On Slide 6 of the PDF, there is a brief video of the “ultra low flow” shower shown below:
This timeline has been updated on
- Oct 2, 2017 — entries are labeled [Up-1]
- Oct 3, 2017 — entries are labeled [Up-2]
- Oct 25, 2017 — entries are labeled [Up-3]
Note: We have collaborated with hundreds of Flint residents who have been truth seekers and truth speakers from the start– in our 2+ years of community engagement, we have only had problems with a few who seem to have other agendas. No matter what we discover about this particular case and those individuals, it does not detract from our collaborative success to date.
That said, the more we investigate the story of lead sinkers found in the plumbing of a Flint resident, the more sickening it appears to be. The following is a timeline of some key events starting in late June 2017 to present. We hope this helps you form your own opinions.
June 23, 2017. The Flint resident was interviewed by “journalist” Carly Hammond (of Jordan Chariton’s TATM “News”). She wishes her blood lead had been tested earlier, because she suspected it was high from showering in the water.
At one point, Carly and the resident repeat a false health claim made repeatedly by Scott Smith (formerly of Water Defense), regarding the supposed dangers of bathing or showering in water with elevated lead. Specifically, the resident wrongly claimed that high doses of lead can be sorbed through the skin when bathing, after which the reporter falsely stated “Studies show that a person taking a 10 minute hot shower, inhales more lead particulates into their blood system, than a person drinking a liter of water.”
As we have noted repeatedly since 2016, there is no such “study.” But when has Jordan Chariton and his ilk, ever let facts get in the way of a great urban legend that they helped Water Defense and misguided Flint activists manufacture? The interview ends with the journalist, pleading with Flint residents to challenge any narrative that water lead levels are improving across the city.
July 1, 2017. The resident launches an online fundraiser campaign to raise funds because she was “poisoned by the water.” At this point in time, there is no evidence her blood lead has ever tested high. In fact, her blood lead taken the day before is below the current Centers for Disease Control level of concern (= 5 ug/dL).
July 5, 2017. The resident collects the first of many water samples, which would be found to contain astronomically high values of lead, in the thousands of ppb. The lead results are shared widely on social media by the resident and other activists to “challenge the narrative” that water lead levels are being reduced in Flint—implying or stating that the EPA, State of Michigan and others are lying to residents.
[Up-1] July 15, 2017. The resident posts that she is taking baths using rain water.
~ July 15, 2017 [exact date unknown]. Update 1 on resident’s GoFundMe page: The picture on this site is a copy of my latest lead level that’s in my water, which the state is saying is my problem ! I’ll continue to fight for clean water for Flint as long as I’m physically able.
~ July 15, 2017 [exact date unknown]. Update 2 on resident’s GoFundMe page: Here’s the latest lead level in my home and as you can see the total amount of it in my water is 3818ppb That’s wayy over the allowable limit set by the goverment which is 15ppb. At least for now I have a rain barrel that I can use for water to bath in.
[Up-1] July 25, 2017. The resident posts on Facebook: “Another fun filled day trying to track down a free blood draw for lead!! […] I’ve got an appointment at 10am tomorrow. Stay tuned!!!”
~ July 26, 2017 [exact date unknown]. Update 3 on resident’s GoFundMe page: It’s no wonder I’ve been feeling so sick! This is the level of lead in my blood. I still try to make it to work everyday but it isn’t getting any easier. Any help you can give is greatly appreciated.
July 27, 2017. Flintwaterstudy contacted early July 27th about high water lead and high blood lead results. The resident’s version of the story is broadcast on ABC12.
[Up-1] July 29, 2017. Environmental Coffee House interview. In response to the question “How can this be happening with copper lines and all new fixtures in your home?”, the resident responds: “There are lead mains in this city.” Everyone needs everything replaced. Mains, service lines, in home plumbing, water heaters, refrigerators, washing machines…. everything.
[Up-1] July 29, 2017. Environmental Coffee House interview. At 11:35, someone typed a comment that “Her T-shirt says ask me about 38.4! That is her blood level folks. Something is terribly wrong in Flint. Keep watching and keep everyone informed!” At no point in the broadcast can one see beyond “Ask me” on the t-shirt. Assuming this comment is correct, and we don’t know how anyone knows what the entire shirt says, the resident rushed out after a high blood lead measurement, to purchase a customized t-shirt that says “Ask Me About <Blood Lead Level>!”
