FACHEP vs. The People of the State of Michigan: Part I Dr. Shawn McElmurry

The Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership (FACHEP)


The People of the State of Michigan:

An investigative science reporting series by Flintwaterstudy.org

When MDHHS’ Mr. Nick Lyons and Dr. Eden Wells were charged with felonies associated with the Flint Water Crisis back in June 2017, we took a wait and see attitude. Our original reading of internal e-mails produced through our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests had led us to blame misconduct by a few employees at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) as the primary cause of the Flint water crisis. We contended that the governor’s office and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) were certainly guilty of being overly trusting of those engineers and scientists, but that the true criminal acts were the lies told by these few MDEQ employees. While we always remain open to new information, nothing presented to Dr. Edwards in the preliminary hearings has changed our opinion.

Anyone following us also knows we are not shy about calling out bad actors. In late September 2015, we wrote that some MDHHS employees were behaving unethically, but within a few days MDHHS reversed course by agreeing the water was unsafe, and after Dr. Wells started working with us in December 2015, we were impressed enough to call her out publicly in a good way on our webpage on January 7, 2016. Ever since, Michigan government has supported our scientific work and professionally answered all our questions, even when they were fully aware our research was showing that the switch to Flint River water was one key factor contributing to the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak and associated deaths. We published two peer-reviewed journal papers documenting this science in 2016 and 2017. At no point did anyone at MDHHS or the governor’s office discourage or impede our teams ground-breaking research that helped reveal the Flint Legionella outbreak.

Given our own positive experiences with MDHHS since December 2015, we were surprised when professors representing the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership (FACHEP) alleged under oath that the State of Michigan had not cooperated with their Legionella research. Indeed, sworn testimony by FACHEP professors was a basis for felony “obstruction of justice” charges against Wells and Lyons. To date, the media has generally sided with the presumably noble FACHEP professors and against the maligned state employees in these disputes.  Starting with this article, Flintwaterstudy will present an investigative series that calls that narrative into question, by examining FACHEP’s public leadership, especially as represented by Dr. Shawn McElmurry (Wayne State), Dr. Nancy Love (University of Michigan) and Dr. Laura Sullivan (Kettering University).

Figure 1. Representative FACHEP leaders Dr. Nancy Love, Dr. Shawn McElmurry and Dr. Laura Sullivan (left to right). Photos from UM and Kettering

In Part 1 of this series, we examine the role of Dr. Shawn McElmurry, an Associate Professor at Wayne State, who was essentially given carte blanc leadership of FACHEP in his formal role as Principal Investigator.

Part 1: Dr. Shawn McElmurry’s Unique Qualifications

The State of Michigan funded FACHEP with a $3.35 million “sole source” grant to study the Flint Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak. This was in 2016: AFTER the switch back to Detroit water, AFTER the declaration of federal emergency, and MONTHS AFTER the Flint Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak had ended. The logic behind awarding this large grant exclusively to Dr. McElmurry and his hand-picked team, without any competition, was summarized in public testimony by Wayne State President Roy Wilson to the Michigan legislature on February 28, 2016:

“Wayne State is uniquely qualified to lead this investigation given its established relationships, expertise in urban water issues, and existing engineering, public health, and social science expertise…This effort is being led by Dr. Shawn McElmurry, who has been working in Flint for a number of years…”

Indeed. McElmurry burst onto the scene of the Flint Water Crisis in October 2015, by introducing himself to Dr. Edwards of Flintwaterstudy as an extraordinary humanitarian who had just completed 5 years of research into the Flint water distribution system at the direct request of then-Mayor Dayne Walling. McElmurry also provided Dr. Edwards with his pre-proposal for an emergency research grant to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which stated that he was “able to respond with this rapid assessment based on our intimate understanding of the Flint regional water system and social infrastructure” and due to his “research focused on how to best adapt Flint’s existing water infrastructure to changes in population and industrial demandover the last 5 years.” McElmurry further asserted to both NIH and Dr. Edwards that he possessed “a complete hydraulic model of Flint’s water distribution system” as a result of “his” research work.

In the unfolding Flint Water Crisis, such a combination of local scientific knowledge, on-the-ground experience, social contacts and a working hydraulic model were urgently needed. McElmurry’s declaration that he possessed such expertise and assets represented a “golden ticket” to disaster relief research funding and a designated seat at situation room tables where important decisions would be made directly affecting the recovery. Edwards promptly introduced McElmurry to the inner circle of those working on the water crisis response and and wrote a letter of support for the $422,000 NIH grant which McElmurry was awarded.

