Lessons I Learned in Flint and Clarifying the Facts — By Scott C. Smith

Flint Water Study Guest Blog Series — Mr. Scott Smith

FlintWaterStudy will support anyone who is intellectually honest and wants to be part of the solution to problems. A few weeks ago we were approached by Mr. Scott C. Smith, with whom we have obviously had some disagreements over the years. After a series of frank discussions, we agreed to share his hard-earned experience and insights about Citizen Science — we are also providing him with a public forum to set the record straight about certain aspects of his work.

Lessons I Learned in Flint and Clarifying the Facts

By Scott C. Smith

Background on My Work before Flint.  In 2006, the successful company I owned at the time, was wiped out in oil contaminated flood waters.  At the time, my company was developing a specialty Open-Cell foam for the medical market.  While my primary focus was on taking care of all of my employees and figuring out how to use my best efforts to preserve the jobs and get the operations back up and running, I realized in the corner of the factory this developmental foam for the medical market was actually absorbing oil and repelling water.  My obsession with oil and chemical contamination in water began.

In 2007, on the one-year anniversary of the flood disaster I was visited by Senator Chuck Schumer.  Sen. Schumer joined me for a tour of the rebuilt factory and visited my incredible employees that fought so hard with me to bring the company to life again.  News coverage related to Sen. Schumer’s visit can be found here.

In 2008, I was informed that Sen. Schumer had nominated me for the United States Small Business Administration Phoenix Award.  I was shocked and humbled to receive the Phoenix Award in 2008. Here is the official press release and video link to the introduction at the SBA award ceremony in Washington D.C.

As my obsession and passion continued to grow for developing an Open-Cell foam that worked to remove oil and chemicals from spills, I went into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 where my new technology was endorsed by BP America and used to help preserve and protect the wetlands along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico and near the site of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill.  Here are some endorsements statements from BP and associated media coverage.

As a result of my work with BP America in the Deepwater Horizon Gulf, I realized there was an unmet need for the simultaneous removal and detection of oil and other chemical contaminants from water.  Subsequent to Deepwater Horizon, I began going to oil spill and chemical spill disasters to test water and help communities better understand what is in their water.  After having gone through my own oil-contaminated flood disaster and walked the streets of a devastated community, I knew first-hand what it was like to go through a contamination disaster and wanted to help other communities with lessons I learned from experiencing my own flood disaster in 2006.

In 2013, while I was on the ground during the ExxonMobil Mayflower, AR Pegasus pipeline spill doing water testing on my own, Mark Ruffalo (founder of Water Defense) reached out to me directly.  After meeting with Mark in New York City in October of 2013, I agreed to volunteer my time and donate my developing time exposure testing with Open-Cell foam technology as long as Water Defense paid for my expenses.

Prior to Flint, I called out gaming of water sampling in oil spill disasters by United States’ government, responsible parties, and members of the Gulf Oil Spill Operational and Scientific Advisory Team (“OSAT” committee). To some extent that made me distrust government, and during the Flint Federal emergency, maybe caused me to say some things I now regret.  Although I had extensive experience in oil and chemical spill disasters prior to Flint, my effort in  Flint was the first time I ever dealt with premise plumbing problems under a media spot-light related to important public health issues such as showering and bathing. I learned a lot of hard lessons about Citizen Science during the Flint Federal Emergency that I wanted to share.

1st Citizen Science Lesson Learned:  Do not post videos or press releases on the Internet without taking the time to make sure that potential confusion is minimized, and make sure you qualify any research with appropriate citations and in context.

When I made statements about the possible dangers from inhaling lead in showers and Flint residents potentially having problems from low blood pressure from the phosphates added to water to assist the recovery, this was based on superficial input and research unrelated to drinking water provided to me from toxicologists/trained scientists. Given what I now know, I should have indicated that significant adverse health effects from these issues was extremely unlikely, and my statements were opposite to those of scientific authorities leading the Federal relief effort.

[Additional context and background relating to my previous statements about low blood pressure is provided in the section on “Previously Unreported Facts and Context about My Work in Flint.” — after the 7th Lesson]

Also, when I made statements about high levels of chloroform detected by my Open-Cell foam in time exposure testing (“WaterBug®”), I was comparing the data to my prior samples collected from oil/chemical spills including fracking related contamination of water– which I now know have very little likelihood of having chloroform contamination relative to potable water where some chloroform is expected. I did not make this clear. The levels of chloroform and other disinfection by-products (“DBPs”) in Flint, I detected in early 2016, are not abnormal compared to drinking water of other cities when considering current regulations and laws. I later did testing in some non-Flint cities where DBPs were lower than what I measured in Flint, and I came to the same conclusions as published by Dr. Marc Edwards in 2017.

Based on my experience in Flint, my strong opinion is that we need professional, respectful, and productive dialogue with more research with proper scientific review surrounding potential human exposure (especially those that are immunocompromised) in hot water to microbial contaminants and volatile chemicals (e.g. chloroform).  Currently, there are no regulations nor standards for hot water and contaminants in hot water.  Perhaps it is time to have this discussion and consider whether regulations or standards should be changed?

At one point I also mis-spoke, and said I was comparing my data to that I had collected from other bathrooms all around the country, which created a further impression that our measurements of chloroform in Flint were in violation of existing regualtions and standards.  Again, I was comparing my WaterBug time exposure testing for the presence of contaminants and did not make it clear that this testing cannot be directly compared to EPA regulations on chloroform that are based on conventional grab samples.

Furthermore, almost all of my testing in Flint involved side by side conventional  grab sampling for metals and volatile chemicals in conjunction with the WaterBug for testing for the presence of contaminants in an attempt to better understand why Flint residents were reporting problems with the hot water during showers and baths.

