Part V: Trial by Ordeal within an Academic Bonfire of the Vanities

The questionable tactics of the Flint Area Community Health and Environmental Partnership and Friends (F+F) have recently been covered in major media. Steve Kolowich at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Perry Stein at the Washington Post and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones have all given their take on this distasteful situation. 

As Perry Stein perceptively noted, when it comes to the F+F instigated crybully attacks on Dr. Wells, Flintwaterstudy or Dr. Edwards, the key question is:

 “Clearly, a betrayal had occurred. The question was, who betrayed whom?”

This blog provides revelatory new facts to answer this very question.

This week we disclose FOIA emails from a friend of FACHEP, which, in our view, are so unhinged, that they had to be sanitized in the above publications to make them suitable for public consumption. A careful analysis provides some insights to what a modern “trial by ordeal” within F+F’s academic bonfire of the vanities looks like—a nightmare that makes all the political attacks appear both quaint and principled by comparison. 

What follows is a tragic tale of betrayal, both real and imagined.

Dr. Lambrinidou becomes a FACHEP supporter

Kolowich correctly described the sad end to Edwards’ decade plus collaboration with Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou [Affiliate Faculty in Science, Technology and Society (STS)]. Edwards and Lambrinidou worked intensively together from 2007-2010 to expose the D.C. Lead Crisis Coverup, co-founded an innovative engineering ethics class and had several funded research projects together. 

In the Flint saga, Edwards introduced Lambrinidou as “the best” to Melissa Mays, to help organize the September 15th, 2015 press conference. Edwards also recommended Lambrinidou for other prominent roles in the Flint Water Crisis, providing a basis for claims that she was an activist “in the Flint, Michigan, crisis” during interviews in Rolling Stone and Al Jazeera. She even gave public presentations through at least April 2016, providing “insights from the prize-winning Virginia Tech research team that uncovered the drinking water crisis in Flint Michigan.”  

As we will detail herein, Lambrinidou eventually turned against VT, Flintwaterstudy and Dr. Edwards, to become a fawning ally and supporter of FACHEP. In 2018, Dr. Lambrinidou signed the Flintcomplaints letter, which we consider defamatory to Dr. Edwards and defensive of FACHEP. We even suspect Lambrinidou helped instigate that anonymously written letter and the associated Facebook Flintcomplaints page, using both as a cudgel to attack our team’s reputation. Dr. Lambrinidou was eventually named as a defendant in Dr. Edwards’ defamation case in July 2018 (original case filing put online by buzzfeed) and FACHEP faculty have been rallying to her support ever since. For instance, Lambrinidou was invited to give a guest lecture at the University of Michigan in Dr. Love’s “ethics” class in October 2018.

Her vitriolic public attacks on Dr. Edwards intensified from 2016 to 2018, with claims he was an exemplar of unethical Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) faculty, who allegedly steal credit that should be given to STS “social justice” activists like herself. Lambrinidou’s first public critique of Dr. Edwards was August 2016, when she claimed to the New York Times that he should not have attended the Flint press conference.

The Press Conference: A STEM “Pearl Harbor” like Aggression?

September 15th, 2015 — a date which will live in infamy — the residents of Flint, MI were suddenly and deliberately attacked by STEM forces of the empire of Virginia Tech. #decolonizeSTEM

Our only slightly exaggerated characterization of Lambrinidou’s hyperbolic Flint critiques  (apologies to FDR).

Dr. Edwards started collaborating with Flint Mom LeeAnne Walters and EPA Scientist Miguel Del Toral in April 2014. Over the next three months Edwards reported hazardous waste levels of lead in Walters home, contributed scientific data to Del Toral’s EPA memo outlining the imminent and substantial endangerment to Flint residents, and collaborated with ACLU-Michigan reporter Curt Guyette on his investigative reporting. All of that work was done behind the scenes to the extent possible, minimizing Edwards’ public role.  It was only after Del Toral was silenced in late July 2015 that Flintwaterstudy launched publicly.

As data from our citizen sampling campaign rolled in, it became apparent there was a massive city-wide water lead problem, at which point Guyette and other Flint residents requested that Dr. Edwards and Sid Roy attend a press conference (September 15, 2015) to make public the alarming scientific results. THE PRESS CONFERENCE is a defining moment in every account of the Flint Water Crisis, including the Lifetime Movie “Flint” and the NOVA documentary Poisoned Water.

