before the research funding which attracted McElmurry and Love was available.

One can easily imagine how this likely came to be: Drs. Love and McElmurry, excluding Drs. Rose and Raskin to keep all the power and glory they dreamed of all to themselves, avoiding irksome challenges to their ideas and authority. This, without any regard whatsoever to what that would mean for Flint residents and Michigan taxpayers, who would soon be paying a price for their lack of expertise. For a short period, they initially leaned heavily on Dr. Masten’s drinking water treatment expertise, but Masten said she began to “question their ethics and professional judgment, along with their ability to meet the goals and objectives of the various projects, starting October 2016.” The trio soon became a duo—McElmurry and Love became the dominant public scientific voices of FACHEP. They would henceforth own responsibility, not just for the success and glory, but also for any blunders and harm.

Background on Point of Use (POU) Filters and Coliforms in Flint

The POU filter story started September 2015, when Flintwaterstudy student Anurag Mantha realized some Flint residents could not afford filters to fully protect themselves against high levels of lead in their water. Familiar with the D.C. lead crisis where tens of thousands of free filters provided relief to financially-strapped residents, Mantha started a GOFUNDME campaign that was wildly successful by any measure. After his effort was picked up in the press, the United Way launched a massive effort to eventually get every Flint resident a water filter. We worked hard to assist the United Way campaign and then shut down our own GOFUNDME, donating $4,345 to the United Way and encouraging others to do the same.

Dr. Edwards, Jim Ananich’s staff, the United Way and others worked overtime to select appropriate water filters that were certified to standards set by NSF International to remove lead. From the start, residents were told to follow manufacturer’s instructions, designed to address concerns about aesthetics and bacteria known to grow on these filters. Notably, a 2002 World Health Organization expert committee consensus scientific statement indicated that these bacteria “do not indicate the existence of a health risk.” Nothing published to the present day has changed that message. Direct retail sales of PUR faucet mount lead reduction filters alone are 7-8 million units per year, which does not include any online or off the shelf sales at stores like Lowes or Home Depot. A 2013-2015 Water Quality Association Survey (pre-Flint) indicated that 43-49% of consumers (≈ 50 million residences) use some sort of filter in their home.

It is also well known that these POU lead filters are not intended to protect from disease causing microorganisms or fecal contamination of the source water. If your water is microbiologically “compromised” other treatment is necessary. The word “compromised,” generally means that fecal matter (or sewage) and or other dangerous bacteria have somehow contaminated the water supply. Public water suppliers are rigidly regulated to constantly seek out and prevent such contamination, using sensitive “coliform” and other testing. Moreover, if any event such as a main break or strongly suspected contamination event occurs, public notice is required through a “boil water” alert. A recent example is a main break occurring May 2018, triggering a precautionary “boil water” alert in Flint without waiting for a positive bacteria test result.   

The legally required coliform testing helped demonstrate the Flint water system was compromised in 2014, resulting in boil water alerts. But after the switch back to Detroit water in October 2015, GCHD, EPA, CDC, MDEQ, City of Flint and FEMA went to extraordinary lengths to be sure the Flint water system was not compromised. Three detailed Flint coliform control and monitoring plans were written from February 2016 to present day and published online. Exhaustive monitoring January 2016 to November 2018 (i.e., the latest report available) did not find even one single positive coliform test.

Hence, according to Federal law and any reasonable definition, the Flint water system after the switch back to Detroit water in October 2015 was not microbiologically “compromised.” Switching to the pure Lake Huron source water, the water treatment and enhanced chlorine residuals controlled the bacteria problems that were detected in 2014. Flint was not just meeting federal microbial standards, they were greatly exceeding them.  Federal law allows up to 5% of monthly samples to be positive for coliforms, whereas Flint had zero positive results for 3 consecutive years. Thus, the selected NSF certified POU lead filters did not have to remove dangerous bacteria in Flint, just like they do not have to remove such bacteria in their routine application in tens of millions of U.S. homes.

It is also noteworthy that the POU filters were provided to residents as a humanitarian gesture- not a regulatory requirement. Following the precautionary principle, in 2015 we argued that simply telling Flint residents to flush water to reduce lead exposure as allowed by law, was not good enough to achieve modern public health goals. All the public health agencies later agreed with us. As a result, a higher standard was upheld during the FWC than in any prior public health response to high lead in water, by supplying free lead filters to all residents and recommending their use in all homes. Note, there were literally thousands of public water supplies with lead and copper rule violations during 2015 alone, with many that had 90%’ile lead levels worse than Flint.  We cannot find another single case where lead filters were both recommended and provided free to all residents.  And Michigan taxpayers should be commended for continuing to purchase filters and cartridge replacements for Flint residents to the present day, even though many other cities in Michigan have higher water lead than Flint.

There were two early hiccups that negatively impacted public perception about safety of the filters. One occurring October 2015 was a social media hoax that briefly went viral, falsely asserting some of free filters were not NSF certified to remove lead when they were.  There was also a concern in early 2016, about what would happen when some homes in Flint exceeded the 150 ppb lead threshold that manufacturers tested to “certify” or guarantee filter performance. FEMA had an emergency phone call including Dr. Edwards, where it was decided that, even though there was every reason to believe the filters would still work, anything less than 100% certainty was unacceptable. EPA scientists were then tasked with field testing the filters in Flint. While awaiting the results of this study, some media exaggerated the possible dangers of drinking filtered water above 150 ppb. The final EPA report released publicly on June 22, 2016 proved the filters worked even when lead was in the thousands of ppb in Flint. ATSDR, CDC, EPA, GCHD, and every other group directly involved in the Federal emergency response then reaffirmed the filtered water would be safe for all populations (except immunocompromised individuals who are always advised to follow guidance of their personal physician).

