Part XIII. A “TRUTH” tacitly tailored to FACHEP’s needs

 

The January 11, 2017 Flint Town Hall

Editors Note:  In chapter XII, we revealed how Dr. Love’s attempt to rush out publication of her Flint filter manifesto over Christmas 2016 was rejected by 4 independent scientific reviewers. After months of baseless rumors about POU filters causing Shigella, respiratory problems and rashes, Love’s promised scientific paper that would give credibility to her claims would not be immediately forthcoming. Herein, we document how that awkward situation, was covered up with counternarratives, ingratiating FACHEP with Flint residents at the expense of the truth and the reputations of others.

FACHEP’S UNAPOLOGETIC DEFENSE OF TRIBALISM OVER TRUTH

FACHEP faculty have enthusiastically endorsed Dr. Pauli’s now published book Flint Fights Back, with Dr. Love reporting that the books first 60 pages are a MUST READ for anyone curious about what happened in Flint.” We read those very pages (which were available online in a free preview) and compiled excerpts of shockingly Machiavellian views on truth, tribalism, and conflicts of interest (read excerpts here).

We then compiled Dr. Pauli’s words into a concise statement below, that helps explain the unscientific and self-serving FACHEP behavior documented in this blog series.

A FACHEP PHILOSOPHY BASED ON WORDS (OF DR. PAULI) AND DEEDS We will engage in Flint as activists, researchers, and comrades, in a struggle against our enemy, the State of Michigan. Sometimes when you are engaged in a process of struggle, truth is your ally, and sometimes it isn’t; hence, we will contest official narratives not with facts, but with counternarratives. The utility of a narrative is sometimes inversely related to its accuracy and objectives, and it is foolish to expect anyone engaged in a struggle that involves their livelihood (including FACHEP faculty) to make impartiality an absolute value. At the end of the day our project is not about Truth with a capital “T,” but truth rooted in our experience with a small “t,” tacitly tailored to our needs and objectives. We don’t think any of this is inherently incompatible with the scientific enterprise or accepting funding from State of Michigan taxpayers.

Pauli’s unapologetic defense of tribalism over truth is expected for a Marxist anarchist radical social science professor engaged with comrades in an activist “struggle.” What we initially found more surprising, was that such reasoning and behavior could be adopted by other FACHEP engineers and scientists. 

But FACHEP was unusual from the start. Engineer McElmurry gained funding for FACHEP by lying about a 5 years of work “in Flint” and claiming his team had a “complete hydraulic model of Flint’s water system.” He ended his first phone call in October 2015 with Dr. Edwards on a political rant against the State of Michigan.

Dr. Love’s manipulative first email seeking funding was sent after she claimed media fame for once working with Dr. Edwards at Virginia Tech, after Flint was being discussed at international conferences, and about same time Dr. Pauli decided he could “no longer sit on the sidelines.” Ethical soulmates Love and McElmurry eliminated ethical obstacles that Drs. Raskin and Rose posed when first forming their team. In late 2016, Dr. Love dismissed team member Dr. Masten’s legitimate ethical concerns and eventually ostracized her.

Our point is that the FACHEP team was formed by a perverse process, selecting for certain character traits, including greed and a thirst for power, rather than a traditional process based on actual expertise and experience. In light of the above, let’s examine the FACHEP engineers’ behavior at the January 10 EPA Data Summit and the January 11, 2017 Flint Town Hall. 

FACHEP AT THE EPA DATA SUMMIT

The third and final EPA Flint data summit was held January 10, 2017. By this point the personnel involved in the relief effort had been collaborating productively for more than a year. The veteran group, with representatives from multiple local, state, and federal environmental and public health agencies, had been working overtime to ethically and respectfully fix Flint water problems since the declaration of the Federal Emergency in January 2016. All of the scientists and engineers had qualifying expertise and many had experience in other water crises.

Into their midst, parachuted FACHEP faculty, who had virtually no relevant drinking water experience and had done nothing of substance in Flint until late 2016. The veteran scientists were mystified as to how, or why, the State of Michigan provided a sole source multimillion dollar grant to a Michigan Legionella team that excluded respected experts like Drs. Rose and Raskin. That knowledge was not revealed until early 2019.

But everyone now had to deal with the team of inept FACHEP amateurs, who were desperate to create a Flint hero narrative for themselves, even if it meant casting aspersions or engaging in reckless speculation in public. When Edwards introduced heroic whistleblower Miguel Del Toral, who had been a key face of the Flint disaster response for over a year, McElmurry and Love seemed to have no idea who he was and could have cared less.   

Before the meeting, Dr. Edwards was warned to get ready for Dr. Love’s now infamous ego and Flint Water Crisis zero trick pony show. But to the surprise of many, Dr. Love, Zervos and McElmurry were quiet, professional, respectful and sullen throughout the meeting, perhaps because their Flint filter manifesto paper and grand plans had been derailed 48 hours earlier.

