In Flint Water Disaster Response, Ruffalo is a Bad Actor

Mark Ruffalo’s “humanitarian” mission in the Flint MI water crisis, has turned into a B-Movie horror show that might be titled “Sponge Bob Scare Pants.” The Hollywood actor and his pseudoscientist sidekick, came to Flint well after a Federal Emergency was declared, and then announced “breaking news” that residents could not bathe without running a high risk of getting cancer or worse. Ruffalo’s team then cynically offered solutions to the very people they scared with false health claims—proprietary sponges and “solar powered water filtration.”

Water Defense WATERBUG Introduction to the World?

Ruffalo’s Water Defense product launch in Flint, centers on a proprietary sponge once touted as a promising means of cleaning up oil spills.  The inventor of the sponge is Water Defense Chief Scientist Scott Smith, whose previous efforts to promote the technology were with a company that failed to pay its rent for years, was evicted from its site of business, and may have left behind millions of dollars of environmental liabilities in its New York office according to an April 2015 article in the IndyStar. Smith’s spin on the story is that he “left <the> corporate world to devote attention to oil spill disaster relief & developing technology for water testing & purification” at Water Defense.

The Water Defense oil spill cleanup sponges were re-packaged and launched by Ruffalo and Smith in January 2016 in a YouTube video entitled “Water Defense WaterBug Introduction to the World.” As to the unusual arrangement where a humanitarian non-profit endorses a proprietary material Ruffalo explained “I had reservations about being seen as promoting any one particular product, but when I saw the efficacy of this particular technology, I wanted it for Water Defense.”

Ruffalo’s WATERBUG will purportedly “empower citizens to take water quality testing into their own hands and protect themselves.” (Original images: here and here)
Ruffalo’s WATERBUG will purportedly “empower citizens to take water quality testing into their own hands and protect themselves.” (Original images: here and here)

Ruffalo hand-picked Smith as his “Chief Scientist,” which raises questions about the search process given the dubious claims Smith makes about his credentials and science skills. For example, Smith also claims a title of “Chief Chemist” at Water Defense because he “studied chemistry at Baylor University,”  even though his reported undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. To date, we cannot find evidence that Smith has any scientific degree, which makes his self-reported LinkedIn science skill areas of Marine Conservation, Renewable Energy, Climate Change, Wetlands, Environmental Policy, Sustainable Development, Environmental Impact Assessment, Carbon Footprinting, Sustainable Energy, Energy Efficiency, Sustainability Reporting, Recycling, Biomass, Energy Policy, Alternative Energy, Clean Technology, Environmental Engineering, Solar Energy, Wind, Green Technology, Environmental Education, Water Treatment, Energy Management, Biofuels, Energy Audits, Energy Conservation, Photovoltaics, Solar Thermal, Solar Power and Disaster Response (amongst many others) all the more remarkable.

While we do not fault Ruffalo or Smith for trying to expand use of their sponges to the drinking water arena after years of failing to get traction in oil spills or fracking cleanup, below we openly question the ethics of a product launch in the midst of the Flint Federal Emergency and their marketing tactics.  It also strikes us a conflict of interest, to launch their WATERBUG product under the disguise of a “humanitarian” mission and umbrella of a “non-profit” organization — Huffington Post’s Art Delaney has explored these possible conflicts in more detail elsewhere.

Ruffalo’s Approach:  Create a Sponge Market Where None Should Exist

From the moment Water Defense arrived in Flint, they immediately broadcast their intention to find problems that might not exist—in the process, they were also conveniently creating a market for their WATERBUG sponges after scaring residents about health dangers. If there is any doubt, the very first words of their video laid out the storyline for Ruffalo’s team in Flint:

Here we are in Flint MI, January 29th 2016.  We have checked into a hotel where they told us not to drink the water, but it is ok to bath in.  And the question is, if a water is not safe to drink…why…is it safe to bath or shower in? AND THIS IS THE WATER DEFENSE WATERBUG…..

