Statements questioning the personal integrity of Shawn McElmurry, Ph.D. (Department of Civil Engineering, Wayne State University) and research conducted while he was a leader of the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership (FACHEP) team have been posted on the internet and widely circulated.
Wayne State University typically does not respond to postings on independent websites. These posts, however, were widely shared, and include unacceptable, inappropriate and vitriolic personal attacks on an individual faculty member. We feel it is necessary to defend our faculty member against these personal attacks.
Dr. McElmurry is a committed scientist and educator, and an academician of the highest character. We have the utmost respect for the commitment and character of Dr. McElmurry and the FACHEP research team.
As scientists and members of the community, we all have a responsibility to maintain the highest standards in all we do.
We have no doubt that Dr. McElmurry and his colleagues take this responsibility very seriously, and work tirelessly toward these goals for the public good.
Questions regarding the integrity of research projects are best reviewed in accordance with established procedures. This involves reviewing the facts and making informed conclusions for the benefit of the broad communities we serve. Wayne State has not received a formal request to investigate the Flint water infrastructure project. If we do, we will evaluate the credibility of the request and follow our established protocol as appropriate.
Ever since early 2016, these residents have been harsh critics of the EPA, State of MI, Dr. Edwards and Flintwaterstudy – they believe the water in Flint is getting worse with each passing day. To say we had a frank exchange about these and other issues would be an understatement (our sincere apologies to El Potrero staff and customers). Nonetheless, it was good seeing them again.
Like many Flint residents, Tony and Leah are having a tough time financially, because their property investments in Flint imploded – at least partly as a result of the Flint water crisis. Imagine a scenario in which you have invested your life savings in a community in Flint, and it evaporates as many people flee a city in crisis. On top of that consider the health and stress issues associated with the water from at least 2014-2015 and residual lack of trust. There does not seem to be any legal recourse to recover their lost investment either. In any case, while we may never agree on anything again when it comes to Flint water quality, these residents are truly amongst the original heroes of the Flint crisis. The entire country owes Flint residents a debt of gratitude for helping to expose national problems on lead in water and decaying infrastructure.
We then had a nice dinner organized by James Milton at Tia Helitas. James took the class on the Flint Water Crisis at UM-Flint and had a lot of great questions about infrastructure and water quality. His mom Lucille Milton, Dave Montgomery (Urban News), Chris Frye and Kay Doerr also attended. We were joined by Keri Webber and LeeAnne Walters (who was recovering from back surgery). The problems of high water rates, crazy water bills, and shut-offs were a main topic of discussion.
There is still a lot of work to be done in Flint. We can’t solve all of these problems, but with the $170 million in Federal funding, hopefully, we can make a dent in them.
Yesterday, the town of St. Joseph Louisiana—suffering from years without clean water or civilization as the rest of us know it, got an early Christmas present. The Governor of LA declared a state of water emergency. This follows in the footsteps of Flint and a USA Today series that exposed chronic problems associated with water infrastructure-inequality in rural American.
This small town with a per capita income of $9000, a declining population and a mayor under investigation for fiscal wrongdoing, has suffered through years of black or orange water, constant boil water alerts, school shutdowns for lack of clean water, multiple utility violations for failures to monitor and alert the public—and continued assurances that the water was “safe” (Figure 1). Residents have been fighting for years, but in the end, it took dogged persistence by locals and their advocates, media attention, and a little bit of independent water testing to bring clean water to these long-ignored residents.
The final battle started in early 2016, when residents hopes for a White House petition to help obtain clean water, fell short because this town of fewer than 1200 people couldn’t muster the 100,000 required signatures. In March and April of 2016, our colleague Dr. Adrienne Katner of LSU Health Sciences Center sent water sampling kits to a few residents that were supplied by Flintwaterstudy.org. Dr. Katner found elevated levels of lead as high as 42 ppb. We have since presented on St. Joe’s water woes at national conferences (view or download powerpoint below).
Thus empowered with information that there was a problem, citizens started to get some traction. Things started to really move when Janie Jones (President, Council on Policy & Social Impact) got engaged. Janie coordinated a sampling event with Adrienne and Flintwaterstudy on September 29, 2016, looking for lead and Legionella.
At that point, the state started investigating further, and they also found elevated lead and copper. Advocate pressure added fuel to the fire, and on Dec 16, 2016, Governor John Bel Edwards signed the declaration, which stated:
“The Town of St. Joseph has experienced water problems for years due to the poorly maintained and deteriorating water distribution system. Frequent breaks in the water distribution system provide a potential health risk because of the drop in water pressure. Out of an abundance of caution, the Louisiana Department of Health recommends that residents use an alternative source of water for personal consumption, including making ice, brushing teeth or using it for food preparation and rinsing of foods.”
The residents have been promised potable water until long-term solutions can be found. Congrats to everyone who is helping residents of St. Joe to get clean water. Special thanks to Janie Jones (President, Council on Policy & Social Impact) who told Flintwaterstudy:
“This is just the beginning for St. Joe residents—the hard work is all ahead of us. Let’s remember to keep people at the forefront.”
CDC then wrote another falsified report in 2010, which in Orwellian fashion claimed that their actual scientific conclusion in the 2004 report, was the exact opposite of what they actually wrote. When called out on this falsification, they refused to respond to a letter with 21 signatories (see letter at the end). CDC refused to retract their outrageous rewrite of history. The exact same Orwellian science stooges are probably trying to rewrite the history of East Chicago as we speak. One can only hope that there will be a change in attitude under a new director.
Of course, we are still waiting for CDC to apologize for their unethical behavior at Tuskeegee, and ignoring Tuskeegee whistleblower Peter Buxtun for 5 years, so do not hold your breath (Figure 1). CDC’s lesson learned in the aftermath of Tuskegee in 1985? “Do the study at a time when there won’t be a bigot problem (Listen at 32:15 to 33:10).” The lesson CDC learned from D.C. was “We can get away with anything.” They did, so now kids in Flint and East Chicago had to pay a price for their ineptitude.
What a legacy. One group of corrupt CDC pseudo-scientists, with the complete backing of their management, has now played a role in creating public health tragedies that needlessly elevated the blood lead of children in Washington D.C., Flint, and now East Chicago. Not to mention promoting flawed policies that endangered children all over the U.S. and the world. They attack good actors and defend bad actors– quality science is viewed as an afterthought or an impediment. It makes the great work of some CDC/ATSDR employees who really helped in the Flint Recovery, including the CDC Legionella team and the ATSDR efforts under Dr. Patrick Breysse, all the more remarkable and appreciated.
America’s children cannot afford an untrustworthy and unethical CDC/ATSDR or EPA. Sometimes delivering “bad news” is much better than saying nothing at all– especially when comes in the form of the truth with recommended public health interventions that will protect children. We hope that EPA R5 can keep the “bad news” flowing, in accordance with both ethical science and EPA’s health mission.