Within months, McElmurry’s “unique qualifications” and claims of “intimate understanding” based on his 5-year volunteer humanitarian research mission in Flint, snowballed into his designated sole-source leadership role in the $3.35 million FACHEP grant. He also was involved in winning three emergency grants from the National Science Foundation to study water filters, which Dr. Edwards also helped him to obtain, with his Wayne State colleagues and Dr. Nancy Love at the University of Michigan. By late 2016 and early 2017, Wayne State (and other collaborators) were awarded $12.3 million of other NIH grants which prominently boasted about McElmurry’s pioneering work in Flint. Wayne State University was so proud of how the emergence of FACHEP was playing out in the media and  in garnering funding, that they even “branded” their Flint efforts with a heart-warming “Wayne State for Flint” logo.


Dr. McElmurry’s “EXPERTISE” was not what he claimed

Unfortunately for everyone involved (e.g., unsuspecting Flint residents, accused state employees, prosecutors who have been relying on his expertise and testimony) McElmurry’s claims about his prior work in Flint were too good to be true. At best his experience in Flint was grossly exaggerated, and at worst he perpetrated outright academic identity theft, with profound long-term economic and social consequences for Flint and the State of Michigan. Herein we present just some of the evidence of unethical behavior by FACHEP’s founder, which led us to this regrettable conclusion.

1. Second Impressions: Motivation, Expertise and Social Connections

By January 2016, McElmurry’s humanitarian story about his years of volunteer work in Flint, seemed demonstrably inconsistent with his behavior and performance as observed by Flintwaterstudy’s Dr. Edwards. McElmurry showed little interest in conducting quality science or actually helping Flint residents, but rather, was myopically focused on seeking funding and associated academic power. Whenever he was directly questioned about specifics related to his supposed “intimate knowledge” of the Flint water distribution system, McElmurry was completely clueless and unable to provide answers to even the most basic questions. In October 2015, McElmurry acknowledged he did not know how to contact Howard Croft, Flint’s Director of Public Works, and asked Edwards to introduce them. To date, we have not found anyone who can verify that McElmurry was leading the research that he claimed, into the Flint water distribution system from 2010-2015. When asked, former Mayor Walling stated that while he does not specifically remember McElmurry, he did recall research into Flint’s water distribution system that was led by Purdue University.

2. Meet Dr. Kasey Faust: The actual expert that McElmurry was pretending to be.

At that point Dr. Marc Edwards reached out to Dr. Kasey Faust, a remarkable young woman from Purdue University who did work in Flint as part of her PhD dissertation (2011-2015). In 2011, Faust won a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which enabled her to conduct research helping “shrinking cities,” like Flint, understand and prepare for challenges to their water sector infrastructure.

After Faust and her PhD advisor met McElmurry at an EPA organized workshop in April 2012, he was invited to be an external member of her PhD advisory committee in January 2013. Notably, the word “Flint” was not mentioned in McElmurry’s VITA or statement of qualifications provided to Purdue University at that time. Moreover, Faust and her advisor are not aware of McElmurry being independently involved in data collection related to Flint’s water distribution system, nor did McElmurry accompany Faust or her advisor on their trips to Flint, in his role as her external PhD committee member.

In response to a FOIA from Mr. Lyon’s lawyers, Dr. Faust provided her e-mail correspondences with McElmurry, and they are quite revealing. Reading through the emails is truly heart-breaking: suddenly McElmurry’s “cluelessness” makes perfect sense.  McElmurry literally stole Dr. Faust’s unique and visionary work and claimed it as his own in order to get his foot in the door and a leading seat at the table in Flint.  How did he do it?

First, in October 2015, McElmurry asked Faust to participate in his NIH emergency grant. This would have been a tremendous opportunity for Dr. Faust, who was now a newly minted assistant professor at the University of Texas, and it could have showcased her visionary expertise and continue her quest to help Flint residents.  Next, McElmurry requested that Dr. Faust send him her Flint water network and associated hydraulic models from her dissertation work for the NIH proposal. Faust also introduced him by email to people in Flint with whom she had worked. Final step, once Dr. McElmurry had the data/hydraulic models and introductions to collaborators in hand, he subsequently claimed they were “his and cut Dr. Faust out of his NIH grant.  McElmurry then used her data/models into his NIH grant proposal (without her permission or knowledge). At some point he did inform Dr. Faust that he was sorry she was dropped from the NIH proposal, but that the research went in a different direction than anticipated.