The Press Conference:  Fully anticipating that our every word and deed at the press conference would one day be misrepresented by social justice faculty, we left nothing to chance. Dr. Edwards and Roy stood in the background, spoke succinctly on the safety and public health issues before moving once again to the background. We also videotaped the entire event so you can watch it and form your own opinion (Roy speaks from 1:44-4:08 or 144 seconds and Edwards from 4:11-7:29 or 198 seconds).

The very next day (September 16, 2015) Dr. Lambrinidou wrote to her Virginia Tech colleague Dr. Donna Riley (who is now Dean of Engineering Education at Purdue), describing the press conference as follows (emphasis added to all quotes in this blog): 

“You are catching me at an especially cynical moment… Marc colonized Flint so completely this week, that the press conference I recommended to the residents in order to support them to take power back and become visible again turned into a Marc-fest with Marc at the center of everything.


Lambrinidou’s ludicrous characterization of Edwards’ role at the press conference has now been presented in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Times Magazine, Lambrinidou’s editorials, and in numerous disparaging STS presentations all over the country. Not only is that story completely contradicted by the video, but she falsely tries to take credit for recommending the press conference to residents.  When Sid Roy directly contradicted his former ethics professor’s account of a “Marc-fest” during a May 2016 conversation, he felt it important to note that she did not even attend the event whereas he had. Undeterred, Lambrinidou mysteriously responded: sometimes you have to be far removed from actual events to know what is really going on.”

Filter GoFundMe: Unfortunately, Lambrinidou was just getting started in her September 16, 2015 email to Dr. Riley. She next extended her distorted social justice lens to question the motives and ethics of Flintwaterstudy students. After Anurag Mantha started a GOFUNDME campaign to help Flint residents purchase lead filters, Lambrinidou described the good deed as follows:

“On top of that, in Blacksburg the research team decided to create a crowdsourcing site that asks the world to make a donation for water filters for the low-income people of Flint…..So we have a bizarre noblesse oblige set-up that in reality seems self-promoting. If I were a resident of Flint, I would be offended. Actually, I am not a resident of Flint and I am offended.


Sid Roy Tweet: Completing a “land, water and air” characterization of the VT STEM colonialist assault on Flint, Lambrinidou then called out two tweets Sid Roy sent after the successful press conference.

Lambrinidou’s analysis of Sid’s tweet:

“The climax of the colonization was last night in the form of a tweet from Sid …who upon his return home thanked the Flint residents for “coming out” to their OWN press conference (I suspect that Sid and many other grad students have grown somewhat confused about WHOM the Flint situation is about?).


Lambrinidou ended her email claiming that this VT STEM colonization story would make a great introduction to a new book she wanted to co-author with Riley on Environmental Justice. Riley agreed.

It is also important to note that until her May 2016 conversation with Sid Roy, Lambrinidou never once shared this sort of criticism with Dr. Edwards or the rest of the Flintwaterstudy study team. In fact, she was outright duplicitous, as evidenced by public praise for our team’s efforts through at least January 2016.  Consider her October 8, 2015 tweet “Thks to VT..for helping to uncover the truth,” or her January 19, 2016 email to Edwards:

“I am also LOVING seeing the results in Flint which are totally concrete and undeniable. In great part thanks to your work. 🙂 Yanna

She also emailed: “Marc, congratulations!!!,” celebrating his pivotal role in the resignation of Ms. Susan Hedman (EPA). We hope our readers agree that this is a very fascinating situation. What on earth could cause someone to live such an “academic double life” in the first place? And, what could cause someone to eventually give that double life up? We will answer the latter question first.  

For really interested readers, here is an audio recording from a October 8 2015 podcast interview between Sid Roy and Dr. Lambrinidou, where she is clearly alluding to the strains of her situation and decisions:


Science published a short feature on Dr. Edwards’ work in Flint entitled “The Water Watchdog” on March 11, 2016. When asked what colleagues thought about his activism, Dr. Edwards honestly replied:

I engage in activism as a last resort, after every scientific path has failed. Since I personally find activism distasteful, I forgive the academics who also view it negatively.