After working directly with the EPA, I learned how to make clear the presentation of conventional grab sample data along with innovative testing such as that of WaterBug, to prevent the data from being misused or causing unnecessary fear in the community.  Ultimately, in my collaboration with Mark Durno (On-Scene Coordinator for Flint for EPA Region 5), this confusion was eliminated from later presentations, but unfortunately there are some who continue to cite my earlier data without  proper context and clarity.  Links to communications with Mr. Durno and residents are attached. In no way, did I intend to scare any residents of Flint, but I regret that my work may have been represented to have that effect.

2nd Citizen Science Lesson Learned:  Follow your instinct when a controversy is in its infancy and communicate directly with those questioning your work.

This is the most significant mistake I made relative to Flint.  I have no one to blame but myself for not speaking in detail with Dr. Edwards and the Huffington Post in 2016.  Unfortunately, I listened to others and did not clarify the situation with appropriate facts when I was offered the opportunity to do so in April of 2016.  I was naïve and did not fully appreciate how some people would use my results in a harmful manner. A dialogue to clarify the facts in 2016 would have avoided a lot of pain and suffering for everyone involved.

I want to make it clear that I accept full responsibility for this and do not blame others.  In many ways, I am now grateful for what I learned (as painful as it was).

I want to be clear in that Mark Ruffalo and those actually doing the real work at Water Defense always had the best intentions to help and support communities completely free of charge (at all times) with water testing to gather data to better understand what was really in the water.  I assumed that all “non-profits” operated with the best intentions like Water Defense and I was wrong.

The “non-profit” world was still very new to me in 2016.  After what I learned and experienced in Flint, I came to the conclusion that perhaps non-profit organizations should be more accurately referred to as tax-exempt organizations.  In my experience I found the non-profit, tax-exempt world, and activist worlds to be far more cut throat than the business world, especially in a situation like Flint.

While most tax-exempt or “non-profit” organizations do great work, there are those who are not forthright with their true agendas.  Unfortunately, I did not make sure communications of our results  were clear, and saw others confuse or use our results for their own purposes, and this was unfortunate for everyone. While some others were also asserting that the water in Flint was not safe for bathing as per the opinions expressed on March 14, 2016 on the Steve Harvey Show in a special episode entitled, Is It Safe To Bathe In The Water In Flint”, we appeared to present actual data from Flint baths and showers in a manner that built upon those opinions.  Some individuals who heard about this, may have unnecessarily changed their bathing and showering habits.

3rd Citizen Science Lesson Learned:  Never ever ignore your instincts and allow yourself to be controlled in any way by lawyers or public relations firms that are “going to help you correct things” in the information age.

Hindsight is always 20/20 but I now know that Dr. Edwards and the Huffington Post would have listened to the facts had I followed my instinct and communicated directly and corrected the false allegations and untruths with the facts in 2016 and in 2017.  Again, I own this as my mistake for not following my instinct to clarify the true and accurate facts in 2016 and 2017.  Unfortunately, much misinformation and unnecessary drama resulted, when people could have come together and collaborated in a much more positive way to help the residents of Flint.

I was driven by a desire to help people, which is good, but it is easy to get carried away when you are directly and in person witnessing the pain and suffering of affected Flint residents and there are not always scientific answers to questions. For example, I got to know the Murphy family in 2016 (Adam and Christina) when their son was born. It was my understanding that the entire Murphy family was lead poisoned. I tried to help them evaluate filtering systems with the UA370 plumbers’ union (Harold Harrington and Ben Ranger) and found that many systems did not work as represented. When the Murphys received a donation of an NLP filtering system in 2017, it seemed to give the family relief and gave good data when I tested the water. When the Murphy family asked me if I would take a shower in their water with the NLP system after I tested the water, I said yes, I would.  When my private letter to the Murphy family was read on the internet, I can see how it sounded like I was endorsing an NLP  filtering system, when I wasn’t.  This was clarified in a statement from Christina Murphy.

Another example is the testing of Florlisa Fowler’s home.  Ms. Fowler contacted me and requested this testing.  When I paid for it through my for-profit company, instead of Water Defense, it highlighted the problems in trying to represent a non-profit and donate on behalf of a for-profit group at the same time and place. While I never made money off my for-profit company for Flint work, representing two different groups with two different goals can create confusion and invite criticism. The e-mail I sent to Ms. Fowler is here.

4th Citizen Science Lesson Learned:  If media or others misrepresent your research in a way that creates unnecessary fear or misinformation, it must be corrected immediately and decisively. 

There were some press releases/statements and YouTube videos released, that were based on my data, but did not provide the proper clarity and context. Not only did I not know about some of these press releases/statements and YouTube videos, but I did not approve these releases and statements.  In some circumstances with these statements and videos, I retweeted and/or liked to them on my Facebook without reviewing them. This implied that I agreed with them when my intent was simply to show support for the affected residents of Flint.

I never intended any of my retweets and/or Facebook likes to be considered endorsements, or indicate that I was in complete agreement with what is posted, but that is how it was interpreted.  I should have clarified results and corrected any mis-impressions that may have been created.

Titles to press releases, while in the moment on the ground during a disaster, need to be carefully considered and put into proper context so as not to cause undue public fear.  Our press release title “Dangerous chemicals discovered in baths/showers of Flint, MI” is a good example of what I would not do in the future.  In fact, before issuing press releases at all in the future, it would be best to work with and get the input of government agencies along with that of scientists experienced in the subject matter.  Once a press release is made, there is no taking it back.

5th Citizen Science Lesson Learned:  Public confrontations are painful and people get hurt. 

