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


An investigative science reporting series by Flintwaterstudy.org


NOTE FOR THE QUEASY:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cast of Key Characters Parts 1-3

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

PART 1: Dr. SHAWN McELMURRY

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

PART 2: FACHEP’S TROUBLED BIRTH

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


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

Pre-FWC to August 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2016:  FACHEP detects waterborne Shigella?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primary Author: Dr. Marc A. Edwards

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

  1. Thought provoking read. It seems clear that a lack of appropriate expertise on the water crisis situation at hand in the FWC caused the FACHEP team to go off in all directions looking for the next crisis to warn public about. An unfortunate situation for both the public and taxpayers.

    Excluding appropriately trained microbiologists makes little sense yet it seems clear the FACHEP group apparently did just that. Decades of experience in water systems would help one understand true risks (or lack thereof) associated with their POU filter ‘findings’.

    A good example of how “perverse incentives” of academia can blossom and take over in a post-crisis environment with extraordinary funding availablity for this group. Can you imagine what would have occurred had McElmurry received $13M rather than the ~$3.8M previously reported? Perhaps it’s good more damage didn’t occur?

    Thank you for sharing some details on this truly unfortunate situation for Michigan taxpayers. And yes, your Sloane MOBE Keynote lecture is excellent; have shown it in my own classroom, definitely recommended viewing on this topic.

  2. Hi Catherine,

    Proving that you cannot make this $hit up, Wayne State eventually did get about $13 million total, based at least partly on McElmurry’s “divine conception” story.

    As academic and ethical soulmates, Dr. Love and McElmurry continue working together. Read this description of the $1.6 million dollar grant awarded September 2018.

    “The project — which includes examining drinking water and public health systems — will provide new insights as to how these systems interact, with a focus on crisis events. …..and how the public engages with these systems.
    Shawn McElmurry, Ph.D., associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering, and Matthew Seeger, Ph.D., professor of communications and dean of the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, will lead the multi-institutional team. The project also includes researchers from the University of Michigan … “This project builds on previous work conducted in Wayne County and Flint, Michigan,” said Seeger. “We learned a great deal about how water systems function under stress and how communities respond. This grant will allow us to extend that understanding.”

    https://research.wayne.edu/news/wsu-research-group-receives-nsf-award-for-collaborative-research-on-the-interdependency-of-drinking-water-and-health-systems-32561

    • Without knowing all details, perhaps Eden Wells (or Lyon) crime was not properly vetting, and hiring this team in the first place? Despite McElmurry’s apparent slick con-job in fabricating his qualifications, it seems it’s buyer beware in giving out research contracts these days.

      Maybe there needs to be some type of NFP clearinghouse listing deep and authentic scientific expertise run by neutral bodies such as National Academy of Science, ASM (microbiology) or other…. brainstorming on methods that might reduce cases of charlatanism which I fear may be becoming more common in today’s cut-throat sales pitches required to get federal funding.

      Seems you may actually be proving Sedgwick wrong: https://www.wingclips.com/movie-clips/the-emperors-club/who-we-really-are

      Folks are reading; one colleague just gave me copies of “The Cheating Culture” and “Blind Spot” (something you and Siddhartha do NOT have) in honor of your exposé.

      Lastly, I just noticed Sullivan’s alleged Shigella based dysentery. Fascinating stuff!!! No longer just Munchausen by proxy (Flint residents) this appears to be straight out Münchausen syndrome. Like a good Greek tragi-comedy; parts of this saga are really quite humorous. 🙂

  3. Stay tuned. Sullivan is a piece of work. We’ve received more than a dozen requests to do an in-depth character profile on the “FACHEP Minister of Trust.”

    We are getting hundreds of hits in Michigan alone. Obviously Detroit and Ann Arbor are lighting up along with East Lansing.

    As explained in part II, all the evidence suggests McElmurry’s hiring was a Wayne State alumni job, without ANY normal vetting. Everything I have seen suggests it all started with Dr. Reynold’s input, as presented in his testimony under oath, then confirmed by Mr. Hollins and Dr. McElmurry and in the Nick Lyon emails.