Dr. Love’s and McElmurry’s Erroneous POU Filter Assumptions

A summary of emails and written public statements by Dr. Love and McElmurry related to the POU filter situation in Flint, reveals complete ignorance of the aforementioned facts and history of the lead filters in Flint (see Figure 2). Inexcusably for researchers claiming to be experts, they did not even know that POU filters were in widespread use all over the United States, until that misunderstanding was exposed and corrected in a phone call with Dr. Edwards January 6, 2017. Their complete lack of understanding of State of Michigan chlorine laws (and AWWA chlorine recommendations) and disregard of the excellent coliform monitoring results, caused them to repeatedly assert publicly that the Flint system was microbiologically compromised.

Never bothering to learn the actual history, they repeatedly claimed in public and in writing that the POU filters were first selected in January 2016 as a “regulatory requirement” to remove lead and DBPs. There is no such regulatory requirement and filters were first provided in October 2015. Love and McElmurry also made ludicrous claims that giving Flint residents a POU filter as an extra barrier, presented just a “single barrier” approach to controlling bacteria. As if simply installing the extra POU barrier somehow negated the multiple barriers in place for microbes in Flint (i.e., source water protection, sedimentation, filtration, disinfection, residual disinfection), the effectiveness of which is constantly verified by intensive coliform and other monitoring. 

In the hands of McElmury and Love, all the good intentions and results that should have been achieved by the generous donations and the Michigan taxpayer-funded free POU filter programs, would be twisted into a false narrative of an incompetent and uncaring government, with FACHEP casting themselves as messianic defenders of Flint residents. Just covering key points of this deranged story will require several future blogs. However, because it is essential to understanding the Wells and Lyon felony charges, motives behind FACHEP deliberately maligning individuals or entities who did not agree with them (State of Michigan, GCHD, EPA, Miguel Del Toral, Dr. Edwards, Dr. Masten), and the fight over bottled water that continues in present day Flint–we have to start somewhere.

July 2016:  FACHEP detects waterborne Shigella?

June-July 2016 were peak months of a serious Shigellosis outbreak (caused by Shigella bacteria) in Flint-Saginaw. At FWC data summits in early-mid 2016, Dr. Edwards observed as experts from all the agencies worked together and carefully analyzed the outbreak. The scrutiny was especially intense, because, depending on the cause, diametrically opposing public health ramifications and recommendations would result. If Shigella was being spread by traditional hand-to-hand contact, the best way to stop it would be providing standard reminders to properly wash hands and practice good hygiene.

But if the Flint-Saginaw outbreak was an unusual situation in which Shigella was being transmitted through the drinking water, the agencies would then publicly state the water was dangerous for drinking and bathing and issue recommendations that Flint residents should boil (or otherwise disinfect) the water before use. Everyone knew that drawing the right conclusion and providing the right advice was a life or death decision.

After intense scrutiny, which even included out of the box discussion as to whether accepted laws of biology, chemistry, and water treatment applied in Flint (they did, but we mention that because no stone was left unturned), the public health agencies acted on evidence that this was almost certainly a traditional outbreak. Amongst the most compelling data against the idea the Shigellosis outbreak was waterborne was the fact it was also occurring in Saginaw, which did NOT use the same water source as Flint, but it was not occurring in Detroit which DID have the same water source at that time. Moreover, many of those afflicted with Shigella had direct contact with baby diapers. To spoil the drama associated with this part of the story, even with hindsight there is every reason to believe expects correctly concluded the Shigella did not come from the water supply. At no point did the agencies drop their vigilance.

Enter Drs. Love and McElmurry. In July 2016, Love analyzed samples from the NSF POU filter project. In our next blog we will show emails where she claims to have found samples that were “positive” for Shigella DNA. Reflecting back on this discovery in a rare moment of candor October 2016, Dr. Love acknowledged in writing to the CDC (emphasis added):

“..we had detected possible Shigella or E. Coli through a high level biomolecular screen (16S Illumina sequencing) in some samples from our July sampling events. The levels were extremely low and below what we would normally consider significant. In fact, in discussing the results with a bioinformatics expert, his assessment was that the samples could represent contamination at the core lab that ran our samples.”

Nearly anyone with basic knowledge about this issue would agree that, based on such a result, Dr. Love had no basis for public notification or decision-making. The “possible” Shigella DNA could have been from dead or non-disease causing bacteria, or it could have just been contamination as she was told. Even if she found conclusive evidence of dead disease-causing bacterial DNA, which she did not, this would simply confirm disinfection was working properly. Allowing such information to leak publicly or otherwise serve as a basis for “going public,” violated the most basic “Sloan MOBE 101” principles described earlier in this document.

In fact, jumping ahead to late 2017, after Dr. Edwards eventually gave up trying to reason with FACHEP and had quietly endured almost a year of their unprofessional personal attacks and rumor-mongering without public comment, he gave an overview of FACHEP mistakes in an invited and recorded Sloan MOBE Keynote. The instant popularity of this part of the keynote was surprising, humbling and encouraging, and it is now being viewed in classrooms all around the country as a case study in “How to never do Microbiome Research.” At that point we could only see the tip of an iceberg to be revealed in this investigative science blog series (you can watch the video from 11:54 to 21:00: please note if you watch past that point that Mr. Scott Smith has bravely corrected the record about his work in Flint).  

FACHEP’s  “Real Time” Communication “Builds Trust” with Residents

One reason it is important to expose the role of FACHEP faculty in the Flint Shigellosis situation, is that it provides an opportunity to expose their hypocritical moralizing about the analogous response of MDHHS to the Flint Legionairres’ disease outbreak. While we ourselves have many concerns about the response, especially how it exposes a lack of laws and policies about this important emerging source of human disease, we ask “Are FACHEP faculty really in a position to sit in judgment of Dr. Wells and Mr. Lyon in the felony criminal cases involving the Flint Legionnaires’ disease outbreak?”