From the start, Water Defense was so confused about what the actual problem with Flint water was, the next day they went to test the Flint River to test for “baseline contamination” using their WATERBUG,  not realizing Flint had been off the river water for 3+ months by that point. They then had a problem.  Because Flint was now obtaining its water from a very high quality surface water (Lake Huron) which easily meets all Federal Standards for chloroform, disinfection by-products (DBPs) and total trihalomethanes (TTHMs), how can you promote the WATERBUG sponge when Flint has no need for it?

Well, you can claim you discovered an unprecedented health danger that the authorities are probably covering up, and then alert the media.  As Smith proclaimed in a Water Defense video:

The untold story and the breaking news today, is the chloroform and trihalomethane ….I have been to 62 disasters, and I have never seen the levels of contamination for chloroform in water like it is here.  The ultimate solution here is….to create green jobs, to create solar powered water filtration…and help the economy in the process. Chloroform goes through your skin….As part of 62 disasters, I have tested bathtubs and showers all over the country, and most of the time there is nothing there.   

Now how, exactly, can you detect the unprecedented chloroform and other dangers supposedly lurking in the water that Flint is purchasing from Detroit? According to Water Defense, you cannot detect these dangers using EPA approved, or any other state of the art analytical protocols that have been developed by scientists who have devoted their lives to the studying the problem. Nope. To detect the danger posed by bath/shower water in Flint homes, you have to toss a Water Defense WATERBUG sponge into your tub.

But Wait, That is Not All…Act Today And You Can Also Sell Them Filters

In another marketing twist that could only be dreamed up in Hollywood, Ruffalo’s team will also be jump starting Flint’s economy with green jobs from solar powered water filtration—in a state ranked nearly last in solar potential? And what material should be used in the filters to clean up imaginary dangers that can only be revealed by the Water Defense WATERBUG?  Well, consider Aquaflex™, a product Smith started pushing a few weeks after his “breaking news” story. Aquaflex™ is claimed to provide “complete system solutions to mitigate water borne pollution and contamination, through proven wastewater filtration.” The Aquaflex™  press release further asserts that Smith “brings clarity to water crisis” and “is leading the cleaning efforts…<in> Flint, MI,”

We then uncovered an “investor pitch deck” for Aquaflex™  online, that lays out a cynical business strategy using the Flint (and other) disasters for self-serving opportunism by exploiting the fears of consumers. Under Business Model, it identified its initial strategy to sell filters because:

Aquaflex is positioned to satisfy unmet needs for a water testing, filtration and remediation systems, as Mr. Smith and Water Defense continue to identify and diagnose water contamination sites.

Go figure.  There is a method to the Water Defense madness after all.  The business model is certainly innovative, but you will have to judge for yourself whether it is ethical.

biz model

But WATER DEFENSE Cannot Defend Claims Of Unprecedented Health Dangers in Flint

HuffPost’s Art Delaney notes that Water Defense failed to defend five false health claims, that FlintWaterStudy publicly called Ruffalo out on. So we went directly to Dr. Judith Zelikoff, whose name and reputation is repeatedly invoked in support of Water Defense assertions that Flint residents are in health danger if they dare take baths or showers.

We requested that Dr. Zelikoff indicate with a simple “Yes” or “No,” as to which of the false Water Defense health claims she would go on record supporting. Zelkoff refused to answer. Instead, she forwarded our request to “our attorney at NYU for his opinion.” Although Dr. Zelkoff (or her lawyer) refuse to go on record about the false claims Water Defense has implied that she supports, some reporters have checked with real scientists who would know. Stanford’s Dr. Richard Luthy and UMASS’s Dr. David Reckhow have refuted Water Defense claims.

In the meantime Ruffalo does not seem the slightest bit concerned that he is endangering the public health of Flint children by needlessly scaring already traumatized residents from practicing basic hygiene, or even that he and Smith are unqualified to render opinions on water safety issues. To the contrary, he laments that:

Acting has sort of become my day job now, sadly. It’s what I do to support all this other stuff. Why are we living in a modern society where we don’t trust the water that’s coming out of our tap? We shouldn’t be in that position.