Taking advice from lawyers and public relation firms is sure to create more problems in a complicated scientific situation like the Flint Federal emergency. Avoiding confrontation and disengaging without explanation, is a huge mistake and another major lesson learned.  The advice from others to “cut and run” without reconciling the complicated issues was not in anyone’s best interest.

There is no doubt in my mind that we as a society now have to have a very serious conversation in this country about “non-profits” or what I more accurately refer to as tax-exempt organizations.  For example, it does appear that some tax-exempt organizations (never the good people at Water Defense) under the guise of “helping people in Flint” are really making money for their tax-exempt organizations at the expense of Flint residents. There now even appears to be movements in academic communities as well as in some “non-profit” or tax-exempt organizations to ignore scientific facts and intentionally spread misinformation for their own agendas.

I am also not clear about how such disagreements can be resolved in the future. Public confrontations are unpleasant, people will always make mistakes, and the fallout can create permanent financial and reputational damage.  That said, I was offered a chance to resolve the issues face to face, and I was also informed that a public confrontation would occur unless I did not correct and clarify public scientific statements at the time and immediately, and I now regret I did not do so. I refused those opportunities because I listened to lawyers and PR folks.  No one wins such battles, even though they occurred during the Flint Federal Emergency, and they will occur again.

Beyond just Flint and in today’s world, people should slow down and actually take the time to gather facts in this world of rampant societal attention deficit disorder, and striving for the most “likes” or “clicks” or “shares” on social media in and of itself without regard to facts and/or proper context.

It is my hope that my experience in Flint along with Dr. Edwards’ experience and all the lessons all of us learned, can be used to strengthen and better support collaborative efforts to make future Citizen Science that much better.

6th Citizen Science Lesson Learned:  Ethics and Citizen Science

What I witnessed personally in Flint in terms of residents lost trust, and then some bad citizen science, scared me. Without making any judgment, in 2017, when Ben Ranger and Harold Harrington discovered lead sinkers shoved up a bathroom spigot while doing testing, I knew that this was a serious problem and I needed to do the right thing.  Within minutes of finding out, I not only contacted the MDEQ, but sent the video of the plumbers finding the lead sinkers to the EPA. When something is not right, you have to confront it immediately and directly; however, it is important not to make false allegations.

To this day I have no idea what happened, and I do not know who put the lead sinkers in a bathtub spigot in Flint.  All I can say unequivocally is that neither Ben nor Harold nor I were involved in any way other than to report the situation immediately to the proper authorities. Many people got mad at me for reporting this issue to EPA and MDEQ, but I would do the same again.

7th Citizen Science Lesson Learned:  Scientific authority is not all bad but even necessary to ensure safety. 

As a named inventor on a multitude of issued and pending patents, I could have never have received these patents without a strong belief that science is a great tool. In this day and age, we now live in a world where information (whether accurate or grossly inaccurate) is instantly disclosed on the internet, and in the public.  Also, it has become much more challenging for someone with my background and experience, to find the proper scientific authorities when trying to think outside the box and invent solutions.

As I have learned much from my experiences in Flint, I have now taken extra measures with my work to make sure I find the proper and qualified scientists to review my fieldwork before any final conclusions are communicated to the public.

Not only do scientific authorities like the EPA, FEMA and CDC have a purpose, but they significantly mitigate risks of injuries and keep us safe every day, whether it is driving a car, flying in a plane, visiting the doctor, drinking water, or taking a shower. These agencies make mistakes, but the solution is to fix the mistakes, and not attack everything they say. I am proud to have worked with Mark Durno and the EPA productively in Flint, and I look forward to future collaborative work with Dr. Marc Edwards and others to not only better diagnose contamination events, but to work towards solutions for communities impacted with water contamination.


Previously Unreported Facts and Context about My Work in Flint.  In January 2016, at the request of Water Defense and residents, I was asked to go to Flint, MI.  Although the switch back to Detroit water from the Flint River had already occurred along with proper additives (orthophosphate) to heal and re-coat the pipes after the previous exposure to corrosive Flint river water, residents were continuing to experience rashes and other health related symptoms that they suspected might be due to bathing/showering. Prior to Flint, I had been on the ground and done fieldwork in approximately 60 water contamination events since 2010 and the flood disaster that affected by business in 2006 forever changed my life.

On March 14th, 2016, water engineer Robert Bowcock and Dr. Marilyn McPherson-Corder appeared on the Steve Harvey Show as announced here: Steve Harvey Dedicates Whole Show to Flint Water CrisisDr. Marilyn McPherson-Corder unequivocally stated “..bathing in the water is not safe…the only thing that water is good for is flushing the toilet…”  whereas Robert Bowcock a stated “…you gotta understand you cannot be bathing in this water…” – the full video clip is here: Is It Safe To Bathe In The Water In Flint”.

Having seen that, on March 19th, 2016 I tested the home in Flint of UA370 business manager and master plumber Harold Harrington with Ben Ranger, also of UA370.  I learned from speaking to Harold and his wife, that they suspected their problems with low blood pressure were caused by the water. I came to learn that other Flint residents had problems with low blood pressure.

On the basis of my prior work in oil disaster responses, I am used to thinking “outside the box” and doing my best to solve problems in the real world in collaboration with others. But in a Federal Emergency with public health implications concerning potable water, this approach can create confusion, regardless of my intentions or outlier scientific opinions stated by others that are not supported by data, including some who had PhDs or MDs.

In part of my “outside the box” thinking to help better understand what could possibly be going on with the shower and bath water in Flint, I worked closely with Harold Harrington and Ben Ranger.  Harold, Ben, and I began testing water at or near a meter with intent to gather data about the state of the water in the distribution system as it enters a home, the water heater, and the hot shower/bath water.  In following a process that seemed logical to me whereby I gathered water testing data with the plumbers, and, then had the data reviewed by what I sincerely believed (at the time) to be appropriate experts before I commented publicly, I had no idea (at the time) just how much drama would begin and that my life would never, ever be the same again.