Consider Dr. Kilgore’s testimony in State of MI vs Wells that making sure that they <the public> don’t have access to misinformationhas to be balanced by the fact that if you “withhold critical information which will undermine trust and actually increase chances that people will do the wrong thing (Figure 3).” Or, as Dr. McElmurry stated under oath at trial: “We thought it was very important to give the residents information as it — we became aware of it…Because it builds trust.” How well did the FACHEP faculty handle Love’s dubious DNA data in their public messaging related to the emerging Shigellosis outbreak?

Under the direction of the world renowned Dr. Seeger (Wayne State), FACHEP’s designated “real time” and the on-the-ground communicator with Flint residents was Dr. Laura Sullivan (Kettering University). Her role on the team was “to build trust between local and state governments, stakeholders in Flint and citizens in the community.” As we will repeatedly see, what Dr. Sullivan often did, was sabotage any trust that was justly earned by the government agencies with Flint citizens, to create a hero narrative for Dr. Sullivan and FACHEP.

Starting July 22, 2016, the same month Dr. Love claimed to have discovered “possible” Shigella DNA in Flint POU filters, Sullivan began to repeatedly lash out at state and local health departments as uncaring and incompetent, disseminating a hypothesis that the Shigellosis outbreak was coming from water (Figure 4). Dr. Sullivan believed that she herself contracted Shigellosis from the Flint water and publicly broadcast that WSU/UM had sampled water at her house, and she was told to “boil water before bathing in it.” You read that correctly- a written public statement from a FACHEP faculty member that she was told to boil bath water before bathing!

Consider the practical consequences to Flint residents who may have followed Dr. Sullivan’s leadership. The work it would take to boil enough water to bath in, the dangers of using less water and taking less effective baths, or the very serious risk of scalding from making large volumes of boiling water and transporting them. Not to mention the distrust from a message implying Flint residents could get Shigella if they did not boil their bath water. Sullivan kept repeating the unsubstantiated hypothesis that the Shigella was coming from Flint water through at least August 17, 2017. While she never mentioned FACHEP in those particular posts, she did refer to FACHEP faculty (WSU/UM), and her posts carried great weight because they appear to provide “privileged” insider information.

Dr. Sullivan’s barrage of “real time” misguided social media messaging was an early example of “building trust” between FACHEP and Flint residents, at the expense of lost trust in the public health agencies who were working responsibly to provide Flint residents accurate information. FACHEP faculty repeatedly and strategically maligned the people and public agencies working to fix Flint’s water problems, in order to promote their self-anointed role as the only entity worthy of Flint residents’ trust. At certain points, true experts, including internationally-renowned scientists (e.g., Michael Schock EPA, Figure 4) would try to weigh in, writing on Sullivan’s Facebook page There’s no evidence that I or my microbiologist specialists colleagues have seen that it’s transmitted by organisms in tap water. Using even less water for washing and bathing is the worst thing they can do (Figure 4).” The fact that FACHEP never publicly corrected any of Dr. Sullivan’s statements speaks volumes—in such situations silence is acquiescence. 

By the time Dr. Love finally realized and publicly-acknowledged that she never credibly detected Shigella at all in December 2016 (see future blog), the urban science legend that “Shigella came from the POU filters” was set in stone for many. For instance, Dr. Sullivan’s close friend and FACHEP supporter, Melissa Mays, asserted through at least February 2018 that “We have shigella because we wash our hands” and “The [State-distributed lead] filters cause dysentery.”  Thus, even though the choicest parts of the Shigella screwup will be presented future blogs, we confidently give the world renowned FACHEP experts an “F” grade for both creating and disseminating misinformation during the Shigella outbreak.

New Perspective on August 12, 2016 meeting between FACHEP and MDHHS

We now circle back to revisit the now infamous August 12, 2016 meeting between McElmurry and the State of MI, that discussed FACHEP’s desire to test the POU filters for DNA using MDHHS funding.  

We now know that on August 8th, 2016, FACHEP submitted a scope of work for Phase 2 Legionella research that was full of plans to sample the POU filters. At that time, the team already had the three NSF grants underway to examine the POU filter issue. FACHEP misinformation, based on what eventually turned out to be misleading DNA data, had leaked via Dr. Sullivan on FACEBOOK. There were also Sullivan’s false statements that the state was not looking at the bacteria hazards, and the implication that the country health department was incompetent (Figure 4). Finally, the POU filters had nothing to do with the 2014-2015 Legionella outbreak because they were not yet deployed at that time, and such filters are not considered a significant Legionella exposure pathway, even if they had been. Add it all up, the agencies were correct to be wary of what FACHEP might would do with state sanctioned filter and DNA analyses on a Legionella project. 

In the August 12 emails, McElmurry incorrectly claims that not sampling POU filters will have a “major impact on the science” of understanding Legionella, and further asserts that the only possible explanation for the state not wanting to sample the POU filters was “purely political.” Is it not possible that another viable explanation is that the state wanted to avoid another shigella-like FACHEP fiasco?  Pulling out all the stops with classic FACHEP crybullying, this time under oath, McElmurry actually claimed that if FACHEP had not been denied $2000 of state money to sample just 20 filters, so much more would have been learned about Legionella.  Seriously? McElmurry already had hundreds of thousands in NSF and NIH funding specifically designated to study the filters. And whining about $2000 is considered major evidence in FACHEP-based felony cases that have already cost MI taxpayers millions and millions of dollars to date?

Our own read? McElmurry’s claim the state was trying to hide Legionella problems as described in the emails, is utterly absurd. It seems to us, that the state was actually trying to help FACHEP find Legionella problems, by reminding them as to what the goals of the project actually were. The alternative was to feed Love’s misinformed and growing obsession with the POU filters. Concerns expressed in the emails about FACHEP looking for DNA of live or dead bacteria, were also more than justified by that point.

