A Sick National Joke: The EPA Lead and Copper Rule Comes (Again) to the U.S. Congress

Back in Summer 1991, the nation was concerned when high lead in water was found in the U.S. Congress:

But thank goodness we fixed the problem with the EPA Lead and Copper Rule.

Whoops. Six months after inhibitor was added to water, in response to the D.C. Lead Crisis, someone checked and the problem with high lead in water was still there.

Capitol Hill Workers Told Not to Drink From Faucets
By David Nakamura Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2005; Page B03
Capitol Hill employees have been advised not to use water from bathroom and kitchen faucets for drinking or cooking after tests last month discovered excessive levels of lead in water at the Library of Congress.

Now, after Flint, a national lead in water cheating scandal exposed by the Guardian, breaking news on lax enforcement by the EPA, and about the 6th time parents in D.C. schools figured out their kids were being exposed to dangerously high lead….someone decided to check Congress again. Yep….still there.

Lead Contamination in Congressional Office Building Forces Water Shutdown

By now we’re used to Congress’s abysmal public approval ratings and the complaints of our fellow citizens. “They’re doing what with my tax dollars!?” they exclaim. “Geez. It’s almost like there’s something in the water.” Well, actually, there is something in the water. 1:20 PM, Jun 29, 2016 | By Alice B. Lloyd

Nice to know that our Congress, gets just a taste of what Flint residents, our school children and the rest of the nation are enduring.

Author: Dr. Marc Edwards

UMass Experts Recruited To Address DBP Questions In The Aftermath Of The Flint Water Crisis

The ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan is a tragedy. The lead (Pb) issue is well documented, as are the health effects from ingesting lead. No safe blood Pb level in children has been identified, and exposure to elevated levels of Pb can cause intellectual impairment and other health issues.

More recently, concerns have arisen regarding disinfection byproducts (DBPs) in Flint drinking water. Unlike exposure to high levels of Pb, the risk from DBPs is a chronic exposure risk, not an acute poisoning risk. In general, consuming elevated levels of DBPs is thought to cause an increased risk of some cancers over a typical lifetime. For this reason, some representative DBPs are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Water Act.

DBPs are formed in the water distribution system through an oxidation reaction between chlorine and natural organic matter (NOM). This formation of DBPs is an unfortunate negative consequence of adding chlorine for water disinfection, which is very common in the United States and other countries. Water chlorination has been practiced for 112 years, starting in Jersey City.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of water chlorination–perhaps the most important public health breakthrough of modern civilization, leading to eradication of most waterborne disease. However, the chlorine required to inactivate pathogens also reacts with NOM to form halogenated (chlorine is a halogen) organic byproducts including total trihalomethanes (aka TTHMs) and Haloacetic Acids (HAAs). This reaction is well understood, and is known to be a function of NOM concentration and character, pH, chlorine dose, time, temperature and other factors. DBPs are always formed whenever chlorine is added to surface waters, but the concentration and type of DBPs vary somewhat from city to city.

TTHMs in Flint water were shown to be problematic in 2014, with violations noted in the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) of that year. (A similar violation for HAAs occurred in Amherst, Massachusetts that same year). Recently, DBPs including TTHMs have drawn attention following the discovery of Pb and other issues in the Flint Water system, and the subsequent measurement of some DBPs by non-scientists. However, the methods used in this sampling were unorthodox, relying on proprietary sponges marketed by the group, to collect samples, and the results are not comparable to refined and standard scientific methods. There are proven, peer-reviewed and published methods for collecting and analyzing DBP samples. These methods were refined by researchers at UMass, and trustworthy data that is scientifically rigorous are needed during times of crisis.

The UMass team was recruited by Virginia Tech, to execute the advanced DBP sampling. The team (lead by Dr. David Reckhow) is bringing drinking water quality expertise, to quantify the extent of DBP formation in the drinking water currently delivered to Flint residents, following the switch back to the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD). It should be noted that, before the switch to Flint River in 2014, DWSD water was far below regulatory limits for TTHMs and HAAs, and no changes to the system during the water crisis is expected to affect formation of DBPs in the Flint system.

Initial results from samples collected in May 2016 indicate that there is nothing exceptional about DBP levels in Flint. Additional rounds of sampling and analyses are now being conducted to gather more information. Beyond regulated TTHMs and HAAs, the UMass team is also conducting analysis for >60 unregulated byproducts to get a more complete picture of the drinking water quality.Results from analysis will be forthcoming.

Members of the UMass Flint DBP Team include:

Dr. Dave Reckhow (Team Lead)

Dr. Joe Goodwill (DBP sampling, THMs, Iodo-THMs and other volatiles)

Yanjun Jiang (Iodo-THMs and other volatiles)

Xuyen Mai (DBP sampling)

Xian “Max” Ma (DBP sampling, Haloacetamides)

Ran Zhao (Haloacetamides and HAAs)

Soon-Mi Kim (Haloacids)

Yun “Rosa” Yu (N-halo-haloacetamides)

Aarthi Mohan (Halobenzoquinones)

Pranav Mashankar (Aldehydes)

Sherrie Webb-Yagodzinski (Sampling preparation)

Select members from both UMass Amherst and Virginia Tech during a sampling trip in late-May
Select members from both UMass Amherst and Virginia Tech during a sampling trip in late-May

Primary Author: Dr. Joseph Goodwill

Acknowledgements: Drs. Dave Reckhow and Marc Edwards

Updates on Special Flint Sampling: Flushing and Lead, Disinfection By-Products and Legionella Sampling (May 31st 2016)

Presenters: Drs. Marc Edwards (Virginia Tech), Shawn McElmurry (Wayne State), Amy Pruden (Virginia Tech), David Reckhow (UMass-Amherst)

Watch the Press Conference in Flint:

Download a copy of the slides:

Download (PDF, 1.7MB)

Pictures from additional sampling for Disinfection By-Products and Lead by UMass-Amherst and Virginia Tech:

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 ..data 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