~ July 31, 2017 [exact date unknown].Update 4 on resident’s GoFundMe page: My health isn’t improving much and now I know why… I’m still being exposed to the lead in my water. Results of my latest blood lead level.
On or before August 3, 2017. Lead sinkers discovered in resident’s plumbing. The discovery is reported to EPA.
[Up-1] August 12, 2017. A Flint activist talks about the resident’s high lead and the broader implications of her results for all Flint residents:
2:01 How I possibly couldn’t have high lead in my water. Or anything wrong me. or my children. or my husband. Because I have a copper service line.
2:17 We have an amazing human being named Vicki Marx who has proven that wrong over and over again.
2:28 Some interesting statistics are gonna come out about the copper service lines right now. No one is safe in this city.
We have lead floating all over. […]
3:10 The whole <water distribution system> has to go. You cannot say that the straw is good when the drink is gross to begin with.
25:25 Because Vicki Marx hasn’t drank the water in like two years almost and her blood lead levels were recently 38.4. So, we need to look at the whole showering thing. […] Her lead levels are over 12,000 [ppb] from this month and she has a copper service line. So, I don’t want anyone settling into a false sense of security.
30:52 I didn’t win an award for highest lead. Right now, Vicki’s got that. So, Vicki, whatever kinda crown you want, baby doll, that’s yours.
32:52 Vicki likes tiaras. You get a lead tiara, baby doll.
46:20 If I had copper to copper all the way to the curb, like Vicki Marx does, I could have this as my lead test. This was taken July 11th. Her 250 mL sample was 12064 ppb. Her 750 mL sample was 5639 ppb. It averages to 7245. […] So, they are saying that this is not possible or what. […] They are trying to say Melissa can’t have high lead because she has a copper service line. Oh really? So, how do you explain Vicki?
47:46 They also say you cannot get lead poisoning through showering. So, here’s Vicki’s blood lead level. 38.4. And that is through a finger prick which the CDC doesn’t recommend because it can show lower than what it actually is. And Vicki has done nothing but actually just bathe in the water for quite some time. So, that is a huge high level to be spiking for that. SO, now, now, we actually have to start researching if what you can actually absorb into your body. [Grant proposal on epidemiological study denied]
49:35 Breathing in the steam might be poisonous. We asked this. Scott Smith asked this question and then got completely trashed by the State of Michigan. Is that a possibility? We don’t know. […] Scientific testing should be done here and that is not being done.
49:50 <points to the report open in front of her> Our lead is obviously not better
50:45 [When someone says one can’t have high lead because you have a copper service line, well..] Guess what galvanized are pumping high. And looks like copper is too.
It is an entire compromised infrastructure. So, of course, it’s gonna be everybody.
51:03 What if it’s a showering issue? We need data. [If they won’t do it, we will do an epidemiological study]
August 12, 2017. Commenting on her data and experience in an August 12 interview (at time 17 min), the resident states “Everyone is saying you cannot get lead from showering in it. …As far as I’m concerned, the only way I could have been exposed to it, is from showering in it. But everyone up and down is saying you cannot absorb lead through your skin?” In the entire interview, there is no mention made of lead sinkers being discovered in her home plumbing just a week earlier.
(July to) August to September 2017. Results of this residents water lead and blood lead tests, are repeatedly circulated on social media by activists (collectively shared over 200 times; examples: here, here and here), whose openly stated agenda is to challenge a “narrative” about improving water lead. The so-called “narrative,” is actually based on a scientific analysis of thousands of samples from three independent sources: State of Michigan, U.S. EPA and Flintwaterstudy.
September 19, 2017. The resident posts her blood lead test results at 22.1 ug/L (test conducted Sep 12, 2017)
September 21, 2017. Jordan Chariton states in a rambling discussion about the situation in Flint “..to be honest with you, I do not understand why journalists are so worried about being wrong. […] if you make assertions and it is found out later you were incorrect, there is nothing wrong with saying…..I was wrong.”
September 28, 2017 morning. TYT’s Jordan falsely claimed that the samples from her house where the sinkers were found “SHOWED NON-DETECTS FOR LEAD”. Here is one example of her bathtub faucet lead-in-water levels at 399 ppb. Here is another. Jordan states “the lead sinkers found in Vicki’s home have NOTHING to do with her high lead-levels—NOTHING”.
He also reported that the sinkers “had to have been placed [where they were found]” and did not come from the resident.