So much damage in so little time with so little effort. After just a few weeks of Love and McElmurry’s POU filter research, FACHEP was already causing problems with public health messaging about Shigella, and strategically subverting public trust in government agencies while ingratiating themselves with Flint residents..and they were just getting warmed up.

Primary Author: Dr. Marc A. Edwards

FACHEP vs. The People of the State of Michigan: Part III FACHEP makes a mockery of ethical codes — The FACHEP whistleblower from Michigan State University

An investigative science reporting series by Flintwaterstudy.org

The Flint Water Crisis (FWC) and its aftermath as revealed in the ongoing legal cases (Wells, Lyon, Edwards vs Wayne State, Edwards versus Schwartz et al.) and this FlintWaterStudy blog series is destined to become a historic and instructive engineering ethics case study. We continue to document our efforts to navigate ethical dilemmas and hold “public safety paramount” as embodied in ethical codes of conduct such as that of the American Society of Civil Engineers. 

After FlintWaterStudy first made the startling claim that a few engineers had primary responsibility for the Flint Water Crisis, our position was affirmed December 2015, and finally reached closure when two of the engineers pled guilty December 26, 2018. In 2015, Governor Snyder apologized for their mistakes and took actions promoting reform at MDEQ (and EPA). His appointment of independent and knowledgeable truth-speakers to the Flint Water Advisory Task Force in 2015 was critical — this Task Force’s reports withstood the test of time and their recommendations effectively guided the disaster response. Snyder also invited critics Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Dr. Edwards to work on the recovery alongside the agencies they were previously fighting against, worked to close loopholes with Michigan’s tough new Lead and Copper Rule, and funded FACHEP to investigate the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak.

And while it is true that every level of government had some responsibility for creating the FWC, it should also be noted that every level of government came together in an unprecedented and exemplary fashion after January 2016 to help fix the Flint water system. After President Obama declared a Federal Emergency, Dr. Edwards participated in over a dozen FWC data summits and hundreds of interagency teleconference calls focused on controlling lead and Legionella. The National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Genesee County Health Department (GCHD), City of Flint (COF), United Way and others played exemplary roles. Whistleblower Miguel Del Toral was released from effective house arrest and became the public face of the Environmental Protection Agency emergency response, while hundreds of EPA and MDEQ employees worked tirelessly for Flint.

By mid-2016 it was obvious that these extraordinary efforts, along with the switch back to treated Lake Huron water purchased from DWSD/GLWA on October 16, 2015, had produced major improvements in water quality. Chlorine disinfectant levels rose after switching back to Detroit water, EPA implemented enhanced corrosion control and boosted chlorine, and financial credits supported a “Flush for Flint program.” The 90th percentile lead level was dropping below the EPA action level and every reasonable recommendation made to control Legionella was implemented. While the system had not yet fully restabilized, the trends were promising and the Flint Federal Emergency designation officially ended August 14, 2016.

FACHEP’s Toxic Mindset

FACHEP was funded in February 2016 under emergency procedures and their Phase 1 study results were published in late June 2016. Their Phase 2 work had a primary goal to “Reduce the occurrence of Legionellosis-associated cases, hospitalizations and deaths to levels at or below those seen in years prior to 2014.” It took a few months to negotiate and fund the substantial $3.4 million FACHEP Phase 2 budget and vet a correspondingly expansive scope of work, and the work was slow because Professor Shawn McElmurry was inexperienced  with human subjects research–he literally had to complete the most basic training before he could even conduct the work. 

The behavior of FACHEP collaborators and emails between May and August 2016 reveal an increasingly toxic and unscientific mindset, suggesting a growing sense of frustration that Flint’s rapidly improving water quality would leave them with no urgent problems to solve. In this series we argue that those who took the public mantle of FACHEP leadership considered themselves to be the sole entity worthy of the residents’ trust and who had the expertise to solve the FWC. This mindset may have arisen from McElmurry’s touching story of FACHEP’s “divine conception” due to his myth of work in Flint from 2010-2015 and Wayne State’s public proclamation of “unique expertise.”

Consider testimony from Drs. McElmurry, Kilgore, and Zervos (WSU) about a May 2016 meeting discussing the FACHEP Phase 2 work plan with Mr. Lyon. During that meeting, they argued that if FACHEP’s requested $11-13 million in funding was not immediately granted, “people will die” due to delays in engaging their expertise. A witness attending this meeting with FACHEP faculty stated:

Dr. Kilgore turned red and pounded his hand on the table and said, “People are going to Fucking die” if the research was not able to proceed immediately and as planned.

To their chagrin, all the data that came in during summer 2016 proved that those diligently working on the water emergency since October 2015 were not the uncaring incompetents from which FACHEP imagined they would save Flint residents. Moreover, FACHEP Phase 1 documented increasing chlorine levels and no detectable Legionella in samples collected from homes during January 2016. The incidence of Legionnaires Disease had plunged dramatically through September 2016, compared to the 2014-2015 outbreaks, without any help from FACHEP whatsoever.

A set of revelatory emails was exchanged just two days before the Federal Emergency ended, after an upbeat Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee meeting and as McElmurry was finally completing his last required human subjects paperwork.  After arguing that certain disagreements with the team’s ideas (to be discussed in future blogs) were due to “purely political” reasoning, McElmurry noted:

 We really are running out of time. With summer nearly complete….I can’t tell you how furious I am with the state, they have completely screwed us and the people of Flint…

This statement echoed the prior false claim that “people will die” unless FACHEP funding was immediately granted. McElmurry expressed further angst that “Marc Edwards also gave (sic) presentation saying legionella detected in residential households was low,” raising fears that a primary FACHEP goal had already been achieved before their work even began, and there were concerns that the State was “pulling out of Flint.”