Upon reading the interview Dr. Lambrinidou took grave offense. At no point in the interview did Dr. Edwards disrespect activists, but merely said that for himself, activism was a last resort he found distasteful. Reacting angrily, Lambrinidou’s activist faculty colleagues said unethical ME <Edwards> is not a good scientist, not a good engineer, not a good teacher, and not a good citizen.” Lambrinidou thanked them for their support, stating “I honestly sometimes get scared that i’ll go crazy…. Sometimes i can’t take it anymore.”

Rolling up their sleeves to conduct research for their book on environmental justice, Lambrinidou actually started counting “hero” references to characters in the Flint story, eventually creating the graph depicted below, which she sent to Dr. Riley on April 4, 2016, along with an explanatory caption.

Lambrinidou: “I also did a quick and dirty analysis of media articles about Flint that name someone (anyone) a hero. And then I looked at the number of months (and dogged work) that these heroes have devoted to the water crisis. As you can imagine, hero mention increases with higher professional status and lower time-commitment to the cause.”

Even though Dr. Edwards was in third place on the graph (for a biased analysis ignoring all the work behind the scenes from April to August 2015), he was strangely the sole target of Lambrinidou’s angst. She emailed Dr. Riley:

“this work, although i know it’s important, is making me sick. an hour ago i just took my first ever anti-anxiety med (i almost never take meds for anything). the injustice of it all, the exploitation, the abuse, and the national narrative of celebration and heroism is eating me up alive. it’s like looking at your rapist <Edwards> get the nobel prize for gender equality.….


Dr. Riley offered Lambrinidou the following solace:

“I think this is why so many justice folks talk seriously about self care – because it does eat us up. And often it’s not the opposition but supposed allies that inflict the most betrayal and harm. There is nothing wrong with you. You are having a very human response to it all.” 


Based on Lambrinidou’s response when he asked her about the above emails produced by FOIA, Kolowich (Chronicle of Higher Education) wrote:

“…she’s not ashamed of what she wrote in her private emails. The real shame, Lambrinidou said, would be if people mistake her criticism of Edwards’s work for a personal vendetta rather than a serious critique of the power dynamic between experts and the people they are supposed to serve.”

Personal Vendetta or Serious Critique?

To shed light on the “double life” question, and the issue of a “serious critique” versus “personal vendetta,” we now have to go back 8 years.

As detailed in the lawsuit, in 2010 Dr. Lambrinidou sent Dr. Edwards emails that he interpreted as romantic advances. Such emails stopped after he made it clear he was committed to his then 22 year marriage. But in July 2013, Lambrinidou made the following comment, copying three of her 20-something male VT graduate student advisees, on the topic of “listening”: 

“This might sound weird, but to me the question sounded almost as personal as a question about the last time you had a really meaningful sexual encounter. Think about standing up in front of a crowd and telling them about the last time you felt really listened to… Exposing, yes?”


Now that you mention it, that does sound weird.

Over the next month or so, there were many other “weird” events that can be documented in writing, including Lambrinidou claiming that Edwards “humiliated” her by “flirting” with another female faculty member while at a professional banquet. Or Lambrinidou writing about an “attraction between us that we discussed many times,” in reference to conversations Edwards recalls differently. Or warning “how good <Lambrinidou> was at leaving people” but that this that is “not a skill I am proud of, btw.” (These emails are not provided herein).

Edwards still respected Lambrinidou as a valued colleague that he had worked with for 6 years at that point, but he made it clear that boundaries to their communications would be necessary if they were to continue working together. After they could not reach agreement on that issue, they began a long process of finishing up several major grants in progress, which included co-development of an Engineering Ethics class.

Over the next several years Edwards continued to professionally support Lambrinidou by extolling her strengths publicly. He called her “the best” in his September 4th 2015 email introducing her to Flint activists, and he recommended Lambrinidou for other roles in the Flint water crisis in 2016 as mentioned earlier. And as with all his advisees and colleagues, he repeatedly attempted to boost her spirits about the value of their work (see exemplary emails January 18-January 21st, 2016).