September 28, 2017 evening. A Flint activist promised that “the truth and science [regarding the sinkers] will be released soon“
[Up-1] September 29, 2017 at 8:13pm. Lawyer for Ms. Marx writes “I just received a Joint Statement from the Plumbers Union and a Water Test Consultant explaining what transpired….Kudos to you Mr. Harold Harrington and Water Expert, Scott Smith for coming forward…. the certified plumbers tested the sinkers at another water source shortly after removing them from Ms. Marx’s bathtub to prove that it’s unlikely that the sinkers caused the elevated lead levels in Ms. Marx’s water supply. Our client and the plumbers have been transparent about this incident.”
Ms. Marx’s lawyer further elaborated in writing elsewhere “No lead fish sinkers were ever found in her Bathroom where she showered and/or bathe…..another water expert who has been asked to evaluate Marc Edwards claim; has opined that due to the non corrosive nature of the Detroit water, no lead would have leached from the sinkers in the water anyway.” “What the expert’s opinion is; those little sinkers would not have caused the kind of extremely high lead test results that came from Vickie’s plumbing based upon the non corrosive nature of the Detroit water.”
[Up-1] September 30, 2017. Assorted Statements from Flint Activists Highlighting Their Scientific Explanation for the Situation:
“Thank you to the plumbers and the real experts who speak up for the victims […] The truth will be released soon!!” “[…] the sinkers in her bathtub are a distraction for people like you to hang on to and so the easily led will dismiss her extremely high tests […]” “According to the testing, the lead sinkers came back with a non detect. So they are not causing the high lead tests in her faucet.” <The reason the sinkers were not reported to law enforcement> was “Because there was more testing to be done and there was more information to be dug up. And they knew if they posted it before having all the facts, people might think the innocent resident was doing it. So that’s why they continue to do more testing, which is all part of the report.” “[…] the sinkers were tested and came back non detect for lead […] SCIENCE INCLUDES TESTING. Harold and Scott already put that statement out with the test results.” “The science proves that the sinkers did not let off thousands of parts per billion. I mean, common Sense could have told you that.” “The plumbers did not want to report anything to law enforcement until they had proof that it was done to her and what had happened.”
All available discussion comments in full reproduced at the end of this timeline.
[Up-1] October 2, 2017. Dr. Edwards posts results from his experiments on the effects of lead sinkers in showers on water lead levels and human exposure.
[Up-2] October 2, 2017. The Flint Journal — Test shows fishing sinkers can spike lead in water to 6,000 times federal limit
[Up-2] October 2, 2017. Comment under this timeline from a person purporting to be one of the (lead sinker) resident’s lawyer:
You did not quote all of my facebook post’s, particularly the one where I made a correction that the fish sinkers were found in Ms. Marx’s Bathroom. Further, the statements made on my FB page were my statements and not as an individual Attorney for Ms. Marx. Mrs. Marx’s is represented by a Team of Attorneys as a Class Member of a Class Action Lawsuit.
[Up-2] October 2-3, 2017.
Question from a person purporting to be one of the (lead sinker) resident’s lawyer:
Edwards states among other things….tests show a single, new lead sinker, placed in a faucet with Flint water can cause lead levels to skyrocket…. while lead from a fishing sinker leaches very little lead when treated with phosphate to make the surface less reactive chemically.
He also says….”Lead from a fishing sinker leaches very little lead — just 2 ppb — when treated with phosphate to render the surface less reactive chemically, results from the experiments show”.
Does, Mr. Edwards know whether the lead sinkers found in the Bathroom of Victoria Marx had been treated with phosphate to render the surface less reactive chemically, and thus less likely to leach lead into the water? The answer is NO, because he has not had access the particular lead sinkers that were found, nor has he conducted test on the particular lead sinkers that were found….Therefore, as much of an expert as he claims to be; without having examined or tested the particular lead sinkers that were found in Ms. Marx’s fixture; he can’t make or arrive at any legitimate conclusion as to how they affected the water in her house or whether they contributed to the high water lead test results that were found in her home. Dahhhh😏😏😏😏💯
Our research showed that 1 new lead sinker, could contribute at least 91,500 ppb to first draw Flint water. With increased aging in Flint water, it could contribute as little as 2 ppb lead. That provides legitimate insights relevant to what could happen if a new lead sinker was placed into home plumbing. We find it very odd that this resident’s lawyer, is repeatedly downplaying the significance and dangers of lead sinkers found in their client’s plumbing. Is anyone else wondering, “Why wasn’t this immediately reported to law enforcement?” “Why were these facts withheld from the public, until we conducted a FOIA of EPA?” The lawyer is correct that we do not have access to the particular lead sinkers that were found– we certainly hope that they are presently in the possession of law enforcement, because they are almost certainly evidence in a crime. Either someone tried to harm this resident by contaminating her water supply, or someone tried to artificially increase their lead in water for some reason, or other bizarre ideas we have not thought of yet.