In other words, brace yourself, because a Water Defense WATERBUG and solar powered Aquaflex™ filters may soon be coming to a bathroom near you— whether you need them or not.

Flint Does Not Need Ruffalo’s WATERBUG Sponges or the Aquaflex™ Filters

The Ruffalo Water Defense effort in Flint makes snake oil salesmen look ethical by comparison—at least snake oil offers a placebo effect, and would not cause people to stop bathing for no good reason. Today, after months of fear mongering about dangerous showers in Flint, the associated spike in disease possibly associated with resulting poor hygiene from consumers listening to their claims, and getting called out by FlintWaterStudy Water Defense now claims to HuffPost:

 Water Defense has never claimed that Flint water has worse DBP levels than other cities. Water Defense has not tested other cities for DBP.

What? Nevermind? We never said what we have said for months? Listen for yourself.  Water Defense is now saying that  Smith’s “breaking news” in early March, about the unique dangers to residents in Flint…that the Flint water was worse than oil field fracking water…or water he tested from 62 other disasters…..Smith never said any of that?  But yet he did, and it is too late to take it back.

….the breaking news today, is the chloroform and trihalomethane ….I have been to 62 disasters, and I have never seen the levels of contamination for chloroform in water like it is here.  ….As part of my 62 disasters, I have tested bathtubs and showers all over the country, and most of the time there is nothing there.  ..To put it in context <I tested> fracking contaminated waters in Pennsylvania..I found 27 ppb of toluene….and the state agencies were freaking out.  <In Flint> we are talking at Harold Harrington’s house …900 PARTS PER BILLION OF DICHLOROBENZENE ..At a hotel 150 ppb methlylene chloride….I am putting this in context.  At Water Defense that is irrefutable.

Water Defense should have pursued conventional product development and marketing strategy that first tested their ideas in a laboratory, followed by product approval, vetting and certification through established organizations such as the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF).  While that would take years of effort, at least it would not endanger the public in the process, or sucker gullible media into untold free advertising for the actor’s product rollout disguised as News.

Ruffalo’s “Sponge Bob Scare Pants” routine might be comedic, if the Flint tragedy were fictional and real people were not getting hurt from the misinformation—pseudoscientists should not be masquerading as real scientists during a Federal Emergency to hustle untested products. This horror show, featuring Ruffalo as the real world villain, cannot end soon enough for us.

Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards

Acknowledgements: Siddhartha Roy

Should you bathe/shower in Flint water (or any water)?

Using a public water supply for drinking or bathing, is a decision that each and every one of us have to make every day based on trust, science and other factors. equation

The trust issue is critical and cannot be underestimated. After what occurred in Flint from 2014 to the present day, if residents decide to never use tap water again for cooking, bathing or showering, who could blame them? Or for that matter, who could blame those making a similar decision after having witnessed (or hearing about) the Flint water crisis? We have met with residents of Washington D.C. who decades after being misled about water safety by CDC, EPA and the local utility DC WASA, will never drink unfiltered tap water again. That strikes us as a perfectly reasonable and rational decision based on life experience.  We would never try to “change your mind” on the issue of trust one way or another.  We are very upset that certain agencies responsible for water safety in this country, have proven themselves untrustworthy, and we aspire to do better.

In terms of the science, however, certain things are well understood and clear, and other things are not. As we have discussed previously, drinking, bathing, showering and washing hands in water is not a completely risk free activity in Flint (or elsewhere in the United States). How your body reacts to the water can depend on genetics, history of exposure, stress levels, and other factors such as the soaps and shampoos you purchase. So there cannot be one “right” answer.

Some people (especially immunocompromised individuals) can get disease from showering or bathing in public water supplies, including Legionnaire’s Disease. While the risk of anyone contracting disease from showering or bathing in the United States is very low, it is not zero. Also, if you are not showering and bathing because you think the water is giving you rashes or causing breathing difficulties, by all means, trust your judgment, and do not bathe or shower, because we do not fully understand this problem as it occurs in Flint or anywhere else in the U.S.