But unbeknownst to Edwards, back in 2013 Lambrinidou plotted a different path. In an October 20th, 2013 email to a friend regarding the distancing that occurred in their personal relationship (profanity edited with ## below):

 “some absolutely mortifying developments a few weeks ago. Like I was dealing with a psychopath sans a soul. Like, if he lived close to me, he would come stab me to death. …He wrote back within 3 seconds and told me to fu## myself (in essence)… So, on the one hand I am doing MUCH better, but on the other, I am still in shock and very much grieving. I have never had any experience with a human being like this before — he even accused me of expecting too much of people…It’s all finished. Totally finished. But the idea that he thinks of me as some little pain-in-the-butt psychotic bit## scares me and stuns me and leaves me in disbelief…, and that’s because a) I am none of these things at all, and b) in truth I gave him everything, everything I have, the very best of me, just gave him all.”


Seventeen months later, Lambrinidou was still preoccupied with Edwards, as evidenced by a March 18th, 2015 email to her friend just a few weeks before Virginia Tech engaged in Flint (emphasis added):  

“Indeed, slowly but surely Marc is starting to fade away from my heart and mind. I think of him as a coward, like all narcissists are, because he doesn’t have the emotional and spiritual strength to enter relationships where he is not being feared and worshipped. How pathetic that seems to me. What a spineless way to live one’s life. Marc is the quintessential example of the subjugating engineer who colonizes people….”


Clearly, Lambrinidou’s issues with Dr. Edwards dated back to at least 2013. Her private accusations of colonialism and much worse, predate the “critique” in her September 16th, 2016 email. For nearly three years, Dr. Edwards was completely unaware of what his colleague was doing or saying about him behind the scenes, which included a March 11, 2016 FWICC meeting when Lambrinidou greeted him warmly, took an adjacent seat and passed him personal notes.

Lambrinidou sitting next to Edwards and Hanna-Attisha at the March 11, 2016 FWICC Meeting

Escalating Attacks

Once Lambrinidou went public with her criticism in August 2016, her attacks inexorably intensified. At one dinner in late 2016 with Flintwaterstudy students who formerly had Lambrinidou as an ethics professor, she claimed Dr. Edwards was unethical. She then asserted that Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, with whom Edwards was closely collaborating and sharing awards, was actually a cowardly figure who had to be talked into doing her famous blood lead study. When Dr. Edwards heard this, he immediately fact checked the story with the only people who would know—Lambrinidou’s vindictive statement was refuted.  Along the same lines, in April 2016 Lambrinidou wrote that Edwards and Hanna-Attisha’s Time100 award represented a “grave injustice.”

Shortly thereafter, another Flintwaterstudy student heard shocking claims that allegedly came from a mutual friend of Lambrinidou. First, there was the assertion that the Flintwaterstudy effort was unethical and opportunist from the start (consistent with Lambrinidou’s newly revealed September 16, 2015 email to her VT faculty friends). But it was also alleged that Dr. Lambrinidou never liked Dr. Edwards, that he had stolen credit from her for the ethics class, and he had even threatened her. All rumors that have been circulating ever since.

In late 2017, Dr. Riley publicly tweeted analogies to #metoo and claims of “structural bullying” in relation to Dr. Edwards, during a conference presentation by Lambrinidou—apparently this sort of unfounded personal attack is cutting edge scholarship in STS social justice warrior events. At that point we were finally compelled to respond publicly. Dr. Riley’s bizarre public tweets, are now viewed as a perfectly logical extension of years of disparaging email communications between Riley, Lambrinidou and their other social justice faculty colleague. Those emails include dozens of pages in which they attempt to negatively influence press reporting of Edwards and sabotage his award nominations (these emails are not included herein).

Further, recall that Dr. Riley and Lambrinidou, both cowardly refused to discuss their tweets or presentations about Edwards when we confronted them. Dr. Riley even flat out lied in writing to our team, when she claimed her tweet had nothing at all to do with Dr. Edwards or our work in Flint.

FlintComplaints and Allegations of Unethical Behavior

These attacks became ever more aggressive as detailed in the lawsuit. On April 27 2018, Lambrinidou sent this #decolonizestem tweet, citing “the brutality he <Edwards> inflicts on innocent ppl” and “institutional betrayal” by “intoxicated” “#Engineering & #STEM establishments.” We suppose this is another yet serious STS critique not to be confused with a personal vendetta.

Just two weeks later, the anonymously authored “flintcomplaints” letter was sent to numerous STEM organizations, requesting that Edwards be subject to an immediate investigation of unethical behavior, and face a kangaroo court that includes…. Environmental Justice leaders who have expertise in abuses of professional power against poisoned communities like Flint. Two FACHEP faculty signed the letter, which prominently criticized Edwards allegations about Dr. McElmurry, and also denied FACHEP ever claimed Shigella came from water.  

