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
The NSF International is looking for volunteer homeowners and renters to help with an important kitchen faucet filter study. If you have friends or family in Flint, Pontiac or Detroit, your help in recruiting them would be greatly appreciated. Or, if you live in one of these cities, please consider participating.
Volunteers will receive $50.00 and a new water filter.
· How the study works: We will visit each selected home during the summer/fall of 2017 and may do a follow-up visit to some of the homes during the summer/fall of 2018. Water samples will be collected from homes that use faucet filters in the cities of Flint, Pontiac and Detroit. These cities were chosen because they all get their drinking water from Lake Huron and all have water infrastructure of a similar size and age.
· Why NSF is doing it: The State of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (MI DEQ) has contracted NSF International (as we are an independent public health organization) to conduct a household kitchen faucet filter study to find out how well these filters perform when harmful bacteria could be present (see attached).
If you, your friends or family are interested in participating, please send an e-mail to POUfilterstudy@nsf.org or call Issac Anderson at 1-734-773-4204
Information Letter for Flint, Detroit and Pontiac Residents:
Also in this exclusive: INTRODUCING SCOTT SMITH OF AquaFlex HOLDINGS LLC TO FLINT
Last week we received emails from a Mr. Jordan Chariton, Political Reporter with The Young Turks network (TYT). After first threatening legal action related to our recent post highlighting improper water sampling methods by TYT and Scott Smith of Water Defense, Chariton warned he was“working on an additional piece which prove you <Dr. Edwards> are a hack.” He then threatened a “public dispute with the largest online news channel in the world”unless “the entire post is taken down and your blog issues a correction.” If we met his demands, Chariton stated “I’m willing to do nothing publicly.” (Read the emails here)
And this was our first ever TYT communication—welcome to the world of internet journalism!
Mr. Chariton further asserted that we had selectively edited the videos in our post to make him look bad. While we did take short illustrative video snippets from TYT and Mr. Smith’s online videos, we also provided web-links to the complete videos for interested readers (Example: Here is the full video of how they sample drinking water by scraping the outside of a sewer pipe!) Ironically, as part of his threats, Mr. Chariton sent us a web-link to an earlier TYT video news story, that selectively edited a phone recording of Dr. Edwards that was made without his knowledge.
Rather than removing our post, which provides unambiguous insights to problems with TYT and Water Defense sampling methods and data quality, we have instead decided to reveal new information we have uncovered about another key concern. Specifically, the inherent financial conflicts of interest associated with Mr. Smith’s efforts in Flint and elsewhere. We then highlight TYT’s efforts supporting Mr. Smith while attacking the sound scientific work of EPA, Flintwaterstudy and others.
Mr. Smith’s “Entrepreneurial” Work in Flint: Let’s Launch a Business During a Water Crisis
The crux of our problem with Mr. Smith, is not only the improper sampling conducted as a representative of Ruffalo’s WATER DEFENSE non-profit, but that he is simultaneously an entrepreneur launching his AQUAFLEX Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) business in the midst of the Flint Water Crisis.
About a month ago, Flint social media highlighted a “package deal,” that would allow Flint residents to take a bath or shower deemed “safe” by a Mr. Scott Smith of Water Defense. A paper highlighting the deal was then posted online. For a total cost of $11,300-$13,800 per house, which included $2,100 to Scott Smith, $4,200 for a NLP™ filtration system, and $5000-$7500 for new plumbing, you too could have a safe shower and bath in Flint. The resident also claimed, that Mr. Smith had stated this water would also be “safer than […] bottled water.”
Upon further investigation, we have now discovered that Mr. Smith is representing both the Ruffalo non-profit WATER DEFENSE and his Aquaflex Holdings LLC business in Flint. Below are two letterheads obtained from his correspondence with Flint residents. Note that Scott Smith Aquaflex Holding LLC and Water Defense have the exact same phone number—hence, it is not a case of two different Scott Smith’s. Rather, it is a question of when you dial that number, which Mr. Smith are you talking to? Is it the opportunistic entrepreneur/businessman or the representative of Mark Ruffalo’s non-profit? Confused? So are we. We have now asked Water Defense to clarify exactly when Mr. Smith is representing the non-profit and when he is representing Aquaflex Holdings LLC in Flint.
We believe that this revelation, legitimizes our concerns about Mr. Smith’s conflicting roles. We further note that the resident in the social media video thought they were working with “Scott Smith of Water Defense,” yet Water Defense lawyers now insist they would never endorse filters and that the letter pushing NLP filters with junk science conditioners did not come from them. So maybe the letter, and the package deal for $11,300 per Flint house to have a bath he considers safe, is all the idea of Scott Smith of AquaFlex Holdings LLC.
TYT Network’s Unabashed and Unqualified Support for Mr. Scott Smith
Which brings us back to the bizarre mutual admiration between Mr. Smith and TYT. TYT promotes Mr. Smith while attacking EPA, Flintwaterstudy and others, as evidenced by the following stories of Mr. Chariton over the last six months.