[Up-3] ~October 16, 2017. GOFUNDME page of this Flint resident is no longer active.
[Up-3] October 25, 2017. Several people have written to “ask me about 38.4.” Specifically, how much lead in water would an average 60 year old woman need to consume, to increase their blood lead from 2 to 38.4 ug/dL in less than 2 weeks?
Here are some estimates for three different scenarios, using computer simulations with the International Commission for Radiation Protection (ICRP) bio-kinetic model:
Scenario 1: One swallow of water (100 mLs) containing 11,000 ppb lead.
Scenario 2: A single glass of water (220 mLs) containing 5,000 ppb.
Scenario 3: Drinking 1 liter of water a day for 2 weeks, containing 160 ppb lead.
After we (i.e., Dr. Edwards) showered and bathed in water with more than 5,000 ppb lead in it, recording no detectable human lead exposure– this residents lawyer bizarrely challenged us to drink leaded water (presumably in the range 5,000-11,000 ppb as found in this resident’s home). Of course, doing so would contradict our repeated advice that no one in Flint (or living anywhere with a lead service pipe) should drink unfiltered tap water. We hereby extend that warning to anyone living in a home in which lead fishing sinkers have been placed inside your home plumbing.
We are still waiting on promised scientific explanations for: 1) how the lead sinkers got there, 2) why the misguided lawyer and Flint activists believed that discovering lead sinkers was not worthy of public mention [whereas the high water lead and high blood lead measurements were repeated over and over]. We have also not heard the lawyer yet call for a criminal investigation to discover who put the lead sinkers into this residents plumbing, now more than 2 months after the lead sinkers were first discovered. Finally, there has been no follow up to threats from this lawyer, regarding a possible defamation lawsuit against us. Stay tuned.
[Up-3] October 25, 2017. State cites criminal probe, withholds emails related to lead sinker home in Flint
Credits: Dr. Marc Edwards/Mr. Sid Roy
The story of how a coalition led by concerned residents, activists, whistleblowers and others (including Flintwaterstudy.org) worked to expose the Flint water crisis, has become an epic case study illustrating the power of citizen science and ethical science action. But we have also uncovered examples in which citizen science has been abused, to harm people and promote false narratives.
Citizen Science Tragedy.
After the Federal Emergency was declared and the responsible agencies admitted there was a problem and began working together to fix it, opportunists came to Flint in droves. In early 2016 we called out one abuse—businessmen who were claiming to be scientists, asserting unprecedented dangers with bacteria and chloroform and other contaminants that were an artifact of their flawed proprietary sampling methods. We later demonstrated they had a clear financial conflict of interest, as evidenced by attempts to recommend overpriced filters to Flint residents, many of whom understandably live in fear of tap water.
The pseudo-scientists and unscrupulous activists, found a willing accomplice with “journalists” at The Young Turks Network, who also came to Flint after the federal emergency was declared, seemingly intent on undermining any remaining trust residents have– long after the government wrongdoing had been exposed and acknowledged. In a remarkable video posting last week, TYT’s Jordan Chariton revealed his approach and journalistic standards, when he stated “..to be honest with you, I do not understand why journalists are so worried about being wrong. […] if you make assertions and it is found out later you were incorrect, there is nothing wrong with saying…..I was wrong.” Is making assertions “based on [your] intuitions” consistent with the first ethical canon of journalism “to seek truth and report it”?
We also witnessed, an unfortunate case where a Flint citizen deliberately used improper water lead sampling methods, that made lead in their water appear much higher than it otherwise would have been. Even after we had a conversation acknowledging this lead result was not valid, it was shared with the press, to support a narrative that Flint’s water quality was getting worse and worse– despite massive relief efforts and expenditure of millions and millions of dollars to improve the situation.
Citizen Science Misconduct?
We herein document the case of another Flint resident, who has been broadcasting data showing that their water lead test data was also getting much worse with time.