As the saying goes, all is fair in love and <<the academic culture>> war—heaven forbid if the two are ever conflated.

Who Betrayed Whom?

Exposing these emails is both tragic and revelatory. The narcissistic victimization narrative of F+F would be laughable were it not for the real-world harm as measured by damaged reputations, lost trust in science/government, and millions of dollars in taxpayer funding.

Recall FACHEP’s claim that they were being “set upand that the State of Michigan “completely screwed us and the people of Flint,” all because they were only provided $3.4 million dollar in a sole source project based on unverified “unique qualifications?” And the testimony that “Dr. Kilgore turned red and pounded his hand on the table and said, “People are going to Fu##ing die” if the <$13 million> in research was not able to proceed immediately and as planned.”

And we now have Dr. Lambrinidou, writing that she was being “eaten alive” by Edwards’ acclaimed role in Flint, becoming physically ill as she counted “hero” references one by one, and then invoking an outrageous rape analogy to justify her malaise. And her friend Dr. Riley, asserting this is all a normal human response to “supposed allies that inflict the most betrayal and harm.”

In this case and all the others, “Who betrayed whom?”

Supporting documentation

Dr. Lambrinidou’s podcast interview excerpt

Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards

FACHEP vs. The People of the State of Michigan: Part IV Love The Alarmist — The Real Story on Shigella and Water Filters

An investigative science reporting series by


This blog series involves heart-wrenching whistleblowing—the sort that comes from alleging misconduct of your own professional colleagues for actions harming the public and others. We cannot imagine that any reader is more sickened than we are, by having to air “dirty laundry” that includes sharing personal emails and discussing unethical behavior. But given the continued damage that would arise from remaining silent, we feel morally obligated to present evidence against FACHEP leadership in relation to:

– falsifying qualifications to win a multi-million dollar sole source grant during a federal emergency

– literally making a felony criminal case, out of legitimate criticism directed at their unprofessional work, which is best characterized as narcissistic victimization (a.k.a. “crybullying”)

– spreading malicious rumors, to ingratiate themselves with Flint residents at the expense of others

– violating the ASCE second canon, harming others through their incompetence

– wrongly taking credit for research ideas and data, belonging to others (e.g., Dr. Faust and Dr. Masten)

Please also be aware that FACHEP supporters have been FOIAing Flintwaterstudy, Dr. Edwards, Dr. Masten (MSU) and Dr. Maya Trotz (President AEESP) since Fall 2017. In fact, proving that no good deed goes unpunished, emails of 40+ members of our Flintwaterstudy team have been subpoenaed, for dozens of Michigan lawsuits and criminal cases that we are not even party to. Emails from the FOIA have been misrepresented by FACHEP supporters on social media to denigrate Virginia Tech undergraduate students, Dr. Sid Roy, Dr. Masten and Dr. Edwards. FACHEP faculty have even smeared Dr. Trotz as “unethical.” Dr. Edwards has filed a defamation lawsuit, which is partly related to actions of FACHEP faculty and their supporters as described herein. The facts presented here shed light on how such an unthinkable tragedy could unfold.

Cast of Key Characters Parts 1-3

Name Institution Role
Dr. Shawn McElmurryWSU – Civil Engineering FACHEP’s Founder, Witness in Felony Trials
Dr. Marcus ZervosWSU – Infectious DiseaseFACHEP co-PI, Witness in Felony Trials
Dr. Paul KilgoreWSU – PharmacyFACHEP co-PI, Witness in Felony Trials
Dr. Eden WellsMI Chief Medical OfficerAccused of obstructing FACHEP/justice
Mr. Nick LyonMI Health Chief Accused of obstructing FACHEP/justice
Marc EdwardsVT – Civil EngineeringFlintwaterstudy leader – Author of this blog Series; Potable Water Legionella, Lead, Ethics Expertise
Dr. Amy Pruden VT – Civil EngineeringVT Flint research co-PI; Potable Water Legionella and Microbiology Expertise
Dr. Kasey FaustUT – Civil EngineeringPhD work in Flint 2013-2015 on Shrinking Cities; Dr. McElmurry was on her PhD Committee
Dr. Sue MastenMSU – Civil EngineeringFACHEP Member and Whistleblower; Drinking Water Treatment Expertise
Introducing in Part 4:
Dr. Nancy LoveUM – Civil EngineeringDr. McElmurry’s Enabler/Defender; Water Filter Research, Engineering Ethics Pontificator