Mr. Chariton in video sampling outside of a sewer pipe: “If EPA is not going to do the testing, I will. Scott Smith with the Water Defense Council (sic) […] <who has found> bacteria that the state has not found in Flint […]… He is going to be testing [water from the sediment clean out tap of a water heater and “bacterial fungi”].” “The water heater was not tested in this home by the EPA”
Mr. Smith and Mr. Chariton discussing East Chicago results: “The man with me now kinda walked me through [testing the sewer pipe and water heater]. Scott Smith. You are a scientist. You have done really terrific work […] You have creatively set the example on home water heating testing” “[Scott Smith] went in and tested 30 homes in Flint and you found all sorts of things that they didn’t find simply because you looked.”
TYT praising Mr. Smith in follow-up discussion: “Scott Smith of Water Defense was our liaison for that testing” “Scott is trusted by a lot of people” “It is shameful that we have to do the testing before EPA does”
Mr. Chariton at TYT Flint Townhall: “There are EPA funded scientists. And I am talking to you Marc Edwards. […] He was granted hundreds of thousands of dollars from [EPA and State of Michigan]. ” “I have worked with an independent water expert who’s not getting any money from the EPA. His name is Scott Smith. I am not getting paid from Scott, so this is just a free plug.”
Interestingly, while TYT has spent all kinds of air time questioning possible financial conflicts of real scientists working on normal research grants through their University and the ethics of EPA employees (and others) during the Flint disaster response, they have never once mentioned Mr. Smith’s venture capital AQUAFLEX Holdings LLC business venture. Nor have they commented on the quotation of $2,100 for Mr. Smith, as part of a $11,300-$13,800 package deal, to allow Flint residents to enjoy a Scott Smith approved safe shower. Oddly, TYT has never previously mentioned that Mr. Smith is also a businessman, self-identified entrepreneur, whose private company supposedly “Brings Clarity to Water Crisis.” No. Only his role at non-profit WATER DEFENSE has ever been discussed. This seems biased and one sided at best. Mr. Chariton is indeed a TYT political reporter and not a science reporter.
Both Mr. Smith and TYT also seem to revel in the fact, that conventional media no longer covers Water Defense or Aquaflex Holdings LLC work in Flint and elsewhere:
Our Response to TYT
We did not publicly respond for four months, while TYT shamelessly promoted Mr. Smith of AquaFlex LLC Holdings (or is it Water Defense?) at the expense of the EPA, Flintwaterstudy scientists and others. Because those attacks only hurt us, and not the public.
However, once we determined that Mr. Smith was telling Flint residents, that the only way he could recommend a safe bathing experience in Flint, is after spending $11,300 per house, that crossed a line for us. His inexperience and bad science was then potentially hurting Flint residents, who have already been hurt enough. Ultimately, it is up to our readers, and the attorney general, to decide whether the $11,300 per Flint home was ethical or represents a good value. You can also decide whether TYT’s fawning coverage of Mr. Smith (and threats against us) represents good journalism.
In closing, we would rather suffer the wrath of ”a public dispute with the largest online news channel in the world,” than sit by silently while bad science was used to hurt people. We called out EPA and the State of Michigan when they were the bad actors, and we will also call out TYT, a non-profit, and an opportunistic entrepreneur when they are in the wrong. So Mr. Chariton, we will not remove our posting — but we do provide your emails below to our readers, so your concerns and threats are faithfully represented.
Mr. Chariton’s threatening emails to FlintWaterStudy
≈42:32 “This is the first filtering technology I have reviewed with test results that makes me comfortable in saying the water is safe for drinking, showering, and bathing.”
≈43:34 “and I look forward to taking a shower at your house and drinking the water after the treated NLP™ Aqua Solutions Technology.”
Mr. Smith later shared this video on Facebook, which implied to us, that he had no problem with either its content or his letter about NLP™ being read aloud:
After our posting and referral of this matter to the Michigan Attorney General (AG), and our cautionary note to Flint residents about the NLP™ system, WATER DEFENSE lawyers have since clarified their legal position. They now state that “WATER DEFENSE DOES NOT ENDORSE, AND HAS NOT ENDORSED, NLP FILTERS.” Even though it seems to contradict our plain interpretations of Mr. Smith’s letter, we have since changed the title of our posting and some of the message text. We will let the Michigan AG handle it from here.
When we look at the science behind the conditioner, there are no peer reviewed scientific publications backing up the performance claims or the principles by which it supposedly operates. The explanations that the company provides makes no sense at all. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and in this case the NLP conditioners have been identified by some as “junk science” water treatment (Note: NLP™ appears to be identical to a product marketed as “Turbu-Flow” in Australia based on identical web pages).
System Seems Over-Priced and Does Not Appear to Remove Several Constituents Mentioned
Following the NLP™ water conditioner that seems too good to be true, the NLP™ filtration system includes normal whole house water filters and then a point-of-use filter. These NLP products are indeed rated for removal of several contaminants by a credible organization– just like many other competing water filtration systems available in the marketplace. However, claims are being made that the NLP filters also remove fluoride and other constituents, which we see no evidence that they can remove.