On the other hand, FACHEP’s Dr. Sullivan (Mechanical Engineer, Kettering University) inexplicably stormed out of the meeting in a huff by mid-morning. EPA Region V administrator Robert Kaplan later read a text message sent from Sullivan, claiming that the entire meeting was a setup and that Dr. Love’s research on allegedly dangerous bacteria in Flint filters was being ignored and disrespected.

In disbelief, Kaplan pointed out that the room was all professionally discussing Dr. Love’s results, which had been placed on the official agenda after Sullivan had left. It seemed odd to Edwards those in attendance accepted this juvenile temper tantrum as perfectly normal behavior for FACHEP faculty. 

By the end of the day, in discussions with Sullivan absent, it was unanimously agreed by all (including FACHEP) that Flint water was markedly improved and in the range of other U.S. cities with lead pipe. That consensus was immediately cited in media coverage of the event as follows:

“What was a crisis is now looking much like other cities,” said Kaplan, who sat in on the meeting. “The point I really want to empathize is that every researcher came at it differently and they all aligned. A lot of times it is difficult to achieve that kind of unanimity.” In a statement, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who attended the meeting, said it was important for her and staff members, including Flint’s water plant supervisor, public health advisor, and the city’s engineer, to hear the information firsthand and share it with residents.

FACHEP’S “OFFICIAL NARRATIVE”

Immediately after the data summit Kaplan met with FACHEP’s Dr. Love, Zervos and McElmurry when disagreement surfaced amongst the team, about what they planned to say during their Town Hall presentation in relation to the POU filters. According to Kaplan, Zervos and McElmurry supported the need to continue recommending the filters, but Dr. Love said she wanted to advise Flint residents concerned about her prior fearmongering to “boil filtered water.”

This prompted a flurry of emails the next morning, in which everyone wanted to know, what FACHEP would say during the Town Hall. Edwards imagined a FACHEP debate behind the scenes, with Dr. Love stubbornly defending her position to other FACHEP faculty. Love’s explanation for her “boil water” position provided to a data summit group email, was that: “If my family lived in Flint, it is what I would do and I cannot ethically suggest differently to the residents of Flint.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Love did not reveal, that her family living in Ann Arbor, had been boiling filtered water based on Love’s erroneous “Shigella hits” in Flint, since at least September 2016 and before she had any defensible data. It seemed that Dr. Love had invested so much of her effort and credibility into months of filter fearmongering, she could not backtrack without an embarrassing loss of face.

Dr. Eden Wells expressed the wish, that FACHEP had obtained a high level expert review of the “boil water” advice before their December meeting in the Flint library, and of course FACHEP never shared that their unscientific views had just been rejected by 4 independent experts.  Requests from Dr. Wells for scientific data or publications backing the “boil water” advice went unanswered, as did yet another request from EPA to put the bacteria work into context—even politicians engaged in Flint were worried about the baseless rumors.      

At 11:41 am, just 7 hours before the Flint Town Hall, an email from FACHEP to speakers at the Town Hall finally announced:

While we do not have complete consensus, there are important areas of agreement and perhaps another approach is to emphasize those this evening.

The water is much improved.

Residents should continue to use filters.

As for FACHEP’s position on Dr. Love’s “boil filtered water” recommendation, that took more time, but at 12:20 pm they finally wrote:

We have agreed that the language we use is that “Individuals may choose to boil water. . . “ This is a choice that individuals may make based on their circumstances. We are not saying that we recommend boiling water.

For old-school scientists and engineers who don’t understand FACHEP’s concept of many “truths,” it temporarily appeared FACHEP made a reasonable decision they could all live with. Edwards was even duped into writing a conciliatory email, given that the false narrative FACHEP was spreading against him was about to be publicly renounced.

But FACHEP’s engineers had many different versions of the “truth.” There was “our” truth, a truth with a little “t,” a truth with a capital “T”, a “whole truth,” a “truth” for the Flint public, and still another “truth” for the data summit scientists and engineers. There were also official narratives based on facts, and FACHEP counternarratives whose usefulness was “inversely related to their accuracy.” Let’s now examine how well FACHEP engineers duplicitously juggled their official narrative with their counternarrative at the Flint Town Hall.

THE FACHEP COUNTERNARRATIVE

We now know that FACHEP was in a pickle. First, McElmurry previously refused to agree with Edwards, just a month earlier, that Flint water quality “is much improved.”  Yet FACHEP had just confirmed in writing that Flint water “is much improved.”

And at that very moment, FACHEP faculty were spreading a counternarrative (i.e., a lie) throughout Flint that was useful to them, claiming that McElmurry had turned down Edwards’ email requesting that he “declare Flint water as safe as other cities.” Just a day earlier, McElmurry had agreed that was a consensus of the data summit.

And if that is not bad enough, FACHEP was also actively supporting a counternarrative that Flint water was actually getting worse every day, to “win over the activists” for whom the state of Michigan was the number one enemy.

With so many conflicting “truths” to keep straight, how could the FACHEP engineers publicly follow through on their promise to emphasize that Flint water “is much improved”? Well, they couldn’t, and they wouldn’t.