But a decision to not bathe, shower or wash your hands, increases your risk of contracting other serious sicknesses and disease.  Hygiene is very important—it is not just about looking or smelling good. Hand washing not only protects yourself, for example, but it protects people that you work with and that your children play with.  This is why many daycares, cruise ships and hospitals emphasize handwashing and hygiene.

Add it all up, for yourself and your family, and you have to make your own personal decision. We would never argue that Flint residents should take baths or showers in Flint water (or any other water), as there are alternatives such as sponge baths with distilled or bottled water which are not uncommon in other parts of the world, or using hand sanitizers in place of hand washing. But we do argue, that there are presently no scientifically valid chemical, biological or physical reasons, why bathing/showering in Flint water today is a riskier activity than in other cities.  In fact, given the intensive monitoring of the system by CDC and EPA, it is probably quite a bit safer.

We also argue, that if you stopped (or are thinking about stopping) bathing and showering, because of any of the following false claims that have recently been made:

  1. That Flint has a special problem with chloroform, or disinfection by-products in water heaters, that are worse than elsewhere in the US
  2. That Flint has higher DBPs, because they come from “corroding lead or galvanized pipe”
  3. That the Water Defense “Water Bug” test results, give DBP numbers higher than the EPA standard, and, therefore, prove or imply that Flint water is dangerous for showering or bathing
  4. That Flint residents are in significant danger, from breathing lead from Flint water, into their lungs during showers
  5. That Flint residents are in danger of low blood pressure from drinking or breathing phosphate in water

You have being misled. These issues, should not be part of any equation, that influence your personal decision whether to bathe or shower in present day Flint water.

FlintWaterStudy was founded, to provide clear and honest information, that residents can use to protect themselves and their children, and that others can use to understand the Flint experience. We were the first to demonstrate that Flint water was unsafe from lead, we did the Freedom of Information Act requests that revealed those who were responsible for this manmade disaster, and we will stay vigilant until the Flint Water Crisis is over.  We feel it is our duty to call out anyone who abuses science to obfuscate truth or potentially harm residents:  that includes the Feds, State, Local or Third Parties.  We will defend anyone who wants to be part of the solution, and we will question anyone who is creating problems.

Einstein Quote

Primary Authors: Dr. Marc Edwards and Siddhartha Roy

A-List Actor But F-List Scientist: Mark Ruffalo Brings Fear And Misinformation To Flint

Actor Mark Ruffalo (who once played a doctor in a movie) and his Water Defense team have been outspoken about current health dangers from bathing and showering in Flint water.  Two weeks ago, Ruffalo went on CNN to highlight the unique dangers of bathing in Flint, due to corroding pipes:

 “where the problem really lies…is not the EPA, nor the State of Michigan, nor Dr. Mona or Marc Edwards, can tell the people of Flint it is safe to bath in Flint water because there are no standards” …“we do not know where these disinfection by-products (DBPs) are coming from, are they coming from the corroded lead, or are they coming from galvanized iron pipes”

Ruffalo’s new claim, adds to a February press release of Water Defense “Chief Scientist” Scott Smith proclaiming “DANGEROUS CHEMICALS DISCOVERED IN BATHS/SHOWERS OF FLINT, MI.”  Exactly how Mr. Smith earned a title of “Chief Scientist” from Mr. Ruffalo is something of a mystery– he does not appear to have any scientific degree, nor has he played such a role in a movie.

The DANGEROUS CHEMICAL that Water Defense discovered and has been most concerned with?  Chloroform.  The same chemical that the EPA and water industry have been addressing for 40 years, and for which we now have standards via the total trihalomethane (TTHM) regulation. Chloroform is a TTHM found in tap water of every city using chlorine. When the TTHM regulation was established, the location and method of measurement was set in the cold water distribution system. By measuring at that location, and controlling the levels of TTHMs before they enter homes, consumers are protected after that same water flows to their baths and showers. Clearly, there are standards for chloroform and TTHMs, to protect public health of residents in Flint and the rest of the United States.  Those same regulations also reasonably control the concentration of other unregulated DBPs.