However, the NLP™ filtration system seems extremely overpriced for what it is rated to remove, compared to other high performance systems that remove even more contaminants. Specifically, the NLP™ system is marketed at a “discount” price of $4200 and the social media postings indicate that replacement filters cost over $500 every 6 months. While we at FLINTWATERSTUDY never endorse specific water treatment products, systems are available on Amazon.com that have proven performance exceeding that of the NLP™ system for just $700 with replacement cartridges that cost only $110. Thus, the price markup for the NLP™ systems is 500-700% versus those actually rated to remove the constituents cited on social media. In other words, according to our analysis, FLINT RESIDENTS COULD BUY A SYSTEM AT 20% OF THE COST THAT WILL ACTUALLY REMOVE MORE.
Does it really protect your water heater and private property from damage?
Another astonishing claim, is that this product will protect Flint home plumbing and water heater from property damage by scaling due to hard water. The clear implication is that purchasing this over-priced system is actually also an investment that might save you money someday. Putting aside the issue of whether the product even works, the problem with this particular claim is that Flint water is already non-scaling. Over the years we have thoroughly cleaned out dozens of water heaters in Flint homes—we have never identified hardness scale that could damage the plumbing of Flint residents. This is as expected, because the Lake Huron water has only moderate levels of hardness. In fact, we actually did a temporary hardness test to examine the scale forming potential of a sample of current Flint water— it is minimal at 4.25 mg/L as CaCO3 even at boiling. Current Flint water does not need any “softening.”
How do you know it is not really a miracle product? TEST RESULTS
Science is all about proving things and getting to the truth. Because it is possible that this device supported by WATER DEFENSE actually re-writes basic laws of chemistry and physics, and our decades of experience in water treatment are wrong, we actually purchased an NLP™ conditioner to see if it worked as advertised. Our NLP™ device had a list price $279.00 but we got it on sale for “only” $199.00. The device looks like a 10 cm piece of stainless steel pipe with some brass baffles inside it that should cost about $5 in materials. Four high profile and dubious claims about the device were tested including: 1) it produces “wetter water,” 2) the treated water produces more soap suds because of reduced surface tension, 3) it stops hardness scale from precipitating, and 4) it raises ORP.
Result: What does this claim mean? We have no idea. We did a “wetter” panel test – three RED cups were filled with Blacksburg Tap water (i.e., control) and three BLUE cups were filled with “conditioned” Blacksburg tap water. We then asked three random scientists if they thought one is “wetter” than the other. Here is what we found:
The results were inconclusive; in all likelihood, both waters are equally wet.
Result: We assembled a small rig to pump Blacksburg Tap Water (flow rate = ~150 mL/s) through and tested two conditions – a control and one with the conditioner in the flow. Washing detergent is added to each bucket containing 5L water right before starting the experiment (same experiment as in the Australian Turbu-Flow video).
The soapsuds are not changed by the conditioner, contrary to claims in the video. If anything, in our experiment, the control perhaps has somewhat more suds.
Watch videos of the experiment:
We also measured the actual water surface tension by capillary rise method. Hard well water treated by the NLP conditioner was not significantly different from untreated well water. Another false claim.
Result: We took synthetic hard water (197 mg/L as CaCO3) at 20 o C and pH 6.8 and pumped it through the NLP water conditioner and the water was then heated to 100 oC. The heated water was filtered through a 0.2 um filter to determine the [Ca2+] concentration that remained dissolved in the water. This concentration was subtracted from the initial concentration to determine the temporary hardness (amount of CaCO3 precipitated). The control experiment was pumped at the same flow rate but without the conditioner. This was done in duplicate. The results show that the NLP™ conditioner did not stop scale from forming.
Visually, it also seems that the precipitated water has identical scale formation. Certainly there was plenty of scale that formed:
We then increased the temporary hardness of the test water to 292 mg/L and redid the experiment (see results below). The conditioner did nothing.
Result: The ORP (measured using a HANNA HI 9828 meter) of “conditioned” tap water was actually the same as untreated water. If anything, it was slightly, but not significantly lower– the exact opposite of what was claimed.
In summary, it seems the conditioner offers NONE of the purported benefits when put to scientific test. Now of course, we have not yet fed the water to cows and see if they produced 30% more milk, but we did what we could.
Overall Verdict: Is This Criminal?
Our problems with Mr. Smith’s improper sampling and false statements are well-documented, but in this particular case, we question not only the ethics of the proposed “package deal,” but also the legality of these activities. The false health claims are particularly worrisome– Mr. Smith’s (WATER DEFENSE and Aquaflex Holdings LLC) assertion to Flint residents that this is the only filter system he is aware of that produces water considered good enough for safe bathing in Flint, is just sickening. We have therefore referred this matter to the Attorney General.
Primary Authors: Dr. Marc Edwards and Siddhartha Roy
Experimental work: Christina Devine, Gregory House, Siddhartha Roy and Dr. Marc Edwards