Thereafter, McElmurry essentially assumed Faust’s identity related to her Flint work and embellished it by adding three years additional effort for good measure. In this manner, McElmurry completed his academic identity theft, effectively lining his own pockets, opening the door to important leadership roles and harnessing the Flint disaster for his self-promotion—at the expense of Dr. Faust, Flint and MI residents.

3) Violating Ethical Canons of Engineering and Perjury?

By now, McElmurry has told and re-told the story of his 5-year volunteer humanitarian research mission in Flint so many times, he probably believes it himself. He testified to this story under oath as the star witness in the prosecution case against Mr. Lyons and Dr. Wells, and it is prominently featured in FACHEP press commentary and in Wayne State pressroom materials. McElmurry occasionally cites a research paper written by Dr. Faust, on which he was included as the last (i.e., least contributing) author, to imply intellectual ownership of her entire dissertation work. Here is an example from a Wayne State page: “McElmurry [began] working in Flint in 2010 (Faust et al 2015). However, according to Dr. Faust and her advisor, he conducted none of the work in that paper related to Flint or any other specific city mentioned.

Wayne State release states Dr. McElmurry began working in Flint in 2010 citing a research paper by Dr. Kasey Faust. According to Dr. Faust and her then-PhD advisor, McElmurry did none of the work on Flint (or other cities) described in that paper.

As the veil is now being lifted, it is becoming more and more apparent that Dr. McElmurry seems to be in the habit of making false statements that benefit his career. When posing as a “uniquely qualified” leader for the FACHEP funding in 2015, he asserted in writing to the State of Michigan that his research specialty was in “urban infrastructure and human health.” This false claim was not added to his online VITA until mid-2017, before his sworn testimony in the case against Lyons and Wells. The reality is that McElmurry’s true experience and academic record do not qualify him to serve as a contributing member of a group like FACHEP, much less lead it on behalf of Flint residents and the State of Michigan.

Our discoveries reported herein are truly shocking, and it is regretful to be put in a position where such information must be publicly shared, but it provides an explanation for the incompetence and disastrous consequences of McElmurry’s FACHEP leadership.  Ironically, our engagement in Flint was initially compelled due to the first canon of Civil Engineering ethics: to hold paramount the public welfare. Herein, as painful as it is, we are now compelled to call out McElmurry’s blatant violation of the second canon of Civil Engineering Ethics that Engineers shall perform services only in areas of their competence.”

Accordingly, Dr. Edwards has submitted a corresponding complaint to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) and has agreed to testify in a second canon violation hearing if necessary. He has also reported McElmurry to NIH for possible scientific misconduct in the midst of a Federal Emergency, due to falsifications that directly (and indirectly) may have won millions of dollars in research grants for himself, Wayne State University, and his collaborators.

When it comes to truly criminal behavior related to the FACHEP grant, perhaps the individuals who are presently accused, should be star witnesses for the State of MI in the case against Dr. McElmurry.


FOIA and other associated emails/documentation on FACHEP and Dr. McElmurry:

Download (PDF, 4.72MB)

Dr. Edwards’ complaint to Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs:

Download (PDF, 146KB)

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

Correcting some misconceptions about our 9/15/2017 Press Conference: Lead Data

In the aftermath of our press conference last Friday, there have been some unfortunate and misleading statements about Flintwaterstudy, our experimental design, conclusions and funding sources. We herein set the record straight about some of these issues.

Also, for anyone interested, the lead data for all five rounds has been made publicly available. Download it here.

Claim:  Our study was funded by the State of Michigan who has a stake in getting “good” news.

As our press conference and presentation very clearly indicated, the 1st and 5th round of water lead sampling was funded by Virginia Tech and rounds 2-4 were funded by EPA.  The State of Michigan has never funded any of our water lead tests in collaboration with Flint residents. In each round of sampling we have been focused on collecting high quality data and releasing results publicly as soon as it is available. We have done so.

Claim:  The declining number of samples in each Virginia Tech sampling round, indicates that fewer residents in Flint are willing to open their homes to us.