Instead, just hours before the Town Hall,  Dr. Sullivan (FACHEP official trust builder) went on social media and wrote the following counternarrative about the EPA meeting she had left in a snit (emphasis added):

Dear friends, Yesterday I attended a data summit, hosted by the US EPA. … suffice it to say that there’s nothing to suggest that the quality of water in Flint has improved consistently,… I’d like to say that tonight’s townhall, orchestrated to deliver a summary of yesterday’s EPA meeting, has not been choreographed. But it has. …Who knows why the state and Marc Edwards seek to proclaim that Flint is in no worse a situation than other cities. Please know that they are wrong.

Dr. Sullivan then told her social media audience to share her postaround the world.” Some Flint activists went to the Town Hall, angered and primed to attack anyone who would dare say the water was improving.

THE FACHEP CHOREOGRAPHED MEETING AND AMBUSH

During the Town Hall presentations (recorded online) everyone but FACHEP emphasized scientific points agreed upon at the EPA data summit meeting. When Mark Durno of EPA stated that the water was improving and that residents should use filters, on Sullivan’s cue, the activists started protesting by “crinkling” water bottles (see 9 minutes to 11 minutes). They also crinkled Dr. Nicole Lurie of DHHS for making similar statements.

When it came time for McElmurry and Love to speak (start at 20:45 here), they did not say a word about improving water, nor did they say residents should continue to use filters. Incredibly, they said almost nothing of substance. McElmurry and Love’s basically repeated “we don’t know” over and over, along with the refrain “we are independent researchers.” They did not present a single definitive point about Flint water quality and McElmurry even stated he did not have time to discuss FACHEP data presented in Chicago (watch 23:26 here). They also covered their tracks by withholding their Chicago presentations from release to the  Flint public.

Two minutes after Love and McElmurry finished, Mayor Weaver gave a kind introduction to Dr. Edwards and posed a question about the status of Flint water (see 32:56 here), which Edwards summarized as per the Mlive article. On Sullivan’s cue, the activists crinkled their bottles. Things went downhill rapidly thereafter in a truly “choreographed” fashion. 

EPA Flint whistleblower Miguel Del Toral had been watching activists Dr. Sullivan, Tony Palladeno and Adam Murphy huddled in discussion. Eventually, when Del Toral was answering a question, Palladeno (sitting right next to FACHEP’s Dr. Sullivan and Zervos) broke protocol and interrupted the meeting (see 0.33 seconds here). A little later, on the other side of the room, Adam Murphy read from Dr. Love and FACHEP’s narrative that Dr. Edwards had financial conflicts of interest and had been “bought,” even asserting Edwards wasted “a half million dollars to sample 156 homes” (see 0:54 seconds), before accusing Miguel Del Toral of having “no solutions” (see Del Toral 1:04- 1:08 here).

Tony Palladeno originally sitting next to FACHEP’s Dr. Sullivan and Zervos (red circle) stands and interrupts the Town Hall.

An unedited one minute close up of Adam Murphy and his colleagues’ statements to Del Toral including “Shame on you,” “you all look like a joke,” and “you get paid to do nothing, by killing us…” can be observed at this close up Mlive camera angle.

The World Socialists Web Site later gave Edwards some space to correct the FACHEP and friends counternarrative publicly expressed by Murphy:

“Our actual total contract with EPA was $38,000. Moreover, that money was used to hire a team of Flint residents to do the work and pay for the chemical analysis. I also paid, out of my own pocket, $20 to each Flint resident who participated in the sampling. And LeeAnne Walters volunteers her time to lead the Flint sampling team. …Maybe the reason some residents are so mad is that they are getting false information.”

For whatever reason, a pre-determined cue for a massive “die in” by the activists was ignored, but otherwise the FACHEP and friends plans went off without a hitch.   

MANY ACTIVISTS WERE NOT ON BOARD WITH FACHEP

Despite Dr. Sullivan’s orchestration and misinformation campaign, many Flint activists were not onboard with the counternarrative.  East Village magazine reported:

Flint area environmental activist Mike Haley has an unsympathetic take on Flint’s wounded water warriors who disrupted the Town Hall.  “Thank god, they finally settled down,” he told EVM.  “It was somewhat embarrassing.  This was no longer two years ago.  The whole calculus has changed and people should respond to the new reality—that people are not lying to them.”

Later that evening, William Hammond even went on FACEBOOK to challenge Dr. Sullivan’s claims that only FACHEP could be trusted. Dr. Sullivan responded as follows (read edited exchange below or full exchange here): 

William Hammond: Can you explain what the difference of opinion is between the experts? I hear that the water still is not safe to use w/o filters. That a high percentage of tested homes are below the Federal standard. I don’t see this information as contradictory. In your statement above you make it sound like there is disagreement between the experts, Dr. Edwards, & McElmurry & some others.

Laura Sullivan: Where disagreement exists is over (1) whether or not to say that lead is the only pathogen of concern, (2) whether or not the water distribution system (pipes) have reached equilibrium and is stable, and (3) whether or not Flint can be categorized as being like any other city with lead pipes.

William Hammond: Thanks. I did not pick that up at tonight’s mtg. It seemed like they were all pretty much in agreement.