Water Defense has consistently presented their chloroform and DBP data, as if they have discovered something new, dangerous and unique to Flint residents. But I reviewed their data, and it is typical of a very good tap water, as is expected given that Flint has now switched back to Detroit water. As a further check I sent the Water Defense DBP results to Dr. David Reckhow at U-Mass Amherst, one of the foremost authorities on DBPs in the world.  While Dr. Reckhow has never played a doctor in a movie (and hence his informed opinion will probably not get broadcast on CNN) he stated: “There is nothing at all unusual or abnormal in the Flint DBP data.”

Ruffalo’s absurd hypothesis that DBPs in Flint could be coming from “corroded lead” or “galvanized iron,” defies basic laws of physics and chemistry. Indeed, we do know where DBPs come from—they do not come from corroded pipe.

Water Defense came to Flint after a Federal Emergency was declared, and has exploited the fears of traumatized Flint residents, whose unfortunate prior experience taught them to carefully listen to views of outsiders who question authority.  Flint residents can be forgiven for thinking otherwise, but not everyone who challenges the claims of the EPA, CDC and State of Michigan are automatically correct. Since the declaration of the state of emergency in January, most of the bad actors that caused the Flint water crisis have been fired or resigned or indicted.  These agencies have since been going a very difficult job to the best of their abilities.

More than a month ago we became alarmed that Flint residents were taking the irresponsible and unscientific claims of Water Defense seriously.  Recall that this group also falsely stated that Flint residents could suffer health harm from drinking water with phosphate, or from breathing lead into their lungs from showers!  At that time we asked them in writing:

Are you and the rest of Water Defense, willing to accept liability, for any health harm that arises if people not currently affected by rashes and other ailments, stop bathing? 

Water Defense refused to respond to this question, but they have backtracked, and now state that:

Water Defense would never say that Flint water is unsafe for bathing or showering, we are just saying we do not know.

Excuse me?  Isn’t this akin to standing up and screaming “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theatre—then, after watching panicked people stampede to the exits and getting hurt, claiming that “FIRE!” really meant “I DO NOT KNOW IF THERE IS A FIRE!.”

Amidst the heightened fears of water safety in Flint and the State of Michigan, there has now been a spike in gastrointestinal illness predominantly among school age children—the most common cause for this problem, by far, is a lack of proper bathing, showering and hand washing. Clearly, false and unsubstantiated claims about water safety, can hurt innocent people, just like shouting “Fire” in a crowded movie theatre. Mr. Ruffalo and Water Defense should be ashamed of themselves. Flint residents currently need funding and moral support—not pseudoscience and false alarms.

Question:  If Water Defense tells me that I found 200 ppb chloroform in my shower, does that mean I am over the EPA standard of 80 ppb?

One disturbing means by which Water Defense implies that Flint water is dangerous, is by conducting testing using a non-standard methodology and location, and implying that if a result greater than 80 ppb is achieved the water is dangerous according to EPA standards.  This is a common refrain of some consumers who have been given Water Defense results.

Put simply, a 200 ppb test value from Water Defense is over the 80 ppb EPA standard, and the water is proven dangerous right?  Wrong.

When an EPA regulation is set for safety, the location of the measurement and the method of the measurement is also specified. To compare a water to the standard, you need to sample according to the regulation.

The proprietary “Water Bug” sponge sampling technology pushed by Water Defense, has little or nothing to do with the EPA approved method.  It could give results 2, 5, 10 or even 100 times higher than the EPA standard, and it would say nothing at all about the regulated safety of Flint water.

Water Defense numbers cannot be compared to the EPA standard.

Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards

Note: This article has been modified to include a question from a Flint resident.

Are there DANGEROUS levels of chloroform in Flint water?

Are there DANGEROUS levels of chloroform in Flint water?

Over the last few months, it has repeatedly been asserted by some that there are dangerous levels of chemicals, such as chloroform, in Flint water heaters and showers.  Moreover, that prior testing conducted in Flint by Virginia Tech and others, has “focused on lead and copper only.” Both of these statements are false.