Pre-FWC to August 12, 2016

Dr. Love enters the Flint Water Crisis on McElmurry’s Coatails

Pre-FWC History. Part 3 ended with an audio recording of mystified MDHHS employees discussing Drs. Nancy Love and McElmurry’s misguided moralizing about the engineering code of ethics. Others who witnessed Dr. Love’s work in Flint or years prior had similar shared concerns about her behavior and treatment of others.

In full disclosure, Dr. Edwards and Dr. Love worked one office apart for nearly a decade at Virginia Tech, during which time Edwards grew to admire her hard-working nature, remarkable commitment to students, and expertise in sewage treatment. However, Edwards also grew wary of her tendency to overcommit and drive herself to a point of exhaustion, which often left other people in the lurch. Even worse, her passion and personal ambition, occasionally compromised her moral humility, characteristics which eventually had horrible consequences in Flint as we will soon see. Love and Edwards functioned effectively together for several years as colleagues at Virginia Tech, collaborating on one peer-reviewed paper and research project, but gingerly avoided each another in the years before she left to become Department Chair at the University of Michigan (UM) in 2008.

From 2002-2015, during the Washington D.C. lead crisis and years that followed, Dr. Love was shockingly hurtful to Dr. Edwards as he navigated the trauma associated with exposing corruption of government scientific agencies. If one can imagine, that ordeal made experiences on the FWC look like a walk in the park. Edwards overheard Love on the phone just down the hall, questioning the sanity of his public battle with EPA, CDC, and other powerful agencies. That was understandable because Edwards agonized over those exact same questions every hour of every day. After he was partly vindicated in 2007, Edwards overheard Dr. Love expressing jealousy about his resulting awards and media coverage. After he was almost completely vindicated in 2010 by a congressional investigation, he heard a spurious rumor about a “financial conflict of interest” that was supposedly affecting his professional judgment.

Acting on a tip, Edwards FOIA-ed documents, submitted as comments on his nomination to serve on an EPA Science Advisory Board in 2011 focusing on lead in water issues. Therein was an email from Dr. Love, implying that Edwards had a disqualifying financial “conflict of interest” because he “self‐funded some of the research once his EPA (?) grant was pulled.” While Dr. Edwards did indeed pay out of pocket to fund urgent research needed to expose the depths of the D.C. and Flint Water Crises, Love certainly had a novel interpretation of a “financial conflict of interest” that would serve as a basis for malicious rumors. When Edwards later asked Dr. Love point blank about the rumor in October 2012, without revealing he knew she was the source, Love claimed a complete lack of knowledge or responsibility for the situation. This same sort of gaslighting tactic would be deployed repeatedly by Love’s FACHEP team against MDHHS, GCHD and Flintwaterstudy in Flint. As a revelatory aside, the same FOIA-ed EPA email chain, illustrates Dr. Love’s notorious habit of overcommitting and underdelivering, thrice promising and thrice failing to complete required EPA ethics training before she abruptly quit.

Dr. Love Enters the Flint Water Crisis. Given the above history, Edwards literally cringed, when he read what appeared to be the first personal communication received from Dr. Love in the 8 years since she left VT. Expressing concerns about his health, which had indeed been compromised during the D.C. crisis in part due to backstabbing from professional colleagues like herself, she eventually got around to the real reason for the email—funding. Like hundreds of faculty who grew interested in the Flint story AFTER the Federal emergency declaration January 2016, she heard about it on Rachel Maddow and at an overseas conference. While acknowledging her general lack of relevant expertise, she pitched a research idea on point of use (POU) lead water filters as part of a UM team coordinated by Dr. Lut Raskin.