Laura Sullivan: I get that. A townhall can’t really be a format for critique and debate.

Not only does this illustrate the outright duplicity of FACHEP’s engineers, but it once again reveals their complete ignorance of the subject matter– lead is not a pathogen, it is a toxic metal.   

THE FACHEP HEROES OF THE FLINT TOWN HALL

In his intellectually dishonest historical account of the events documented above, Dr. Pauli proudly writes:

The changing landscape of scientific credibility in Flint was illustrated vividly the next month during a key town hall about water. The activists…were determined not to be passive <and>…devised a craftier means of expressing their discontent, distributing empty water bottles that members of the audience were to crinkle whenever they disagreed with something being said. Edwards, appearing via webcam, touted the water system’s recovery over some of the most emphatic crinkles of the night. Even Miguel del Toral received his fair share for making similar comments (not coincidentally, it was the last public appearance I saw him make in Flint). When McElmurry and Love presented about FACHEP’s work, however, the activists sat in respectful silence.

We now have to agree with Dr. Love, that Pauli’s book is a “MUST READ for anyone curious about what happened in Flint,” because it documents just how completely delusional FACHEP’s stories are. Anyone who claims victory, by running Miguel Del Toral out of town for honestly reporting that the water system was recovering, after all his sacrifices for Flint residents, thereby leaving the residents at the mercy of the self-serving and clueless FACHEP team is truly demented.

We also note that Pauli says not one word about Love and McElmurry reneging on a written promise to emphasize improving water, the months of prior FACHEP counternarratives and fearmongering, or Sullivan’s duplicitous social media postings just before and just after the meeting.  

SORRY ABOUT DEATH THREATS.  BUT ON SECOND THOUGHT, WE AREN’T.

After the meeting Edwards received still more FACHEP-instigated threats, heard about the unfair verbal assault on Del Toral, read Sullivan’s social media misinformation and was understandably upset. He complained to McElmurry that Sullivan’s post was “unprofessional.”

The FOIA lawsuit revealed that Dr. Love, following up on her smirk from the day before after learning about the FACHEP-instigated death threats, wroteI would be careful about letting Marc bait a response out of us… I suggest that we talk about it as a team, AFTER you are done with your class today. In my view, it does not require a response in the next few hours.” 

Dr Zervos, initially showed a hint of a conscience, when he wrote:

I suggest don’t respond other than sorry he is getting death threats.”

McElmurry a first wrote a draft response (never sent) acknowledging that threats are unacceptable, but absolving himself for any responsibility. He also suggested that Edwards’ email asserting FACHEP was behaving unprofessionally amounted to a “personal attack.” He even wrote to the other FACHEP faculty:

“I really do worry that Marc is unstable”

Love’s  “team” email response eventually arrived 4 days later. McElmurry gave his standard line that he was a very busy and important man, and could not be bothered to defend his scientific positions or team’s actions. He also implied (cc’ing Dr. Sullivan and thereby showing approval for her great work) that Edwards deserved the death threats, because he wanted FACHEP to claim “all water in Flint was safe:”

we are committed to being respectful and professional…With limited time, I cannot respond to all of your emails….Based on our understanding of our data at this time, we are unable to conclude that all water in Flint is safe…Best of luck with the semester ahead.

At this point we wonder if FACHEP could even distinguish their frequently told lies from the truth, because as Dr. Wells and Edwards repeatedly stated, no one ever asked FACHEP to claim “all water in Flint is safe.”

EPA’s Mark Durno reported that over the next 9 months Dr. McElmurry sheepishly confessed that FACHEP knew Flint water had been “much improved” from 2015 onwards, but it was still “too soon”’ for the FACHEP engineers to admit that truth publicly.

Pleased by FACHEP’s grand success at the Flint Town Hall, and considering that Del Toral and the relief agencies were now discredited, over the next 16 months Dr. Love would escalate her conniving crybully campaign against Dr. Edwards. Why? Well, why not? According to Pauli, “the utility of a particular narrative is sometimes inversely related to its accuracy and objectives”…and  “we” who struggle have “our” truth—a truth rooted in our experience,…a truth with a small “t,” tacitly tailored to our needs and objectives.”

FOIA UPDATE:  We herein provide official FOIA documentation that Dr. McElmurry attended the Introduction to EPANET hydraulic modelling class in late 2018. The same person, who falsely claimed to have unprecedented EPANET hydraulic model intellectual property related to the Flint water system in late 2015, has finally completed a class in EPANET hydraulic modeling for novices. Congratulations to Dr. McElmurry, who Dr. Love recently lamented  was “mostly unknown and unsung” for his “truly inspiring efforts on behalf of Flint residents.”

Primary Author: Dr. Marc A. Edwards

[Editorial] FACHEP faculty derailed Flint criminal prosecutions

We were not surprised when the Michigan Attorney General’s office dropped all Flint criminal prosecutions last week due to weak evidence. Thirty months ago, we realized Special Prosecutor Todd Flood was so myopically focused on allegations of professors associated with the Flint Area Community Health and Environmental Partnership (FACHEP), that he was failing to gather appropriate evidence on actual Flint Water Crisis crimes.  