The email discussion concluded with Dr. Zervos appropriately suggesting that FACHEP should consider “working totally independently from the <GCHD and MDHHS> health departments,” a point that McElmurry immediately agreed with:

 I am fine with working outside of health department (sic), their conflict of interest is even worse than the State…it will just be extremely difficult for some aspects of the project.

At this point, we raise a critical ethical question. If the circumstances were truly as noxious as expressed, was it ethical for FACHEP faculty to accept research funding from MDHSS in the first place? For example, codes of ethics state that engineers  “shall act for each employer as faithful agents or trustees,” “shall advise their clients or employers when they believe a project will not be successful,” and “shall disclose all known or potential conflicts of interest that could influence or appear to influence their judgment or the quality of their services.”  It strikes us as fundamentally unethical and unfair to all parties,  to accept research funding from a client who you believe has just “completely screwed us,” particularly for a project that you felt would not be successful. And how it is possible that the personal conflicts would not affect FACHEP’s judgment or quality of services? Unfortunately, rather than seeking out other sponsors as was discussed, or even going to the media with their complaints which was also mentioned, they decided to take the funding.

Not surprisingly given FACHEP’s toxic attitude, three exemplars of unethical tactics and incompetence, were to reach a crescendo almost immediately after their Phase 2 launch including: 1) Low chlorine alerts, 2) Claims to have discovered “dangerous” bacteria on Flint’s point of use filters, and 3) Implying Flint water was causing a Shigella outbreak. We will first review the “low chlorine” issue, because it illustrates the maddening position of Dr. Eden Wells and how the only FACHEP team member with significant drinking water experience (Dr. Susan Masten, Michigan State University) eventually became alienated from the rest of the team.

Meet the whistleblower from Michigan State University

We have come to know Dr. Masten as a quiet, knowledgeable, humble, and highly ethical professor, characteristics destined to clash with some other collaborators selected by McElmurry. Dr. Masten has remarkable moral humility and a healthy respect for the second canon of Civil Engineering ethics, which, to the present day, compels her to be the first to acknowledge the limitations of her own expertise and her own shortcomings. She considers her core expertise to be drinking water treatment with some experience in monitoring municipal water distribution systems.  The topics of building plumbing, Legionella and chlorine regulation are not within her expertise. Dr. Masten was also McElmurry’s teacher when he attended MSU, and she once considered him a friend and colleague.  These factors make the events described herein all the more painful, yet laudatory.

In the interest of full disclosure, through February 2018, Dr. Edwards and Dr. Masten respected but did not really like each other. It was only after Dr. Faust informed Dr. Edwards that McElmurry had gone out of his way to malign Edwards with her, that he recalled some ill feelings about Dr. Masten had similarly originated from McElmurry. Edwards decided to reach out to Dr. Masten to better understand what happened and apologize for hard feelings based on hearsay, when he learned Dr. Masten had anger about Dr. Edwards that also originated from McElmurry. Both Masten and Edwards then went to Dr. Faust, who confirmed McElmurry had also bad mouthed Masten. Confused?  Well, to put it simply, three people who once disliked each other for no good reason, were now fast friends, and a pathological rumor-mongerer had been exposed. As we dug deeper, we found that strategically maligning others was a habit of McElmurry and other FACHEP leaders. In this case, the false statements effectively prevented  Drs. Faust, Edwards, and Masten from exchanging revelatory information, whereas in other cases, these tactics morphed into something even more twisted. 

Before we finally dive into this story, we must once again remind readers about the difficult tightrope water utilities walk in terms of controlling the levels of chlorine in distributed drinking water. Specifically, if chlorine levels in distributed water are too low, there is concern that the incidence of some waterborne diseases might increase. Conversely, if chlorine levels are too high, consumers may get itchy skin, complain of “swimming pool” smells and tastes in water, and the levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) can exceed regulatory limits. Based on her extensive experience and analysis, Dr. Masten co-authored an excellent paper highlighting all these problems and trade-offs for Flint in late 2016 from a perspective of water treatment.

How much chlorine is “too low” or “too high” in a given Michigan home? In terms of the minimum, Michigan law states that:

The residual disinfectant concentration in the distribution system, measured as total chlorine…shall not be undetectable in more than 5% of the samples each month for any 2 consecutive months that the supply serves water to the public.

In other words, 95% of samples collected at defined monitoring points of the distribution system, must have detectable (≥ 0.1 mg/L according to MDEQ) levels of chlorine. The maximum chlorine is set by the U.S. EPA Maximum Residual Disinfectant Level (MRDL) of 4 mg Cl2/L. Hence, according to the chlorine balancing act as defined by Michigan law, a chlorine level of 0 to 4 mg/L is perfectly acceptable at a given home. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has the same recommendation, but with a recommended minimum of 0.2 mg/L (instead of 0.1 mg/L) for 95% of sampling sites. It is also worth noting that millions of Michigan residents use ground water with no chlorine residual at all (including MSU) as is common all over the U.S. 

FACHEP’s First Press Release: Lower Chlorine Than Recommended

The “low chlorine” fiasco started when FACHEP prepared their first press release October 16, 2016, just after McElmurry returned from three weeks in Australia. McElmurry claimed he completed a “literature review” on chlorine recommendations, and inserted the following concerning statement into the press release about levels of chlorine in Flint homes.

 So far we’ve also found chlorine levels in about 20 percent of the homes to be less than current recommendations. The American Water Works Association recommends maintaining a residual chlorine level between 0.2 mg/L and 2.0 mg/L at all times. We’ve identified some homes that are below 0.2 mg/L.

