Institutional Scientific Misconduct at U.S. Public Health Agencies: How Malevolent Government Betrayed Flint, MI

Dr. Edwards’ written testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the hearing titled, “Examining Federal Administration of the Safe Drinking Water Act in Flint, Michigan.”

Institutional Scientific Misconduct at U.S. Public Health Agencies:

How Malevolent Government Betrayed Flint, MI

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

                                                                                                ― George Orwell, 1984

 

The world is watching the Flint, MI 2015 Water Crisis unfold with astonishment. How is it possible, that the system designed to protect America’s children from the best known neurotoxin (lead) in their drinking water, has betrayed us?

The answer? Institutional Scientific Misconduct1 perpetrated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), primacy agencies (like the MDEQ) and water utilities. The very agencies paid to protect us, not only failed to do so, but also revealed their callous indifference to the plight of our most vulnerable.

Events in Flint, were inevitable, due to a lack of scientific integrity at the highest levels of these agencies, as illustrated by falsified reports exposed by my work over the last decade.

These include:

  1. The “scientifically indefensible” CDC 2004 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), that asserted 3 years of exposure to very high levels of lead in Washington D.C. drinking water, did not elevate blood lead of D.C. residents over CDC levels of concern.2
  2. A peer reviewed paper by a consultant to the Washington D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, presenting a falsified narrative and conclusion from the 2001-2004 Washington D.C. Lead Crisis. (Appendix A).
  3. An Orwellian re-write of history by CDC in a 2010 MMWR report, that claimed the conclusion of their 2004 report, was the exact opposite of what they actually wrote (Appendix B).
  4. An EPA report written to support an EPA policy on partial pipe replacements in Washington D.C., that ultimately wasted over $100 million dollars while increasing the incidence of childhood lead poisoning. After nearly a decade of denials, EPA finally acknowledged that the data supporting this report did not exist. Even so, EPA has refused to retract a report that has no data. (Appendix C).
  5. Some of the same EPA contractors, who authored the falsified EPA report supporting partial pipe replacements, wrote another peer reviewed article that reached the same falsified conclusion. The Journal of the American Water Works Association allowed publication of my “Discussion” of this paper (Appendix D), but refused to investigate the matter further or take decisive action.

While misconduct has always been a problem, at some level, since the earliest days of the scientific revolution, the rise of institutional scientific misconduct is a relatively new phenomenon. Clearly, we do not have adequate checks and balances on the power of these agencies, nor do we hold them accountable for their unethical actions.

There is a price to be paid for scientific misconduct, and unfortunately it is borne by the poorest amongst us, not by its perpetrators. We have to get this problem fixed, and fast, so that these agencies can live up to their noble vision and once again be worthy of the public trust.

 

1Lewis, D. Science for Sale (2014).

2Blood Lead Levels in Residents of Homes with Elevated Lead in Tap Water — District of Columbia, 2004. April 2, 2004 / 53(12);268-270


Appendix A

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Appendix B

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Appendix C

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Appendix D

Download (PDF, 1.09MB)

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