Recall that it was the testimony of professors Drs. Shawn McElmurry, Mark Zervos and Paul Kilgore of Wayne State University (WSU) that caused Flood to charge Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) employee Dr. Eden Wells with felony obstruction of justice, for “threatening to withhold funding” from the Flint Area Community Health and Environmental Partnership (FACHEP).

That’s right. There are possible crimes associated with the original decision to use Flint River water, elevated lead in children’s blood lead due to an acknowledged failure to follow Federal law, deaths from Legionnaire’s disease, and a cover up of water quality problems that occurred in 2014 and 2015. Yet Flood decided to prosecute a crime that allegedly occurred on a State-funded research grant after the Federal Emergency was declared, based on testimony of professors who did nothing of substance in Flint until late 2016. 

In the Wells and Lyon pre-trials, the FACHEP professors testified for days and days, complaining that the State reduced their initial 2016 funding request of $13 million dollars to $4 million dollars, their grant was delayed, and they felt threatened in a phone call with Dr. Wells (amongst other petty issues). In the meantime, pre-trial evidence presented relative to crimes occurring in 2014-2015 was mostly limited to what Flintwaterstudy (and others) revealed long ago through Freedom of Information Act requests.

LeeAnne Walters, Keri Webber, and Virginia Tech’s Dr. Edwards, realized in early 2017 that Flood was so obsessed by the claims of FACHEP faculty, that he was not appropriately emphasizing discovery of evidence for other illegal activity. In May 2017, after our personal experiences caused us to question the credibility of FACHEP faculty, LeeAnne Walters and Dr. Edwards filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for WSU emails. In 2018, Dr. Edwards and Dr. Masten (a former FACHEP member and Professor at Michigan State University) independently alleged to the Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) that Dr. McElmurry exaggerated his professional qualifications to win his Flint research funding.

The LARA investigation that ended in early 2019, confirmed McElmurry did exaggerate his qualifications. We had to file a lawsuit with assistance of lawyers from Mackinac Center to force WSU to release hundreds of withheld FACHEP emails, and then authored 15 blogs in 2019 that cast serious doubt on their allegations. We documented obvious inconsistencies in McElmurry’s sworn testimony about work “in Flint” and his false claim about having a complete hydraulic model of the Flint water system in 2015.

We even obtained a recording of the original phone call between Dr. Wells and FACHEP in which the alleged “threats” to withhold funding were made—the recording does not sound like a threat to an objective listener, especially considering that Dr. Wells was dealing with misinformation provided to the public by FACHEP faculty.

Flood’s preoccupation with the alleged FACHEP felony also alienated several individuals who helped expose the Flint Water Crisis in the first place. For instance, both Dr. Edwards and LeeAnne Walters were originally listed as fact witnesses for the prosecution. However, Flood repeatedly promised, and failed, to provide Walters with written documentation regarding evidence supporting FACHEP’s allegations. Flood and his team were also completely disorganized in handling Walters testimony. Eventually, Walters lost trust in Flood, to the point she refused to meet with him unless her personal attorney was also present.

Dr. Edwards and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha were never called by Flood as fact witnesses in his case against Dr. Wells. In fact, their testimony, was eventually subpoenaed by defense attorneys. It is heart-breaking to realize that millions and millions of dollars and years of effort, were spent investigating and prosecuting an alleged FACHEP felony, at the expense of gathering real evidence and prosecuting the actual crimes that occurred in 2014-2015. 

Worst of all, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) employees, who arguably have the most criminal culpability for the Flint Water Crisis (including doctored reports, wrongly invalidated samples and lying to the EPA in writing), were given plea bargains in exchange for their promise to testify against others. While we wonder if everyone charged at MDEQ was guilty of crimes, we believe that some were, and these employees are now returning back to work.

We hope that the new prosecutors invest their energy and resources, investigating crimes that occurred in 2014-2015, and not “crybully” complaints of FACHEP faculty who did nothing of substance in Flint until late 2016. Strong cases can still be brought against those responsible, based on the existing evidence and that which can still be discovered.

All of the Flintwaterstudy blogs and documentation on this misunderstood issue are linked below, for anyone who wants to better understand how such an unthinkable waste of taxpayer funding and prosecutorial energy could occur. More blogs on the still relevant FACHEP fiasco will be forthcoming. 

Primary Author: Dr. Marc A. Edwards

FLINTWATERSTUDY INVESTIGATIVE SCIENCE REPORTING

FACHEP versus the People of the State of Michigan

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

Part 7: LOVE THE ALARMIST:  THE REAL STORY ON SHIGELLA AND WATER FILTERS (August 12 TO December 2, 2016)

Part 8: WHEN LOVE TURNED TO HATE

THE SAGA OF THE SLIDES: HIGHLIGHTS OF WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY RESPONSE

Part 9: ONE DAY OF UNFILTERED LOVE

Part 10: Conclusion of First LARA Investigation into Dr. McElmurry

Part 11: ENGINEERING ETHICS: FACHEP → FLINTCOMPLAINTS → RHETORICAL HYPERBOLE

Part 12: What Wonders Love Hath Wrought

The Tragi-Comedy of McElmurry’s Flint Hydraulic Model

From Hero To Pariah, Flint Water Expert Fights For His Reputation: Some Additional Insights

Trust-building in an Age of Distrust (Guest blog Dr. Masten)

News Release | Scientists reveal the timing and magnitude of lead release during the Flint Water Crisis.