The water industry has known for 40 years, that chemicals such as chloroform are expected to form whenever chlorine is added to water.  Thus, the presence of chloroform is expected in all samples collected from a system using chlorine, as is the case in Flint and Detroit and many cities all over the United States.

The EPA and the water industry are concerned about these chemicals, and have a regulation designed to make sure that they are present in water at reasonably low concentrations.  This is called the total trihalomethane (TTHMs) regulation or Disinfection By-Products (DBP) regulation.  By controlling the levels of chloroform and other chemicals by regular measurement in the water distribution system, they are also reasonably controlled by extension, in consumer water heaters and showers.

When we went to Flint in August 2015, we did measure TTHMs and chloroform throughout the distribution system.  We reported at that time, that Flint was meeting Federal laws for TTHMs and chloroform.  We also collected a few samples of chloroform and TTHMs in cold and hot water samples, from homes/businesses on Detroit water and Flint water.  That data is presented in the table at the end of this article.  We did indeed find chloroform, but at levels similar to other U.S. cities, and well within normal expectations.  Continued monitoring of chloroform in Detroit water by EPA and others to the present day, has confirmed that there is nothing happening in relation to TTHMs since August 2015 that is outside of normal expectations.  If we hear or find problems with TTHMs, chloroform or DBPs, we would release those results immediately.

Most of our subsequent work has focused on lead, simply because the levels of lead in Flint water exceed Federal standards. All other parameters that we have been monitoring are within Federal standards, including chloroforms and TTHMs.

Legionella levels were high in some large buildings, as we have acknowledged, but unfortunately there are no Federal Laws currently regulating Legionella.  EPA, the city and state, are working aggressively to control potential legionella problems with chlorine and flushing.

 If chloroform is formed whenever chlorine is added to water, why don’t water utilities stop adding chlorine to water?

 The simple answer is that many, many people would die from waterborne diseases such as cholera and Legionella if utilities stopped adding disinfectant such as chlorine to water.  Hence, the relatively small risk arising from chloroform (and other similar DBPs) in water, is far outweighed by the large number of lives saved from killing dangerous microorganisms.  This is well understood and we link to a recent article on chloroform in drinking water that discusses this tradeoff.

TTHM Results from August 2015:


Q+A: Dr. Marc Edwards

Frequently Asked Questions for Flint Residents — 1+ Year Anniversary Edition

It has now been more than one year since we first worked with Lee-Anne Walters to thoroughly sample her house for lead and other metals. After analyzing those samples and recovering from the shocking high lead results, we eventually decided to launch what is likely the most thorough independent evaluation of a drinking water supply in U.S. history.

Those who have been following our work know that with the help of Flint residents, in August 2015 we sampled fecal bacteria, hot and cold water trihalomethanes (THMs), a full profile of metals from the source water to the tap, and even the emerging problem of opportunistic pathogens including Legionella.

We have been an honest broker. Our first reported results verified state and county claims that the fecal bacteria and THM problems in Flint were under control in August 2015. After we helped Flint residents reveal a widespread water lead problem, we laid out our logic as to why the state of Michigan was “both unscientific and irresponsible” in its claims the water was safe to drink in terms of lead levels.  We then asserted the water was unsafe to because the lead levels exceeded Federal standards — we feel subsequent events have proven that our judgment was correct. 

Since about early April 2016, we have increasingly been responding to citizen questions about claims made by a group that came to Flint after the Federal Emergency was declared and months after the city had switched back to Detroit water. We were initially hopeful that this group would help advance scientific understanding on behalf of Flint residents-after all they stated that they would “make certain that the irrefutable scientific data and truth leads the dialogue.”

Unfortunately, that has not been the case. This group has since proven itself to be unqualified, unscientific and irresponsible. Below we attempt to answer two exemplary questions from Flint residents, that have arisen from this groups wild and unsubstantiated claims (download their statement below).