Unfortunately, as I spent weeks on the ground testing Flint residents’ homes with the UA370 to gather data, there were those that decided to attempt to take advantage of my good faith work and issue press releases and investor decks without my approval – these people were trying to take advantage of the situation and I was absolutely furious when it was brought to my attention.  Although, I demanded that false press releases and investor decks be removed from the Internet, it is virtually impossible to completely remove false statements in this day and age.

Correcting Some Errors from Prior Reporting. For the years 2013- 2016, I was a volunteer for Water Defense.  This was made clear to the New York Times Magazine in 2016 by Water Defense and the New York Times Magazine issued this correction:  An article on Aug. 21 about Flint’s water-contamination crisis referred incorrectly to Scott Smith’s relationship with Water Defense when he was named the group’s chief water scientist. He was appointed to the post and receives no compensation beyond expenses; he was not hired.”

Also, Water Defense was always a believer in Citizen Science (science defined in this context as acquiring knowledge in a systematic way) and it is in this context that Water Defense initially suggested for me to have a title “Chief Scientist.” Although my title was officially changed in 2015 to Chief Technology Officer and Investigator from Chief Scientist to prevent any further confusion that I was a trained scientist, it is impossible to remove prior press releases and other information from the internet.  In retrospect, I should not have approved and used a title prior to 2015 that created confusion and that implied that I was a trained scientist as that was never the intent in any way.   In 2017, I did receive a monthly retainer from Water Defense from January through June of 2017, where I was an outside consultant.

Prior press coverage and information in blog posts declined to disclose the fact that I deployed just as many conventional grab samples as WaterBug samples.  This is a critical point that even the EPA made clear in statements to media.

I never received any royalties whatsoever for the WaterBug that was used in Flint, although I eventually hoped to develop the WaterBug to the point that such commercial revenues would be forthcoming.

Unfortunately, in May of 2016, a spokesman, Mitch Stoltz, for my licensee Opflex Environmental Technologies for Open-Cell foams for industrial oil and chemical spills, spoke to the Huffington Post about a confidential license agreement that after he spoke with the Huffington Post (and refused to retract his statement) he admitted he never read.  For me to get a royalty on a specific product like the WaterBug, sales for my licensee would have to be over $6 million in any calendar year and the product would have to be listed in the License as a scheduled “Royalty Product” – the WaterBug was never, ever listed as a Royalty Product.

Not only were the sales of my licensee, Opflex Environmental Technologies, never even close to $6 million per year, but Opflex Environmental Technologies announced the shut down of the factory in Indianapolis, Indiana on or about October 15th, 2017.

Even if the sales of Opflex Environmental Technologies would have been over $6 million and I would have received a specific royalty on the “base foam” of the WaterBug, the base foam was worth $216 and the royalty would have been calculated to yield only $6.48 – yes that is six dollars and 48 cents.   And, if I had received this royalty payment related to Flint, I would have donated the $6.48 to Water Defense. 

Furthermore, I even made it clear to Water Defense when I began volunteering in 2013 through 2016 that any royalties received by me related to any of my direct volunteer work for Water Defense would be donated back to Water Defense; and this includes the time period of January through June of 2017 where I received a retainer from Water Defense as an outside consultant.

Additionally, while it has been erroneously implied and/or erroneously published in blogs and/or news articles that I was involved with Mr. Stoltz’s business decisions to not pay real estate taxes or rent on a manufacturing plant, I have no ownership in Opflex Environmental Technologies nor have I had any control to make or even influence any of their business decisions.

In fact, I make my position clear when a newspaper article entitled Pending Eviction puts 50 St Johnsville Jobs at Risk was published on December 24, 2014.

As stated in the article, “Scott Smith, creator of Opflex foam technology and former head [owner] of the company when it was still called Cellect Plastics, said he will do everything he can to keep the jobs in St. Johnsville….Although he sold the company some years ago, Smith still owns the foam technology (he licenses it to Opflex) and said he remains “very sensitive about the jobs” he helped create….  “They are great, hardworking people who don’t deserve a notice over the holidays that their jobs are in jeopardy,” Smith said. “I’m hoping to appeal to logic and the benefits of preserving these jobs in upstate New York. But you cannot occupy a building for free. Those are the simple facts.””

Important and Essential Clarification of My Work in Flint 

When asked, here is how I now summarize my work in Flint as it relates to the issue of rashes and other potential problems with bathing and/or showering and Dr. Marc Edwards:

“I [Scott Smith] am in agreement with Dr. Marc Edwards and others with the key findings in the attached 2017 published paper entitled, Showering in Flint, MI: Is there a DBP problem?“.  The testing and research I did with the Union Plumbers of UA370 along with Flint residents in 2016 and 2017 eventually came to similar conclusions (below) as this published paper did in 2017.” In addition, I acknowledge the U.S. Centers for Disease Control did a scientific study, that indicates that the incidence of rashes in Flint during 2016, was not higher than that experienced in other U.S. cities. See here: http://www.phe.gov/emergency/events/Flint/Documents/rash-report.pdf

However, Dr. Susan Richardson, when she worked for the EPA, has previously identified gaps and concerns with existing regulations and the differences (when exposed to potentially contaminated water) of the three human exposure pathways of ingestion (drinking), inhalation (breathing), and dermal (skin).  A link to Dr. Richardson’s previous work is here (Slides 14 and 15 are key).

Given Dr. Richardson’s previous research, along with her work with Dr. Edwards and my experiences in Flint, I concur that continued research throughout the United States into potential human health effects via inhalation and dermal exposure to disinfection by-products in showers is important research.”