Upon review of the draft release, Dr. Wells immediately noticed a key concern, stating “we advise you repeatedly that controls were needed—this appears again to be results without context.” This meant FACHEP should show data from other cities (i.e., controls), to make sure they would never make it falsely appear to Flint residents that they were in some kind of unique danger when that was not the case. FACHEP had already collected data showing many homes outside of Flint had non-detectable levels of chlorine as allowed under Michigan law, but McElmurry ignored Dr. Wells and did not put that information in the press release. Dr. Edwards also reviewed a copy of the press release and explicitly noted the statement on the AWWA chlorine recommendation was highly misleading.  He subsequently sent Wells a direct web link to a 2015 AWWA reference about chlorine levels. For whatever reason, Edwards’ input was also not reflected in the final press release.

After the statement was published, Flint consumers received sampling results with worrisome statements that chlorine should always be 0.2 – 2.0 mg/L to protect them from Legionnaires disease. FlintWaterStudy then received phone calls from Flint residents who were very concerned that their chlorine was  “too low” (i.e., 0-0.2 mg Cl2/L) or “too high,”  (i.e., 2.1-4.0 mg Cl2/L), even though Michigan law allows chlorine to be anywhere between 0 – 4 mg/L. Lawyers at the state immediately jumped at the claim 20 percent of Flint homes were failing to meet AWWA recommendations, and Dr. Wells urgent efforts to get information from McElmurry on what to do about this problem were unsuccessful. Wayne State’s risk communication “expert” Dr. Matt Seeger was the first to respond to Wells urgent request:

As I indicated earlier, FACHEP is making no public health recommendations. We are not a health department and whatever we say would be inappropriate. We are trying very hard to stay in our lane.  We referenced existing documents in the release 

By “existing documents,” Seeger was apparently referencing McElmurry’s use of a citation from a 1990 AWWA book that was written before distribution monitoring of TTHMs were required.  (i.e., Pontius, AWWA, 1990, p 1194). It took us a few weeks to obtain this hopelessly outdated reference, and it turns out there is no such recommendation on page 1194, nor could we find it anywhere else in the book. In fact, there were many statements about residual chlorine in the book contradicting McElmurry’s quote.

Considering that there were two other FACHEP train wrecks in progress at the exact time (to be described in future blogs), Dr. Wells was being too kind when she wrote back the evening of October 19, 2016:   

Your group today seems to want to throw out some vague information about finding some cases, without controls, with no context and THEN throw your hands up and say “oh we have nothing to do about it, that is a public health issue”. Your statements stating that you have no role exemplifies your lack of knowledge or sensitivity to public health issues when producing early unconfirmed and uncontrolled results from your studies… (such as what you are telling residents about their chlorine levels) that THEN  has to be dealt with by the local and state health department, if not also the DEQ, the City, federal CDC and EPA, …. The questions we are getting from our attorneys were for whether the any of these issues indicated a boil water alert!…These experiences …have taken up an INORDINATE amount of time from local state and federal agencies who are already stressed to the maximum to try to deal with responses for important day-to-day issues in our state.  We are funding you to be responsible research partners for a PUBLIC HEALTH issue. While you are independent, you do not operate in isolation, and you are responsible for the impact that your statements may cause in the population that you deliver them to.

On the morning of October 20 2016, McElmurry finally emailed a response to Wells, repeating his quote that supposedly came from the 1990 AWWA book, which he was interpreting to mean that every resident with chlorine less than 0.2 mg/L in their water was in danger. He then asked Wells to figure out what to do about this “problem,” and suggested that Wells should consider issuing a warning to residents with less than 0.2 mg/L chlorine and point of use filters to “boil water” before consumption.

McElmurry drags others into the debacle

At that point, Dr. Wells directed McElmurry to the chlorine subject matter experts (SME) at EPA, Dr. Jonathan Pressman and Mr. Mark Durno, who had been intensively working on improving the chlorine situation in Flint for almost a year. Over the next week they also grew frustrated with McElmurry, who admitted he had errors in residential addresses, some of the low chlorine results were from homes with whole house filters designed to remove chlorine, and he therefore could not help EPA help the State solve the problem he supposedly had uncovered. While they waited for McElmurry to get the addresses, on October 24th, Dr. Pressman point blank asked McElmurry the same question Dr. Edwards had in mind when he first read the press release:  

I’m curious to know the reference of the quote…from your press release…The sources of chlorine residual advice that I am most immediately familiar with, such as the AWWA partnership for safe water, use a 95% of the time statement, not “at all times.”

Incredibly, although McElmurry must have known that he personally inserted that erroneous phrase into the press release just a week earlier, he emailed Dr. Masten:

I feel like he is splitting hairs here but I’ll have to respond. I can’t remember how this sentence made it in….if we had a real quote to reference or not. Do you?

What? McElmurry had needlessly created a false alarm amongst Flint residents and disrupted multiple agencies working to protect public health, and he now wanted Dr. Masten to bail him out and find a real quote to support his mistake? Over the next few days, Dr. Masten looked hard to find something,  but in the end she could did not find a “real quote to reference.” As was typical whenever McElmurry was confronted with an important question that demanded a response, and providing an honest answer would expose his mistakes and ignorance, he simply never responded to Pressman at all. McElmurry also refused to answer Dr. Edwards when asked the same direct question months later. 

When McElmurry finally got around to providing EPA the addresses, the expert chlorine response team with representatives from Flint, MDEQ, and EPA was dispatched to investigate. On October 31st, 2016, they reported back that hydrant sampling near the “low chlorine” sites reported by FACHEP had good chlorine at > 0.61 mg/L. Dr. Pressman then requested that if McElmurry was going to keep telling residents that they had “low chlorine,” he should immediately inform the city of Flint so they could respond.