  4. Hi Marc: a few thoughts on needed actions after reading this series (Parts I-IV.) It seems clear now that some proper and ethical actions should result from the misconduct(s) identified:

    1. The funding agencies should rightfully request for a partial or full return of funds obtained using false representations of qualifications and previous research. This has been clearly identified in McElmurry’s e-mails as well as the cover letter sent by Drs. Carol Miller and Shawn McElmurry both of Wayne State University to NIH and perhaps other funding agencies claiming their in-house computer model of the Flint water system and past expertise.

    Both State and federal funding agencies need to take action on this. Failure to do so is negligence on their part and damaging to the finances of state and federal taxpayers.

    2. Dr. Faust (and her advisor) should properly, and ethically, file separate complaints against McElmurry’s (and perhaps Miller’s) PE licenses to LARA. Coercing a full computer model out of a student whom one served as external member of their dissertation committee at another institution, then presenting it as one’s own, while informing the student (who is just starting out and seeking funding) that she isn’t going to be involved in Flint because the research has ‘taken a different direction’ is one of the lowest academic acts against a PhD student imaginable. Advising her to reach out to others to work with and seek funding in response to her plaintive requests to get involved in the ‘research’ activities in Flint was likely necessary to ensure she didn’t observe ongoing use of her computer model and uncover the ruse.

    Lack of action on this misconduct may well lead to more dissertation committee members (such as McElmurry) to wrongfully assume that the Intellectual Property developed by a student is free and belongs to all committee members. It is a dangerous precedent.

    3. Not much can be done regarding Nancy Love’s e-mails demonstrating disorganization and a stated lack of time to deal with personal ethics issues and obligations, while still finding time to offer subjective critical assessments of her former colleagues “impartiality” and “conflict of interest”, the later of which seems nonsensical. However, they speak volumes about her character and constitute a near perfect example of back-stabbing a colleague.

    4. Edwards didn’t seem to have any choice but to disclose these acts of misconduct and ethical breeches for the same reason that Faust needs to take action on item 2 above.

    Undoubtedly there is more that needs to be done. Without consequences these sorts of deeds of misconduct will certainly proliferate and lead us more into the era of Post-Truth science of which Edwards warns.

    • I agree it is one of the lowest academic acts ever. Yet, it is a lot to ask of a young assistant professor faculty member, if betrayed by a member of her graduate committee, to file an ethics complaint.

      Consider the attacks I have withstood since first reporting those concerns about McElmurry. I initially told the Detroit News:
      https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/03/30/edwards-mcelmurry-filing-falsified-research/33414501/

      Edwards indicated he didn’t like filing the complaint, calling the situation “distasteful and stressful” but “unavoidable.” “It is my ethical obligation to report possible scientific misconduct — especially when that behavior endangers the public,” Edwards said in a statement. “I fully expect to pay a professional price for upholding my responsibilities.”

      And I was not disappointed. Stay tuned, the craziest material is still coming.

      Also, be aware that if you EMAIL MATERIAL TO ANYONE, no matter how you were induced, NIH claims that is a COLLABORATION. That is right. You emailed it, end of story.

      Also, NIH claims the pre-proposal is NOT PART OF THE PROPOSAL. So you could apparently lie in your pre-proposal letter, and that does not count.

      NIH can also not tell you if they are investigating or not. You get an idea how frustrating this can get.

  5. Thought provoking read. It seems clear that a lack of appropriate expertise on the water crisis situation at hand in the FWC caused the FACHEP team to go off in all directions looking for the next crisis to warn public about. An unfortunate situation for both the public and taxpayers.
    Excluding appropriately trained microbiologists makes little sense yet it seems clear the FACHEP group apparently did just that. Decades of experience in water systems would help one understand true risks (or lack thereof) associated with their POU filter ‘findings’.
    A good example of how “perverse incentives” of academia can blossom and take over in a post-crisis environment with extraordinary funding availablity for this group. Can you imagine what would have occurred had McElmurry received $13M rather than the ~$3.8M previously reported? Perhaps it’s good more damage didn’t occur?
    Thank you for sharing some details on this truly unfortunate situation for Michigan taxpayers. And yes, your Sloane MOBE Keynote lecture is excellent; have shown it in my own classroom, definitely recommended viewing on this topic.

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