Note: If you cannot see the interactive graph above, click here for an image. Only lead levels shared on NBC25 and the resident’s Facebook posts (privacy settings: public) have been included. As a further check, several of these were confirmed with available Residential testing Excel sheets from MDEQ.
This story has now been featured in numerous media (ABC12, Detroit Free Press, NBC25, TYT, other outlets), because this resident’s water lead level climbed to thousands of ppb this summer. As in the earlier case, it was a scientific mystery as to how this could happen without having any lead pipe to the home — the publicly stated implication was that water coming from the City of Flint was already contaminated with lead from the water main. This resident also posted data showing very high blood lead, and claimed their lead exposure probably occurred in the shower. This defies the conventional wisdom that bathing and showering, even at relatively high water lead levels, does not tend to elevate blood lead.
We became aware of this case in late July, when ABC12 Flint presented us with the case. At that time we offered to personally visit the home to investigate, but our offer was refused and the story ran July 27th, 2017. A few weeks later we heard rumors that Scott Smith (formerly of Water Defense) and Harold Harrington investigated, took samples, and tried to diagnose the problem. In the course of that work, it was claimed that lead fishing sinkers were found inside this person’s plumbing. In a response to an EPA FOIA related to the case of high water lead in this persons home, we have discovered disturbing documents (see below) and a video showing there is something to this rumor.
At a minimum, it seems that the mystery of astronomically high lead in this particular consumer’s home plumbing, is not as simple as the narrative that has been presented in the media. The documentation we have obtained to date, raises more questions than it answers.
Let us first compliment Mr. Smith and Mr. Harrington, because it appears they appropriately reported a discovery of lead sinkers in the plumbing of this resident to the EPA. But did they also have an obligation to speak out, and correct the very public and misleading reports of dangerous lead in this resident’s water? What was their motive to not openly acknowledge, that there are some complexities to the story presented in the media, that are not being discussed?
We certainly have not heard the last of this story. Citizen science efforts in Flint, which in our experience and practice brought out the very best in people, have also occasionally been abused to bring out the worst in people. After the water crisis was acknowledged, a few reporters, academics, actors, activists and pseudo-scientists have attempted to exploit the tragedy for personal gain—it seems that their ends, sometimes justifies use of citizen science misconduct as a means. As these cases indicate, these tactics can create a spiral of distrust, that genuinely harms the community while undermining those who want to help the recovery. Our intensive collaborations with hundreds of Flint residents over the last 2.5 years, in a quest to discover the truth about water quality whatever it may be, has shown us that the “good” of citizen science overwhelmingly outweighs a few “bad” examples. But the story of Flint has now become a cautionary tale, that includes citizen scientific misconduct.
Emails obtained via FOIA to EPA on finding lead sinkers from inside the resident’s plumbing
Write-up: Dr. Marc Edwards and Mr. Siddhartha Roy
FOIA: Dr. Marc Edwards
Background research and data: Mr. Siddhartha Roy
[published with permission under condition of anonymity]
Sep 19, 2017
This is ____________, I am __________ in Flint. I’m writing just to say thank you for all the amazing and thankless work you do and have done for residents and families in Flint. You are clearly in a no win situation with some activists, reporters, residents, and miscellaneous malcontents. We have been in contact with you since early last year and so appreciate your dedication to the science and to doing so in an honest and transparent fashion, unlike some of the pseudoscience and grifting being done by the circus known as ____________ and others.
This is a job you couldn’t pay someone to do in a climate so toxic and a political environment so surreal and yet you have stayed the course and continued your work. You and your incredibly dedicated colleagues and students have done a great service to the residents, families, and children of Flint. Of that, there is no doubt. You have my heartfelt and sincere thanks for all you do. At some point we hope to undertake some new initiatives in Flint to bridge the biggest remaining gaps in this crisis which you aptly called the Trust issue. That remains the single biggest impediment to weening people off bottled water and getting them to begin to use municipal tap water again. It is an endeavor we hope will bear fruit but we have no illusions and also know it may likely be decades before we see any substantial shift in how people use their water and can again trust what comes our of their faucets. We hope to approach your team in the near future to get your input, feedback and insights on how best we might undertake such an effort and achieve some lasting positive outcomes from such an effort. But for now we at _____________ are grateful for having you in Flint. Your actions are nothing short of heroic and in a place and time where few others actions can be labeled such.
Thank you all. We support you wholeheartedly and without reservation and if we can be of service to you in any way in Flint or beyond feel free to reach out to us.
Take good care
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