Please note: The uncorrected proof of our new journal article has been published online. The final corrected version will be released soon. The existing document has several typographical errors arising from file conversion. A corrected final version of the document is forthcoming. The scientific substance of the uncorrected proof is accurate. 

Media inquiries:

The lack of valid drinking water lead measurements during the Flint Water Crisis has spurred controversy, speculation and angst about harmful human health exposures. A new research study published in the peer-reviewed journal Water Research, took advantage of routine lead measurements of Flint’s sewage sludge, to gain unprecedented insight to Flint’s drinking water lead levels from 2011-2017. Lead in drinking water is eventually trapped in sewage sludge, that must be analyzed monthly for metals before incineration or disposal, allowing calculation of the total monthly lead mass that is removed during sewage treatment..

“There was an anomalous spike in sewage sludge lead, and by extension the drinking water lead, during three summer months immediately after the 2014 switch to Flint River water—this is the first direct proof that the elevated water lead levels could have caused the increased blood lead of Flint children” first author Dr. Sid Roy stated. The research confirms prior hypotheses of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others. “On the other hand, the excess lead in sewage sludge during the 18 months before the public was notified of problems in October 2015, was only 14% higher than the corresponding time period before the switch to Flint River,” Roy noted.

By demonstrating that the water lead spiked in summer 2014, but overall lead release was only slightly increased other time periods, some seemingly contradictory and conflicting research perspectives on the Flint Water Crisis are reconciled. Roy indicated that “There was a marked elevation in water lead summer 2014, temporarily increasing the blood lead of children, but the problems in the other months did not statistically impact lead in sewage sludge or childrens blood lead compared to before the Flint Water Crisis.”

Because lead in biosolids was so strongly correlated to lead levels in Flint’s drinking water, it was possible to estimate Flint’s water lead levels going back to 2011. Roy and his Virginia Tech co-authors Dr. Min Tang and Marc Edwards, indicate that during the worst month of the Flint Water Crisis (June 2014), the 90th percentile water lead level was 77-98 ppb, well over the EPA action level of 15 ppb. Their analysis also revealed that water lead and children’s blood lead levels also spiked in tandem back in 2011, well before the Flint Water Crisis. Roy stated “This indicates that even before corrosion control was abruptly interrupted in April 2014, after the switch to Flint River, elevated water lead was probably a significant issue in Flint.”

The work also allowed for a direct comparison to the Washington D.C. lead in drinking water crisis (2001-2004), that had been previously associated with very high incidence of elevated blood lead in children and even increased fetal death rates in prior research by Edwards. The worst month of the Flint Water Crisis, June 2014, had lead levels in the range of those reported throughout during the D.C. Lead Crisis, but all other months were much lower. 

There is also some good news. Roy’s analysis demonstrates that lead in water, lead in sewage, and incidence of elevated blood lead in Flint children are now trending to historically low values.  Edwards points out “This provides another set of independent scientific data, demonstrating the effectiveness of the public health interventions including enhanced disinfection, enhanced corrosion control and lead pipe replacement, and the steady improvement in Flint drinking water quality since the switch back to Lake Huron water in 2015.”

Funding agency disclaimer: This research work was partially funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Grant No. 8399375 “Untapping the Crowd: Consumer Detection and Control of Lead in Drinking Water.” This research has not been formally reviewed by EPA. The views expressed in the article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Agency. EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication.  

Trustbuilding in an age of distrust

Guest Blog: Dr. Susan Masten (Michigan State University)

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently held a round-table discussion in Flint on April 10, 2019 in which Kettering University’s Dr. Laura Sullivan (FACHEP) made specific claims about Flint’s water quality, sampling methodologies, perceived disregard for Flint’s poor and public schools, and potential manipulation in protocols by state officials when conducting tests in Flint schools. In this blog, I will investigate the veracity of Dr. Sullivan’s claims.

Dr. Sullivan Comment 1: There are parts of Flint that are not being tested at the same sort of regularity as others and it tends from what I can see to be the parts of Flint where the people are the poorest which turns out because of blight and water age the parts of Flint that might actually have the worst water and so I would like there to be a sort of conscious effort to make sure that when water is being tested and we are reporting that you know we’re under the 15 ppb or 10 ppb whatever threshold in parts of Flint that we can say with confidence that we’ve evaluated water in the parts of Flint that are being overlooked or just not given the kind of attention that they probably need more than any other parts of Flint.