Our study design, aims to resample homes tested in prior rounds, using the exact same protocol. In this manner we are generating a consistent dataset to determine trends in Flint water lead levels over the last two years. If a resident misses a single round of sampling, for any reason, or did not properly follow the sampling protocol, they have to be dropped from the study to accurately evaluate trends. The fact that 50% of the original participants from our first round in August 2015 have sampled in all five rounds, is actually a very impressive achievement that we are very proud of. It is a testament to the extraordinary effort of our Flint Citizen Science team, who executed all elements of sample kit distribution and collection, and personally drove sample bottles to many homes of shut-ins (or those who could not otherwise collect/return their own samples).

Claim:  The declining number of samples in each Virginia Tech sampling round introduces a bias, that makes lead look lower (or higher).

Because anyone who drops out of the study is also excluded from the analysis of the prior rounds, there is no inherent bias introduced to our trend analysis when participants drop out. For instance, consider a home that tended to test high for lead, that dropped out in round 5 despite our best efforts.  Losing that home would decrease absolute lead results in round 5, but we also exclude it from our calculations for the results we present in rounds 1-4. The final dataset still reflects sampling data for 138 homes in five sequential rounds of sampling.

While it does not affect our conclusions, based on the 90%’ile first draw lead value in August 2015, homes that dropped out did have higher lead than homes that stayed in the pool (27 ppb versus 22 ppb). But the median lead was higher for those who stayed in the pool versus those who dropped out (3.9 vs 3.2 ppb).

Claim:  The press conference made a blanket statement that Flint water is now “safe.”

This is false. We have repeatedly stated, our belief that no tap water in the U.S. can be made completely safe for all people at all times. All claims about safety must be made relative to existing federal regulations or levels of contaminants found in water of other cities.  We concluded that Flint water now has lead levels in the range of other cities with old lead pipes. We also clearly stated that this is nothing to be proud of, and remind everyone to use filters or bottled water provided by the State, to further reduce consumer exposure to water lead in Flint (and other cities with lead pipe).

Claim: Flintwaterstudy has not been sharing data or has not been transparent.

Ever since we launched our effort, we have conducted open science, and have shared all our data with every party who asks to see it in contradiction to many academic norms. In so doing we have routinely given up “credit” that would benefit our careers. We have also answered every question formally posed to us. And to show you our strong commitment to these principles, we will even honor a data request by Jordan at Young Turks, who has had an adversarial relationship with us in the recent past.

Claim: Flintwaterstudy was “disrespectful” to the residents of Flint, because we did not consult certain individuals who felt they should be consulted, before releasing the most recent citizen collected sampling data.

We have used the same open science approach to disseminate and publish our results for two years. Anyone can access our processed data.  We have also provided the raw data to anyone asking for it more than 100 times at last count. We do not feel a need to consult with anyone before releasing our data that is collected in partnership with Flint residents, back in August 2015 or now, and we would not change our approach if we conduct another sampling round. While we understand that some parties with an agenda do not like what certain data show, as was the case for the State of Michigan in August 2015 when our results showed problems, or other groups who simply do not like what the data show today, we do not accept that our actions on Friday were disrespectful to anyone. Thankfully, neutral parties can form their own opinion about our methods and approach, by viewing the entire recorded press conference here.

Claim: The press conference declared that the Flint water crisis was over

There is no accepted definition as to when a water crisis begins or when a water crisis ends. The only statement we made on that particular issue, was in response to a reporter’s direct question at the end of the press conference, to which Dr. Edwards responded:

“If you define the end of the water crisis as having water quality parameters back in the range considered normal for other cities with old lead pipes, the answer is yes,” Edwards said in response to a reporter’s question. “Obviously, there’s still a crisis of confidence amongst Flint residents that’s not going to be restored anytime soon. It’s beyond the reach of science to solve, but it can only be addressed by years of trustworthy behavior by government agencies who, unfortunately, lost that trust, deservedly, in the first place.”

We stand by our nuanced response to this reporter’s question.

Claim:  The problem is not anything you said, it is how the press conference is being reported.

We do not control what other people say about our results.  If another reporter said something that was factually in error about our work, we would address that by writing to the reporter.  We have done so on several occasions and we provide written clarifications on our website.

Claim: Some residents were wrongly excluded from the most recent sampling round.

We have worked very hard, to sample every home of those who participated in all rounds of sampling using the Virginia Tech protocol. One person who willfully deviated from the Virginia Tech protocol in the 4th round of sampling, in a manner known to give false high water lead results, was informed in April 2017 that they would not be part of future sampling rounds. While this person has purportedly claimed she was unfairly excluded in order to bias the results, our team’s written decision to exclude this resident was documented with U.S. EPA Region V back in April 2017.

