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 post “around 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).
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, wrote “I 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