Dr. Masten’s Response: I would like to know what evidence Dr. Sullivan has that some areas of Flint are not being tested as regularly as others. In fact, it seems to me that a conscious effort has been made to ensure that sampling programs cover all areas of Flint. As one example, the map below (Figure 1 bottom; dated May 2018) illustrates the revised monitoring program for chlorine residual and E. coli.  The map shows that the new monitoring stations are evenly distributed across the city, and monitoring stations are located in poorer areas and areas with a high percentage of racial minorities. To my knowledge, there is no evidence to support the implication that the poorest parts of Flint are being systematically ignored.

Figure 1 (top) Census block data on where people in Flint live (source)
Figure 1 (center) Poverty level by census tract (source)
Figure 1 (bottom) May 2018 sampling locations (source)

As to the question of water age, a major effort has already been made to address the issue of water age.  The January 2018 report on hydraulic modeling illustrates that monitoring stations #3 and #4 are located in the southwest corner of the city which has very high water age (see Figure 2). The 4th quarter data (the most recent quarterly data available) indicate that the chlorine levels are within an acceptable range (1.08 to 1.82 mg/L), while phosphate levels, turbidity and iron are similar to those in the rest of the city.  Unfortunately, the system is oversized and as the report concludes “because of Flint’s low customer demands and a large number of dead ends, widespread solutions for high water age may not be possible.”  However, very clearly conscious efforts are being made to address this issue. 

Figure 2. Water age map. (from January 2018 report on hydraulic modeling)

Dr. Sullivan Comment #2:   The other part of my question is related to the testing of the water in schools. Just, I don’t know exactly what caused this oversight, but the lead and copper rule and the Safe Drinking Water Act does not talk about testing water in schools. And it wasn’t until we were into this crisis then looked around the room and said “Ok, so who is testing the water in schools? Then we realized that,” … but the problem is then in my view the protocol for developed by people in a room and it involved pre-flushing lines before water was tested and there is research that says that that can mask the presence of lead. So what I am hoping for and I know because this is something that might not naturally fall under DEQ because it is the schools and it might be a different department that something can be created to make sure that whatever methods are used to test water in schools are informed by current research and not by people in a room who are thinking about what is possible or what is rational or whatever and that the people, teachers, and parents are brought in to the loop before that testing is taken on, and oh yeah, we’ll talk to you once we get the results, but really, this is all the trust thing; the people are part of this at the beginning, it is so much easier for them to trust.

Dr. Masten’s Overall Response: Dr. Sullivan seems to imply that the State of Michigan and the authorities have not taken the issue of lead in water in Flint schools seriously, are manipulating the school sampling protocol, or are otherwise undeserving of the public trust. Unfortunately, Dr. Sullivan’s inaccurate remarks only serve to feed the distrust that she would like to see addressed. Let’s go through Dr. Sullivan’s comments point by point:

Sullivan 1: “I don’t know exactly what caused this oversight, but the lead and copper rule and the Safe Drinking Water Act does not talk about testing water in schools….

Response 1: The Safe Water Drinking Act only applies to community and non-community water systems.  Flint Community Schools are neither a community nor a non-community water system.  To require testing in Flint schools would require new legislation, such as that introduced in the Michigan House in 2018 to mandate school testing for lead. As that bill was not taken up by the House, there are no laws in Michigan that require lead testing in schools.  Although water lead testing is not required by law, the U.S. EPA has been encouraging schools (such as FCS) to conduct voluntary water lead testing since 1990.

Sullivan 2: we… looked around the room and said, ok, so who is testing the water in the schools?”

Response 2: MDEQ completed an initial screening of Flint public schools for lead in the water on October 2, 2015. I am not aware of any evidence that suggests that this initial screening was prompted by questions from Dr. Sullivan.  It should be noted that additional testing was done in late 2015 and early 2016, and an aggressive program to replace outdated fixtures was initiated in 2017. Extensive testing was conducted again in early 2018.

Sullivan 3: “the protocol was developed by people in a room and it involved pre-flushing lines before water was tested and there is research that says that that can mask the presence of lead.”

Response 3: The protocol that was used in Flint schools was based on advice from U.S. EPA personnel. It is important to note that samples were always taken prior to flushing.  The samples collected after flushing provide additional information, not to “mask the presence of lead.” For example, in the 2018 sampling event, 250 mL samples of unfiltered water were taken before flushing. Flushing was then done and after overnight stagnation additional samples were taken.  This additional sampling was done  to standardize the stagnation time. Additional sampling was planned; however, the FCS personnel determined that it was unnecessary,

Sullivan 4: “So what I am hoping for and I know because this is something that might not naturally fall under DEQ because it is the schools and it might be a different department that something can be created to make sure that whatever methods are used to test water in schools are informed by current research and not by people in a room who are thinking about what is possible or what is rational or whatever.”

Response 4: School testing is not under the jurisdiction of MDEQ. 

Dr. Sullivan is wrong when she says the methods used in 2018 were not based on current research. If Dr. Sullivan has evidence to suggest this was not the case, I would like to see it.

Sullivan 5: “..and that the people, teachers, and parents are brought in to the loop before that testing is taken on, and oh yeah, we’ll talk to you once we get the results.”