Claim: Your protocol does not have at least half lead pipes in your pool, so unless I am missing something, you are not following the guidelines to calculate a correct 90%’ile lead value.

Most cities, including Flint, have poor records of service line materials. Obviously, when our team first sampled in August 2015 and were operating in crisis mode in potential conflict with authorities, we did not have this information and instead focused on responding to residents and sampling as many homes distributed across the city as we could. Because we now have information on the suspected service line material, courtesy of open science conducted by some great researchers at the University of Michigan-Flint, we can “back calculate” what a 90%’ile lead level for a LCR sampling pool with minimum 50% lead pipe, would look like in all five of our sampling rounds.  The rationale was explained during our press conference (see slide 24). Rightly or wrongly, most states allow old and imperfect records on service line material to construct an official LCR sampling pool. Verification of actual materials by plumbers is not required.  When we calculate hypothetical results for a representative high risk EPA pool with 50% lead pipe using this approach, our results are not inconsistent with the “official” results recently published by the State of Michigan. Those official results recently determined that Flint now meets the EPA action level.   We have always made clear that our work was not an official LCR sampling event, but this analysis shows that we no longer have reason to scientifically doubt the State of Michigan data. Unlike August 2015, when our results could not be reconciled with official claims of meeting the action level.

Question:  What is the distribution of samples by Ward?

This table provides the distribution by Ward.  Our conclusions are not dependent on an even distribution of samples, but there is reasonable representation across all 9 Wards.

Claim:  If the State sampling pool was constituted to examine the worst of the worst case homes, rather than just a normal legitimate sampling pool, the 90%’ile level in Flint would exceed the action level.

This is a truthful statement that we have frequently made ourselves. We remind everyone, living in Flint or in cities all over the U.S., that one cannot rely on the EPA LCR to protect you from elevated lead in water. In a given city, compliance with the LCR can still mean that 50-70% of homes, will have some water samples well over the 15 ppb action level in first, second or third draw, on some occasions.  Little pieces of lead plumbing, with very high water lead values, do detach from the plumbing on a semi-random basis. We roughly estimate that, dependent on sampling pool and site selection, “legitimate” 90%’ile lead values in Flint could still range from 2-50 ppb dependent on site selection.  That is right.  That is the maddening reality of the LCR, as we have been arguing for the last 14 years.  We need to update the EPA LCR, in order to make sampling results more consistent, rigorous and meaningful. In the meantime, we strongly advise people to continue use of bottled water or lead filters to reduce lead exposure, which can be very significant even in cities meeting the LCR.

FAQ: Dr. Marc Edwards

Acknowledgements: Mr. Siddhartha Roy, Dr. Amy Pruden, Dr. William Rhoads, Dr. Min Tang, Dr. Kelsey Pieper, Dr. Jeff Parks, Mr. Anurag Mantha

[Complete Dataset] Lead results from Tap Water Sampling in Flint, MI Rounds 1-5

In response to multiple requests, we are releasing lead-in-water testing results from all five citizen-led sampling events (Aug 2015, Mar 2016, Jul 2016, Nov 2016, and Aug 2017) for public use and dissemination.

Suggested Citation: FlintWaterStudy.org (2017) “Lead Results from Tap Water Sampling in Flint, MI during the Flint Water Crisis – Citizen Science Rounds 1-5”

Download (PDF, 103KB)

Data checks (for one or more sampling rounds): Min Tang, Kelsey Pieper, Rebekah Martin, William Rhoads, Jeffrey Parks, Anurag Mantha, Siddhartha Roy

Flint Water Study Press Conference 09.15.2017

Today is the two-year anniversary of the first press conference organized by Flint residents and activists outside Flint Town Hall where results from the 2015 citizen-led water sampling effort were first presented. We now provide updates on the 5th round of citywide lead-in-water testing led by Flint citizen scientists as well as Legionella monitoring by our team.

Speakers: Dr. Marc Edwards, Ms. Min Tang, Dr. William Rhoads and Mr. Siddhartha Roy

Download (PDF, 1.25MB)

Watch the press conference here:

[Update 9/25/17 4:08PM]: Slide 24 of the PDF should say “Randomly select 17 homes from the remaining 88 homes without lead pipes but built before 1986”