From Dr. Marc Edwards’ peer-reviewed paper and which I agree with based on my fieldwork in Flint and subsequent to Flint:

  • “While DBPs, such as dichlorobenzene, dichloroacetonitrile, bromoform, and bromodichloromethane, are classified as skin irritants in their pure forms, no studies have been conducted to determine irritant characteristics of them at levels that would be present in shower water.”

  • “Overall, hot shower water from Flint was similar to waters sampled from the three other cities and did not have unusually high levels of DBPs or other organic chemicals that could be responsible for the skin rashes observed by residents.”

  • “Levels were highest in the Flint hot shower water, with an average of 74 μg/L for the two residences as compared to 38 μg/L for the cold shower water. Chloroform was the dominant THM detected, up to 58 μg/L.”

  • “Interestingly, Flint did have significantly higher levels of total THMs compared to other cities, but these were still below the regulatory limit of 80 μg/L, even in the hot water. It should be noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate hot water or shower water.”

  • “At the same time, results suggest that future epidemiologic studies may want to consider also measuring DBPs in hot water to more completely account for higher levels in showering or bathing exposures. Finally, while we did not find a “smoking gun” as the cause of the skin rashes, we only measured DBPs and other organic chemicals. It is possible that an inorganic chemical or microbial contaminant may be responsible.”

I have also collaborated and shared extensive data with the EPA.  Specifically, I have worked closely with Mark Durno.  As I learned from previous unintentional mistakes and/or where I should have added more clarity, I sought input (as previously disclosed with the links to the detailed e-mails) from Mr. Durno and the following are examples of direct quotes from communications I sent to Flint residents after review by the EPA on or about March of 2017:

Please note that until proper toxicology and epidemiological studies are done, no cause and effect relationships can be made between exposures to chemicals and/or bacteria detected and reported human health effects.

Attached are the analytical reports from recent testing conducted at your home by UA370 – Harold Harrington and Ben Ranger. Also, I’ve included chlorine data as provided from the City of Flint for your street. Please let me know if you have any questions.  If you have any questions about the chlorine residuals on your street please contact the City of Flint Water Treatment Plant; or, Mark Durno, EPA, at 440-250–1743.” 


The way I conclude and summarize all of this is quite simply with a quote from Winston Churchill, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

I am grateful and appreciative of both Dr. Edwards’ courage to stand up and speak and his courage to sit down and listen to me and work with me to correct the facts, clarify the facts, and educate people on the lessons learned (for all involved) surrounding my work in Flint.

I look forward to working with and collaborating in the future with Dr. Edwards along with many others to be a part of the solution to water contamination and infrastructure challenges facing so many communities across the United States.

Associated Documentation:

Scott Smith US SBA Phoenix Award for 2008:

Download (PDF, 206KB)

Endorsements from BP:

Download (PDF, 2.24MB)

Email exchanges with officials at the US Environmental Protection Agency:

Download (PDF, 172KB)

Email from Ms. Christina Murphy concerning NLP Filtration Systems:

Download (PDF, 413KB)

Email to Ms. Florisa Stebbins:

Download (PDF, 50KB)

Slides from a talk by Dr. Sue Richardson:

Download (PDF, 2.24MB)

Citizen Engineering comes to Flint — Disrupting Communities by Undermining Engineering Expertise

Flintwaterstudy was launched in August 2015 with the following goals and principles:

We have worked hard to stay true to our goals, and also play a role as an honest broker of scientific information and analysis for all parties. It has not been easy.

Early on we put our professional careers and reputations on the line, by attacking unethical and unscientific statements made by powerful government agencies (e.g., MDEQ, MDEQ again, US EPA, US EPA again, US EPA, MDHHS, MDHHS again, City of Flint, City of Flint again). We spent thousands of hours (and dollars) on Freedom of Information Act requests — releasing the documents with an analysis online for everyone to see and all media to use. We publicly supported valid scientific claims made by Flint residents that were being unjustly ignored, and we spoke out on behalf of silenced EPA Whistleblower Miguel Del Toral. We released our data and associated information on water lead (see full data sets from 2015 and 2015-17) and legionella (see also here and here) transparently and in near real-time, exposing the problem of elevated lead in water and the high levels of Legionella in large buildings. We paid for most of it out of our own pocket, and were proud to be part of a “critical mass of moral courage” that exposed what is now acknowledged world-wide as an environmental injustice.

In late 2015 the maligned agencies began an escalating public health response and relief effort. It started with a lead advisorycity water emergency and then culminated in President Obama declaring a Federal Emergency. At that point hundreds of millions of dollars were mobilized to help Flint recover. The agencies that caused the crisis admitted fault, many civil servants were indicted or resigned, and the vast majority of employees in those agencies who are ethical honest professionals were newly empowered to do their jobs—Miguel Del Toral was even given a leadership oversight role in EPA. We have been guided by the principle that “If you want to be part of the solution, we will work with and defend you, but if you are part of the problem we are going to call you out.” Since the Federal Emergency we observed great relief work by all parties, we were proud to work alongside them and report their progress firsthand (e.g. see here and here).

But as anyone following Flintwaterstudy or the Flint Water Crisis knows, unfortunately, the hundreds of millions of dollars and all the lawsuits and media attention, brought something else to Flint.  We have documented how numerous unethical opportunists (see here, here, here, and here) descended on the city starting in late 2015, to exploit the tragedy to their own advantage. The media spotlight and the possible large financial rewards also played a powerful corrupting role. Unfortunately, when bad science was deployed by these groups in a manner that could compromise public health, they became “part of the problem” and we made the difficult decision to call them out. This was particularly painful in some cases, because some of those formerly allied with us in exposing the agency corruption and misconduct during the water crisis, have remained in full-blown and full-time attack mode even after the Federal Emergency—a few of these individuals have now become dedicated adversaries of Flintwaterstudy and Dr. Marc Edwards.