By this point McElmurry knew, or should have known, that his scientific basis for providing “low chlorine” alerts to residents and the agencies were bogus. So why on earth did he keep issuing them? The emails suggest he even derived satisfaction from continuing to raise alarms with the agencies for no good reason. For instance, after sending an email alerting EPA and the city to “low chlorine” in a Flint home November 29, 2016, he proudly forwarded it to Dr. Seeger with a statement: “They are going to love me.” Dr. Seeger responded “Wow.”

And as McElmurry continued to sample for chlorine around the State of Michigan, getting the control data that Wells had repeatedly requested, he not surprisingly found many other homes meeting the Michigan standard but violating the McElmurry standard. He was issuing low chlorine letters and email alerts to residents and government officials in Ecorse and River Rouge, MI through late November 2017.

FACHEP makes a mockery of ethical codes

It was around November 2017 when Dr. Masten’s growing concern over what she considered unethical behavior by FACHEP’s leaders, reached a breaking point. FACHEP was trying to rush out a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) publication concluding that the 2014-2015 Legionella deaths in Flint were due to chlorine levels dropping below 0.2 mg/L in consumer’s homes. In the text of the accepted paper the team had a misleading statement that claimed (bold emphasis added):

To reduce the risk associated with bacterial growth in water distribution systems, regulatory agencies recommend a minimum free chlorine residual of 0.2 to 0.5 mg/L.   …chlorine residual is the most widely reported measure of water quality within distribution systems

Dr. Masten emailed the lead author Dr. Michelle Swanson to explicitly point out what all of FACHEP should have known:

This is still factually incorrect. Chlorine residual is NOT the most widely measure of water quality. In fact, it is NOT a measure of water quality at all.  It is a measure of the amount of disinfectant that remains in water.  One can have a low chlorine residual and the water can be of excellent quality. One could have a high chlorine residual and the water could be of poor quality. 

After Swanson refused to give Masten time to correct this and other errors in the manuscript, Masten made a very difficult decision to remove her name from the accepted publication. Immediately after this PNAS paper was published, it was used to support FACHEP in their now public disagreement with Mr. Lyon and Dr. Wells, and in court to support criminal charges brought against them. At that point, Dr. Masten decided she was ethically obligated to write the journal editors about her concerns with the document. The erroneous text that Dr. Masten called out was not changed in the final manuscript. In fact, the PNAS paper does not even acknowledge that the present day Michigan law had a standard for detectable chlorine (0.1 mg Cl2/L) at 95% of test sites.

Throughout this ordeal, FACHEP’s engineering faculty (other than Masten) repeatedly lectured anyone questioning miscues like their “low chlorine” alert, that the engineering code of ethics mandate to “hold public safety paramount” justified their every action. But those same faculty repeatedly violated that same code of ethics, by working outside their core area of expertise, which did not include Legionella, chlorine measurements, Shigella or lead. It seems as if FACHEP leadership had created an alternative universe, in which they were the true heroes of the FWC, fighting against villains, real or imagined, such as Dr. Wells, Mr. Lyon or even Dr. Masten. This mindset is revealed in several illustrative statements, some of which are delusional considering that their real work started AFTER the Federal Emergency and Legionella outbreak had ended.

Illustrative and highly dubious claims of FACHEP faculty heroism

Source/ Date Statement
Wayne State Press Release on PNAS article 2/6/2018 “This abandonment of basic human and civil rights by those who once had the public trust led to water quality, safety and access issues that endangered the public health. In the midst of this maelstrom, a group of engineers along with medical, public health and social scientists assembled a research team to pursue answers to problems that others would rather leave unexamined. The authors of these papers from several universities and members of the research team — which included community members in meaningful roles — affirmed the higher purpose of science — to expand knowledge and serve the common good. As this FACHEP team developed, the key underpinning was the attention to clear, honest communication and careful listening to disenfranchised, marginalized Flint residents.”
Dr. Sullivan (FACHEP) 10/20/2016 Thanks, all, for the integrity you’ve already demonstrated to Flint.  History will show that in the aftermath of tragedy at the hand of opportunists, you were among the first to demonstrate the nobility of great men.
Dr. Ben Pauli (FACHEP) 11/24/2016 Of all the people and groups that are doing or have done testing in Flint, I think our team stands out for demonstrating that a commitment to the residents need not preclude a commitment to good science, and vice versa.
Dr. McElmurry
2/7/2018
Responding to a Facebook post that said: Thank Shawn McElmurry for Standing Up for Flint During the Legionella Outbreak…You Rock! *
McElmurry wrote “all of this would have been swept under the rug <without FACHEP>”

* There is no evidence that McElmurry and FACHEP did anything of substance during the Flint Legionella outbreak.

If anyone on FACHEP is to be considered ethical and heroic, in our opinion it will be Dr. Masten, who gave up authorship on a PNAS paper and made other sacrifices as a matter of principle. As her reward for doing the right thing, she was subsequently locked out of future FACHEP conference calls and shunned by the other faculty.

An enlightening conference call and FACHEP crybullying

As noted in our previous blog, the relationship between FACHEP and the State was without normal checks and balances. Specifically, because government failures created the FWC, FACHEP was fully aware that the press would always take the side of presumably noble and independent faculty in any disputes. Based on media coverage since 2016, it is apparent that they were correct in this assumption. In their emails, FACHEP faculty openly discussed that special prosecutors were looking to charge high ranking public officials within MDHHS for the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak, and there is even some evidence these faculty had been speaking with the prosecutors. FACHEP repeatedly exploited that power imbalance.

In evaluating the evidence against Wells and Lyon related to FACHEP, we must give special weight to situations that do not involve he-said /she-said recollections. The last communication between Dr. Zervos (FACHEP) and Dr. Wells came March 3, 2017, when he wrote an angry email accusing her of being unethical (emphasis added):

Dr Wells, your comments to us at earlier meetings such as, “Do you know who is funding you?” or your more recent mandate to us to put a stop to the retrospective epidemiologic component of the project, can only be interpreted as a threat, and a clear attempt to influence our independent work and scientific integrity.