Why is phosphate being added to the Flint water, if it causes my health problems including low blood pressure? 

Answer: Low levels of phosphate are being added to Flint water to restore the protective coating that once lined Flint pipes and kept lead out of the water.  About half of all utilities in the U.S. currently add phosphate to their water to control corrosion and reduce lead leaching. Phosphate was added to Flint’s water (via Detroit) for decades before the April 2014 switch.

We can find no basis for the claim that the low levels of phosphate presently added to Flint water in order to heal the system and reduce lead, can cause consumer health problems including low blood pressure.

After we heard this claim from residents and then read it in writing:

<<Group>> toxicologists have reviewed the testing results to date and have found that excessive phosphates can lead to low blood pressure which residents of Flint are reporting.”

we were initially in disbelief.

We asked twice to obtain a written statement from this group’s toxicologist(s) supporting this bizarre statement, or indeed, any rational basis for their alarmist claim. None have been provided to us.

Are we in danger from breathing lead in water into our lungs, and if so, why hasn’t EPA warned us about this health risk?

Answer:  You cannot breathe significant amounts of lead from water into your lungs.

After we heard this claim and read it in writing:

<<Group>> toxicologists have reviewed the testing results to date and have found that …aerosolized particulate lead from showers …can be inhaled directly to the lungs.

we were again initially in disbelief.  We again asked twice to see the toxicologist report supporting this unfounded statement, or indeed, any rational basis for this alarmist claim. None have been provided.

The group further asserted that aerosolized lead supposedly breathed into Flint consumers’ lungs, could be causing the rashes and breathing difficulties reported by residents. They also warned that following the flushing advice that all credible parties (EPA/CDC/City of Flint/Virginia Tech/MDEQ) agreed is necessary to help heal the pipes and clean out the Flint water system, could actually endanger residents:

 It may be that the flushing recommendations issued last Friday by the MI DEQ and the EPA could increase the risk of released volatile chemicals and/or aerosolized <lead> particulates that pose risks of inhalation.

The group has not provided any evidence to back up this counterproductive concern.


The individuals making these claims do not have expertise in potable water systems, epidemiology or toxicology, or for that matter any credentials that would qualify them to make statements about dangers of Flint’s current water supply from phosphate or aerosolized lead.

We do not reject their claims because of their complete lack of experience and qualifications.  We reject their claims because they are unable to back up their written public warnings about imminent possible dangers to Flint residents from phosphate or breathing lead from water, with scientifically plausible hypotheses, data, or supporting research.

After we pointed out problems with their logic and they failed to provide us the toxicologist reports supposedly supporting these claims, we asked that they publicly correct their erroneous statements. They have not done so.  Hence, we have no alternative but to provide this FAQ to counter their irresponsible claims. The last thing Flint residents need, after what occurred through October 2015, are more unfounded and unscientific assertions about their water supply.

We further note, for the record, that when we felt the MDEQ and EPA were wrong before the declaration of the state of emergency, we called them out on it publicly and in writing. Conversely, when these groups have provided scientifically valid advice, as they are now, we will defend them. Put simply, we will call out anyone who is creating problems through bad science, and defend anyone is working towards a solution with good science.

We further believe that the EPA, State of Michigan and CDC have been doing their best to help Flint residents since at least January 2016. While the government response has not been perfect, we believe it has been very good.  If anything, our only criticism, is that the Feds have erred on the side of excessive caution, when they publicly expressed concern that the lead filters might not be working at water lead levels above 150 ppb. Extensive testing data has confirmed that the lead filters do work.  While understandable confusion about the protectiveness of the filters has resulted, we do not fault the agencies for erring on the side of public safety when bottled water was also available.

We are also not excusing past mistakes. But we do acknowledge the outstanding efforts of hundreds of state, federal and city employees (and others) who have been doing their utmost to help the Flint water system and residents recover.  We will not stand silent, when the agencies outstanding efforts to help Flint consumers are unfairly attacked.

Download the group’s claims about Flint water:

Download (PDF, 53KB)

Q+A: Dr. Marc Edwards