Citizen Science versus Citizen Engineering

One untold story unfolding behind the scenes, feeding the growing controversy, is a clash of cultures and philosophy from within academia. On one side are the proponents of “Citizen Science,” which is exemplified by the scientific collaboration between Flint residents, Flint Water Study and others, that first exposed the water crisis in August-September 2015. Citizen scientists are dedicated to truth-seeking and truth-speaking, working in collaboration with trained scientists, in order to learn about their environment and the world around them. An exemplar from the water crisis is Flint, is resident LeeAnne Walters, who recently won the internationally recognized Goldman Environmental Prize for her grass roots activism.

On the other side are followers and practitioners of an emerging philosophy of “Citizen Engineering,” first defined by Purdue University Dean Dr. Donna Riley and effectively put into practice in Flint by her colleague Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou. Citizen engineering involves a process by which:

“community members (“non-experts”) identify scientific questions …sometimes but not always with the cooperation of trained scientists,” with “…the disruption of engineering expertise is a central goal….”

This goal of disrupting engineering expertise complements Dr. Riley and colleagues plea to get rid of the concept of “rigor” entirely in science and engineering to uphold “social justice” and eliminate “the profession’s tendency to marginalize, ignore, silence,…<l>ocal knowledges and scientific counter-knowledges that depart from dominant paradigms of engineering thought and practice.”

Whatever you think about the two clashing philosophies, obviously, any effort by experts such as Flintwaterstudy, to call out possible misuse of science by non-experts, is destined to create a major conflict and hard feelings.  Such was the case in post-Federal Emergency Flint.  Examples of our work in this area include the following:

We stand by our scientific reporting of these and many other issues. But as a result of the above we have been attacked repeatedly by Dr. Riley, Dr. Lambrinidou and Dr. Laura Sullivan (FACHEP) in social media, closed presentations and at conferences—they refuse all attempts to engage in responsible professional conversation about these and other issues. This is particularly painful because as recently as 2012, Dr. Lambrinidou was as equally outspoken advocate of Dr. Edwards’ research, public engagement, ethics and moral leadership, as exemplified by letters nominating him for some of the same types of recognition that she now decries.


The long-running unprofessional social media attacks and rumors, recently escalated with a letter writing campaign by some Flint residents (now with the public support of Dr. Lambrinidou and Dr. Laura Sullivan of FACHEP) and launch of a website Flintcomplaints.com. We welcome the chance to finally address these unprofessional attacks directly and publicly. Below we respond, point by point, to all specific claims in the Flintcomplaints.com letter.

1. Violation of Principle #3 of the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing: “Let People Speak for Themselves” (https://www.ejnet.org/ej/jemez.pdf): In March 2018, Mr. Edwards filed a formal complaint against Professor Shawn McElmurry and FACHEP (Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership). This complaint does nothing to help the residents of Flint move toward recovery in the Water Crisis. In fact, it has caused more strife, stress and drama that we do not need, want or deserve… Michigan and Flint residents have their own voice and have never asked Mr. Edwards to speak for us, let alone take official action using our names instead of his own.

Response:We stand by the accuracy of our blog post raising legitimate questions about Dr. McElmurry claims that he worked “in Flint” from 2010-2015 and developed a hydraulic model of the Flint Water system. We further note that Dr. McElmurry and Wayne State have not yet given a direct response to this important question. We have raised additional concerns about this issue by citing Dr. McElmurry’s statements made under oath. We do not agree that our raising these points violates any democratic principle. To our knowledge, Dr. Edwards has never once claimed that he represents “the people of Flint” in relation to these complaints —  moreover Dr. Edwards clearly signed the complaints in his own name.

2. Obstruction of Flint’s right for self-determination. …Many residents now fear the possibility that Mr. Edwards’ glib, reckless, and egotistical conduct may hamper the ongoing criminal investigation into the Legionnaires deaths in our city, which we see as the only form of justice we might achieve (http://michiganradio.org/post/scientific-disagreements-could-affect-special-prosecutor-s-case-flint-water-crisis.) This additional and totally undeserved worry suddenly adds to the stress and chaos we already feel.

Response:  The only specific item mentioned in Point 2, is again related to our specific allegations about Dr. McElmurry, as represented in the Michigan Radio report. We agree that it will be unfortunate for everyone, if Dr. McElmurry’s past representations of his qualifications and his statements made under oath are indeed false—but doesn’t Dr. McElmurry himself bear responsibility for those statements? We also find it remarkable that none of the signatories of the letter, seem to have any problem, with the prospect that Dr. McElmurry made false statements to win millions in research for which he was unqualified, or stole the research ideas of a young assistant professor. 

3. Unsubstantiated defamation of Flint residents: Mr. Edwards’ portrayal of Flint residents as dumb, dirty and vulnerable to being misled by anyone other than himself started in early 2016, is ongoing, and is misguided and offensive…. The allegation that FACHEP announced that they found shigella in Flint water is a lie… In May 2016, Mr. Edwards erroneously accused Scott Smith and Water Defense of scaring residents out of bathing (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/31/flint-lead-tainted-water-crisis-michigan-safe-to-use). Mr. Edwards also accused Dr. Laura Sullivan and Mr. McElmurry of FACHEP of causing Flint residents to stop bathing because their research scared us (according to some reports, Mr. Edwards made the preposterous claim that as many as 80% of us returned to a state of filth). This is insulting and false. It is also blatantly unscientific because Mr. Edwards did not bother to ask actual Flint residents about our bathing habits before coming up with this pronouncement.