Response 5: Teachers and parents have enough to do, without conducting original research on lead in school water sampling and developing testing protocols. Also, the protocols should be standardized so that results are comparable and meaningful. It would be impossible to do this if every school devised their own unique sampling protocol. 

Concluding Comments.

The inaccurate and unsubstantiated comments made by Dr. Sullivan at this round-table only serve to foster distrust by suggesting that MDEQ is incompetent and working overtime to cover up problems with Flint’s water. My own experience personally witnessing and working on this problem contradicts this assertion. Every effort was made to use the best science to devise a plan to sample lead in schools. What happened in 2014 and 2015 was ill-fated and is the subject of ongoing litigation and criminal cases, which will hopefully hold responsible parties accountable, but the best interests of the people of Flint are not served by constant unfounded criticism of legitimate efforts made to rectify problems.

From Hero To Pariah, Flint Water Expert Fights For His Reputation: Some Additional Insights

The Detroit News just published a story related to this FACHEP blog series. We want to emphasize and expand on a few key points related to our evolving investigative science work.

1. Dr. McElmurry and WSU, have still not provided a shred of evidence, supporting McElmurry’s written claim of working “in Flint” from 2010-2015. Nor have they resolved inconsistencies in his testimony under oath in Wells or Lyon criminal case about prior work “in Flint.” McElmurry continues his pattern of evasion and deflection in the Detroit News article:

“It is critical that the public trust our work,” <McElmurry> said in a statement. “Unsubstantiated accusations against researchers or members of the community do not help advance scientific understanding.”

2. FACHEP has not refuted a single fact, from the mountains of information we have painstakingly gathered and transparently presented. Every accusation has been substantiated. While we understand that FACHEP wants the public to trust their work, is such trust justified? Have Michigan taxpayers, or the cause of justice, benefitted from the millions and millions spent on FACHEP and their crybully felony criminal cases?  

3. Spoiler Alert: Dr. Edwards and Dr. Wells did separately demand, in writing, that FACHEP public correct their false public scientific rumors in May 2017. This was after both endured 6+ months of public and private FACHEP strategic maligning. Mr. Donnelly accurately characterizes Dr. Edwards demand as an ultimatum, that FACHEP leadership (Drs. McElmurry/Love) refused to issue a correction, and that Dr. Edwards fulfilled his written vow to correct the record publicly and transparently. This entire series would have been avoided, if Drs. McElmurry/Love had corrected FACHEP false statements and personal attacks in May 2017.

4. The article makes an unspecified FACHEP claim that Dr. Edwards is “unwilling to entertain new research.” Is FACHEP referencing their novel hypotheses that the Shigella outbreak, rashes and respiratory problems arose from the POU filters in Flint? Is it referencing McElmurry’s false quotes about chlorine standards, or FACHEP’s advice to “boil water” before drinking it or bathing in it, or their unsubstantiated claim of “abnormal” bacteria in Flint? We remain perplexed.

5. In relation to Water Defense (as in the case of FACHEP), Dr. Edwards went to great lengths to avoid a public confrontation. Mr. Smith and Flintwaterstudy have since reconciled. We shared our story in a guest blog post, in news articles, and even co-authored a “Lesson’s Learned” section of a peer reviewed publication on Citizen Science. The public confrontation with Water Defense was painful for everyone. Unfortunately, we deemed it necessary. The public confrontation with FACHEP is also unfortunate and necessary. We believe that the harm done by the FACHEP PhD’s, dwarfs any harm done by Water Defense, by orders of magnitude.

6. Dr. Ben Pauli (Kettering), still cowardly refuses to acknowledge, whether he personally instigated or co-authored the Flintcomplaints letter he once attributed to “residents.” Pauli equivocates to the Detroit News as follows:

“Pauli said he and others wrote the second letter but wouldn’t say whether he penned the first. He said the more important issue was the fact that so many residents had signed it. “The authorship is not what matters,” he said. “What matters is what the letter says. That’s where the focus should be.”

We feel it does matter. If Dr. Pauli instigated and ghost-authored the “residents” letter, to retaliate against Dr. Edwards’ for blowing the whistle on FACHEP, as is clearly indicated in the timeline of the NJIT withheld email FOIA– that revelatory information was not shared with the STEM organizations who were asked to investigate Dr. Edwards. Perhaps Dr. Pauli is reluctant to take credit, for a letter that a Federal judge determined was partisan rhetorical hyperbole.

Thankfully, Dr. Pauli has finally fessed up, to allegations made in our prior blog, that he ghost-authored the second letter to maximize reputational damage to Dr. Edwards. And in just a few weeks, Dr. Pauli will begin to cash in on his campaign of dishonesty, because his $95 hardcover “Flint” book with false narratives about FACHEP and the ghost-authored letters goes on sale. This is a truly new and innovative, academic model, to exploit the Flint tragedy for personal gain. 

7. Dr. Lambrinidou’s personal vendetta, is best examined through her own words and emails. Interested parties may read them and decide for themselves. Her lawyer has obtained copies of those unaltered public records from FOIA. If emails were doctored, that could be easily proven– but the emails were not doctored.