The “earlier meeting” in question, was a teleconference call on October 21, 2016, where the issue of the “low chlorine” alerts described herein was discussed. To our knowledge, even as of today, Dr. Wells is probably completely unaware that FACHEP’s written statements in the press release were based on McElmurry’s use of a now 28-year old AWWA citation that does not agree with modern AWWA recommendations or Michigan law. And that FlintWaterStudy, or even McElmurry for that matter, cannot even find a reference for the recommendation that caused so much trouble.

At the start of the call, Wells ethically informed everyone it would be recorded and transcribed for all parties. The call starts in typical FACHEP fashion — Dr. McElmurry announcing that FACHEP can only spare 30 minutes to work through concerns raised by his research sponsor. The MDHSS employees whose life had been upended by multiple FACHEP train wrecks currently in progress, can be heard to say “What the hell?” while the phone was muted, in obvious reference to McElmurry’s misplaced priorities.

Listen

Wells started by noting the awkward position that FACHEP had placed the State in with the “low chlorine” press release claims. McElmurry then made a false statement to Wells, based on what was possibly his zero years of experience measuring chlorine in Flint homes (despite claims of 5 years work) that the data:

was far beyond what it normally–what would normally be expected within a water distribution system and that’s why we thought it was important to relay that information to the public and the water utility

Wells reinforced the need for appropriate controls and sharing critical data immediately with their public health partners before going public, which is something McElmurry was not set up to do as mentioned previously. McElmurry then referred to FACHEP’s policy of communicating results to the public before they even have a chance to do quality control or analyze what they mean (i.e., “real time” reporting):

I am concerned about the values, that’s why I reported it as soon as I realized that we had this problem. I’m reporting to real time (??).

As we will repeatedly see in future blogs, what FACHEP’s leaders would most consistently reveal in “real time,” was that they were incompetent and operating outside their expertise. But Wells then informs McElmurry about the ethical obligation to not just report problems, but to also provide vetted information to residents on what to do about them. She then stated “apparently you have done this type of research before,” and asked how he had ethically handled it, to which McElmurry stated:

So the answer to that is I have done this kind of thing, we’ve measured chlorine before and we found it low. And I reported that back to the EPA and DEQ. In, you know, about the same time that I’m doing now. You know, I have not had the same level of urgency from the DEQ and the EPA regarding the data I’m showing.

When this all comes out at trial, we certainly hope that evidence is demanded from McElmurry to document exactly when, where, and how he previously reported “low chlorine” data back to EPA and DEQ.  Especially when a “low chlorine” measurement at a home does not violate Michigan law and he cannot find the reference in his press release. Call us skeptical, but by this point, his statement to Dr. Wells sounds like other unsupported McElmurry claims about his work in Flint.

The transcript goes on and on in this manner, with Dr. Wells bending over backwards to try to be understanding and work with FACHEP, when she makes the following statement:

And so there’s been some feeling that perhaps while academia is, you know, collecting all this data and may be able to sort of talk about this in the press–and, again, I’m not faulting you on the press release, but the impression was is oh, well, you know, MDHHS will go figure out what to do about this, and I–and so I just want, I plead that, you know, public health, to us in our world reigns supreme, and we will–we will continue to advocate for your role as an independent, as independent as can be, but remember we’re funding you, and our IRB is with you, but we want you to be as independent, we want you to find anything with the system that had anything to do with the Legionella outbreaks would be great, but to please understand our passion and some of our knowledge when it comes to trying to do these studies in the public sector. All right?

Listen

According to Zervos, this mention of funding, “can only be interpreted as a threat, and a clear attempt to influence our independent work and scientific integrity.” Interestingly, after the transcript of the call was finally admitted at trial, Zervos still insisted “I took it as intimidation.” We take Zervos’ claim as an example of “crybullying,” a tactic that FACHEP truly excels at and which they deployed repeatedly. We have attached 77 pages of Zervos trial testimony, a highlighted 45 page transcript of the conference call, and the conference call recording itself to provide supporting documentation for readers that allow their own conclusions to be drawn about FACHEP’s credibility when it comes to “threats” and “intimidation” from Dr. Wells (and by extension Mr. Lyon). Our own perspective is that she was bravely trying to do her job, as best she could, given the power imbalance in the face of repeated unethical and incompetent behavior by FACHEP.  

The DHHS call transcript ends, with the State employee’s, justifiably mocking the warped engineering code of ethics as embraced by FACHEP’s inept leadership as follows:

(Many thank you’s and goodbyes)

Phone all hang up

MS. HANLEY: Wow, that’s concerning. I mean–-

DR. WELLS: He still hasn’t gotten that household data.

MS. HANLEY: What the heck? Seriously. Those of us here around the table could be doing what–it doesn’t take a rocket scientist.

DR. WELLS: No, it doesn’t.

MS. HANLEY: Really? Hand entering?

DR. WELLS: Yeah.

MS. HANLEY: I can’t believe it. And it’s like—I mean, what do you need for it to be a public health emergency? I don’t get it. I mean, we talked about, not just Ebola, but the Zika and whatever else. I mean, there aren’t a lot of people who have it, but there’s the threat that it could spread, right? And so I just don’t understand why it is that they’re slicing hairs like that, and they’re sitting there spending the time to make these determinations.

MS. CALLO: Right, when they’re telling us that, oh, it’s my ethics, my engineering code of ethics, remember that? Anyway, at one point I got this big speech they have this engineering code of ethics <indistinct> it was Nancy Love (fades out and recording stops)

Listen

All emails, testimony and relevant documents cited in the article above can be downloaded below:

Oct 20, 2016 Conference Call in FULL (audio)

Primary Author: Dr. Marc A. Edwards