Response: In response to the complaint we sent a polite letter to the email address provided to us on May 23rd  and May 24th. We pointed out that the source of our citation that 80% of Flint residents had changed their bathing habits was a U.S. Centers for Disease Control study—and we provided the authors a specific reference to that report. We also provide Facebook postings in which Dr. Laura Sullivan claimed that to avoid Shigella, her Wayne State and University of Michigan (FACHEP) colleagues had told her to boil filtered water before bathing. We also quoted a Flint resident who recently asserted “We have shigella because we wash our hands.” None of the insulting comments stated above, were ever made by Dr. Edwards. If he had done so, he would sign the flintcomplaint letter himself. As for Scott Smith data being used to scare residents about bathing, we think the title of the youtube video (“Scott Smith from Water Defense-Bathing in Flint is NOT SAFE.”) posted by Melissa Mays April 11, 2016 speaks for itself, but there are many other examples.Despite our polite letter mailed May 23 and May 24, we have received no response, yet these obviously false claims are now repeated on the flintcomplaints.com website. It therefore, seems that the website and letter are intended to deliberately defame Dr. Edwards, as opposed to exposing Dr. Edwards alleged defamation of Flint residents.

4. To our knowledge, there is no one in the scientific community overseeing Mr. Edwards’ work or the way he uses his power over powerless residents. As far as we know there is no one in the scientific community ensuring the integrity and honesty of Mr. Edwards’ words, research and activism. Mr. Edwards has repeatedly spoken and written about how there are no bacteria or dangerous pathogens in Flint residents’ water, even though he is not a microbiologist nor is he doing mass testing within our homes. Also, Mr. Edwards has assured Flint residents that it is safe to bathe in unfiltered water even though he has not done widespread testing of hot shower water and he is not a physician, dermatologist or toxicologist.

Response: The claim that unfiltered Flint water is safe for bathing, is the official position of all relevant public health authorities. The agencies position is supported by Flintwaterstudy’s extensive independent monitoring data for pathogenic and other bacteria that goes back to August 2015—our data supports the position of the agencies.  As indicated in the polite response we made to the authors of the letter on May 23 and 24, we asked them to produce a shred of evidence that Edwards repeatedly claimed “there are no bacteria or dangerous pathogens in Flint residents’ water.” For the record, Dr. Edwards has never made such a statement. He has repeatedly stated that all water in the U.S. has some levels of dangerous bacteria, and that there is no such thing as a risk free shower or bath in any U.S. city. Like the public health agencies, he has asserted that all the available data, indicate that Flint water is now as safe as other cities with old water pipes. The authors of the letter never responded with any evidence that he made such claims about “no bacteria,” which again, illustrates a deliberate attempt to defame Dr. Edwards by people who obviously know better.

As for the question of oversight, we wonder aloud:  “Who is examining the honesty and integrity of the words and actions of Dr. Riley, Dr. Lambrinidou, Dr. Sullivan and Dr. McElmurry?” And, “Who will correct the many false claims made in the Flintcomplaint letter, as detailed herein, sent to numerous professional engineering organizations, and now to the world? Afterall, it is their Citizen Engineering that has the explicitly stated goal of disrupting expertise and communities, and in Flint, they have been partly successful.

Response to original letter on May 23-24:

Download (PDF, 178KB)

Responses: Dr. Marc Edwards

Acknowledgements: Dr. Siddhartha Roy

Wayne State University Response to Questions

Wayne State University has released another press release in response to our questions. This follows a prior press release last week (that was retracted less than 24 hours after posting) endorsed by other FACHEP faculty asserting that we were “bullies” and spreading “false information” and deserving of sanctions for our supposed “unethical” behavior. In the new press release, Wayne State University writes:

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…

Even the newer press release does NOT provide a specific response to any of our questions. Also, for the record, a month ago, we did alert Wayne State to our concerns related to repeated public claims of McElmurry’s work experience “in Flint” from 2010-2014. We have received no response to this day.

We provide the entire press release below:

Wayne State University statement on accusations

April 4, 2018

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.

Considering the Unimaginable: Did McElmurry completely fabricate his story of work “IN FLINT” from 2010-2014?

Friday’s STATESIDE correctly noted that the entire case of Special Prosecutor Todd Flood against Dr. Eden Wells and Mr. Nick Lyons, is critically dependent on the veracity of his star witness — Dr. Shawn McElmurry.  When we filed our formal complaint against Dr. McElmurry on March 1, 2018, we were virtually certain that he had exaggerated his qualifications and work experience in Flint, to win “sole source” contracts for millions of dollars in research funding and leadership of FACHEP during the Federal Water Emergency. After McElmurry evaded direct questions from reporters last week, we reviewed his sworn testimony at trial, and are now forced to consider the unimaginable: What if Dr. McElmurry fabricated the entire story of his 5 year volunteer research effort “in Flint?”


Just consider a few illustrative strands of a tangled web that Dr. McElmurry wove on the witness stand, trying to answer repeated questions about what he did and when, in relation to his past work “in Flint”:

Question: “that was quite some time ago that you were actually started with boots on the ground within the city of Flint?”

McElmurry: “…my work in Flint starts probably about nine years ago now. No, that’s too many, probably like seven or eight years ago .. I got pulled in along with researchers at Purdue University, US EPA Region 5 to try to help him address what he saw as a challenge managing their infrastructure..”…“we worked for a while on the shrinking city problem if you will, and we published some of that work and I kind of took a break from Flint. I wasn’t as involved in Flint and when I started hearing the news reports kind of roll out about problems in Flint I will be honest with you, my wife got sick of me complaining about it and she told me to do something about it and so I did not know Doctor Mona Hanna-Attisha. I did not know anyone else in Flint at the time but I just emailed her and said that I have you know, data from before the crisis that might be useful to understand that and so I started to come re-involved…”

Question: “Just to get, and I understand the gravity of the work. How important was this work to you and your team?”

McElmurry: So obviously Flint was international news but more so then that. You know, we are all residents of the State and you know, I worked in Flint before and for all of us on the team…we felt that this would, you know, this was our family, our kids, I mean we felt, we really felt for the people of Flint….

Question: So Doctor McElmurry I want to take you back in time to your, you had mentioned to the Court you came here in what year specifically to start working in the city of Flint?

McElmurry: You know, I’d have to look back at my records. I’m guessing it’s 2010, 2012, sometime like that.

Question: When was that <working in Flint>?

McElmurry:  As I said, for some reason—well maybe five years earlier.  I know we had a publication that came out right as the water crisis had kind of gotten national attention, and that was probably two years prior to that we had been working in Flint.

Question: And you had been involved in counseling Mayor Walling years ago on water issues in Flint?

McElmurry:  Correct,  Yes.

Question: And I was intrigued on direct examination when you mentioned that you had previously had experience in Flint dealing with the impending, as many communities have, about their municipal water systems, and and that was in 2014, correct?

McElmurry: It was.  I believe it was before 2014.

Question: Well you tell me.  I thought it was 2014.

McElmurry: I came to Wayne State in 2008, and the work was shortly thereafter, so it was before 2014.

Question: Let me ask you, this, in what type of work were you doing in Flint regardless of the time period?

McElmurry: So at the time Mayor Walling had,…..very broad discussion about managing utilities and infrastructure in shrinking cities.

Question:  In other words, the mayor and municipal leaders were trying to learn of the nature of the problem and possible cures, too, right….now how long?…And, for how long did that work in research go?

McElmurry: I mean, I remember I was pretty active with that for more than two years I would say.

Question: And, then, you have a memory in your mind’s eye when it ended, that work?

McElmurry:  I would have to refer to—

Question: Right. Well, let’s work with some dates we do know.  We do know that the switch to Flint River occurred in the spring of 2014, right?

McElmurry: Yes, sir.

Question:  So your research ended before that day?

McElmurry: Yes, sir.

Question: Were you aware of any of the discussion about the water switch obviously prior to April of 2014?

McElmurry: I can’t recall how much I was aware of.

Question:  So even though you had done research in Flint, as far as your academic obligations, you weren’t brought in on any, in any capacity, with respect to the water switch?

McElmurry: At the time I was doing the work on shrinking cities we never discussed switching to an alternative water source as a way to, in any of those discussions.

From the above we created a rough timeline to try and make sense of McElmurry’s research work “in Flint” using his trial testimony and NIH proposal.


The FOIA of Dr. Faust provided documents, which indicate that McElmurry joined her PhD committee and had his first contact with the City of Flint on her project on January 9, 2013. Assuming that document is correct, the only possible window for Dr. McElmurry’s work is from January 2013 to April 2014 before the switch. That is only 1.3 years even if Dr. McElmurry’s now dubious word is taken as truthful. And strangely, even if he was working “in Flint” in that time-frame and counseling Mayor Walling, McElmurry has now claimed under oath that he had NO KNOWLEDGE OF THE PENDING SWITCH TO FLINT RIVER?

Furthermore, Dr. Faust and her advisor, assert that McElmurry did none of the work “in Flint” described in her dissertation or paper. Dayne Walling, supposedly counseled by McElmurry during that critical time period 2013-2014, does not remember any such thing. Nobody has yet vouched for the fact McElmurry even stepped foot “in Flint,” much less worked there for 1.33, 4 or 5 years. “Boots on the Ground?”  We are starting to wonder if McElmurry’s sneakers ever touched a street “in Flint.” The only documentation we have that McElmurry did anything at all related to Flint, is his participation in the one January 9, 2013 phone call.


Despite the fact that some professors who gorged themselves at the FACHEP funding trough (e.g., McElmurry supporters Dr. Love, Dr. Ben Pauli and Dr. Laura Sullivan) are rallying around McElmurry even as we speak – asserting that we are “bullies” and spreading “false information” and deserving of sanctions for our supposed “unethical” behavior, we stand by our every word. And for the record, we can no longer find the WAYNE STATE PRESS RELEASE POSTED YESTERDAY WHICH DENIED OUR ALLEGATIONS. Attempting to provide an explanation for this disappearing denial, FACHEP’s Dr. Ben Pauli stated:

It sounds like the legal folks are being super careful right now given everything that’s going on. I don’t blame them. I’m glad folks got to see the statement in its original form!

We do not blame them either. We repost the original Wayne State University press release (now deleted) for all interested readers and historians.

If our new concerns prove justified, McElmurry may be guilty of perpetrating, one of the most insidious cases of scientific misconduct ever, in relation to procurement of disaster relief research funding.

Download (PDF, 98KB)

Primary Authors: Dr. Marc Edwards with help from Dr. Siddhartha Roy

Wayne State University Press Release Does Not Address our Allegations

Wayne State has just issued a press release with a blanket denial of “false accusations.” In response to a direct challenge that we first provided to Wayne State in early March 2018, they have been unable to produce any evidence, supporting specific claims related to Dr. McElmurry’s work in Flint from 2010-2014.

In contrast, the e-mails we obtained by FOIA, are perfectly clear that McElmurry gained access to Dr. Faust’s dissertation work under false pretenses. Moreover, McElmurry improperly referenced that work as “his” in an NIH proposal, and to position himself for millions of dollars in relief research grants.

We have been waiting a month for an innocent explanation on this issue. We are still waiting. We are starting to doubt that an innocent explanation exists.