Figure 1. Dr. Love and McElmurry (photo UM)

Dr. Raskin is also a faculty member at UM, as well as a renowned scientist of admirable expertise and character. Raskin is one of the nation’s foremost experts on how microbial community structure changes during potable water filtration and distribution, a topic on which Dr Pruden and Edwards’ team were also working on. Drs. Raskin, Pruden and Edwards were also part of a larger pioneering scientific community built by the Sloan Foundation Microbiology of the Built Environment (MOBE) program, 2011-2017, which engaged experts on research involving appropriate use of molecular tools (e.g., targeting DNA through tools such as qPCR and next-generation sequencing) to identify and build fundamental understanding of microorganisms in buildings and homes. This community learned hard lessons which we will term “Sloan MOBE 101” that can be partly summarized as follows: 1)  “Don’t ever claim that finding DNA of a pathogen in an environmental sample is a health risk–it could just be a dead bacteria,” 2) “Without proper experimental controls you can scare yourself and others needlessly,” and 3) “Gee, it is very easy to contaminate a sample.”

Ever the naïve idealist, Edwards rose above personal pettiness and immediately made the first introduction of Dr. Love to Dr. McElmurry. Four days later when Dr. Raskin and Dr. Teri Olson (also at UM) made a video independent of Dr. Love highlighting some important basic scientific questions about POU water filters, he figured this would be a great way to engage Raskin, Olson, and Love’s expertise in the FWC response.  He recommended that the National Science Foundation (NSF) support three research proposals aimed at studying POU filters in Flint–McElmurry thanked Edwards February 10th in writing when the projects were funded.

By the time FACHEP Phase 2 was taking shape in July 2016, Dr. Love had somehow become Dr. McElmurry’s mentor, chief enabler, and mutual pontificator on the engineering code of ethics to MDHHS and others (Figure 1). McElmurry grew to count on Love’s supposed expertise in potable water disease and Legionella, once informing Dr. Pruden “<When it comes to Legionella> I just do whatever Nancy tells me.” For her part, Dr. Love bet every ounce of a reputation gained over a respectable career studying sewage treatment, backing McElmurry’s newly concocted prowess in “urban infrastructure and human health.” Neither McElmurry nor Love ever showed the slightest reservation about allowing people to believe they were drinking water experts. Even worse, those with true expertise were mysteriously excluded.

We previously described how Dr. Rose was cut out of FACHEP. When Edwards supported the POU water filter research, it was predicated on Love’s written assertion she was on a UM team coordinated by Dr. Raskin. Somehow, someway, by about June 2016, Love and McElmurry had jockeyed themselves into leadership positions where they not only had the NSF water filter funding, but also largely controlled the millions in FACHEP research funding bearing the seal of approval from Governor Snyder himself. For those conducting research and understanding such matters, is inconceivable that McElmurry and Love would be leaders of FACHEP’s Legionella investigation, while world class talents like Dr. Rose and Raskin were brushed aside. What makes this outcome even more nauseating is that both Dr. Rose and Raskin were volunteering their efforts on the FWC in 2014 and 2015, well before the research funding which attracted McElmurry and Love was available.

One can easily imagine how this likely came to be: Drs. Love and McElmurry, excluding Drs. Rose and Raskin to keep all the power and glory they dreamed of all to themselves, avoiding irksome challenges to their ideas and authority. This, without any regard whatsoever to what that would mean for Flint residents and Michigan taxpayers, who would soon be paying a price for their lack of expertise. For a short period, they initially leaned heavily on Dr. Masten’s drinking water treatment expertise, but Masten said she began to “question their ethics and professional judgment, along with their ability to meet the goals and objectives of the various projects, starting October 2016.” The trio soon became a duo—McElmurry and Love became the dominant public scientific voices of FACHEP. They would henceforth own responsibility, not just for the success and glory, but also for any blunders and harm.

Background on Point of Use (POU) Filters and Coliforms in Flint

The POU filter story started September 2015, when Flintwaterstudy student Anurag Mantha realized some Flint residents could not afford filters to fully protect themselves against high levels of lead in their water. Familiar with the D.C. lead crisis where tens of thousands of free filters provided relief to financially-strapped residents, Mantha started a GOFUNDME campaign that was wildly successful by any measure. After his effort was picked up in the press, the United Way launched a massive effort to eventually get every Flint resident a water filter. We worked hard to assist the United Way campaign and then shut down our own GOFUNDME, donating $4,345 to the United Way and encouraging others to do the same.

Dr. Edwards, Jim Ananich’s staff, the United Way and others worked overtime to select appropriate water filters that were certified to standards set by NSF International to remove lead. From the start, residents were told to follow manufacturer’s instructions, designed to address concerns about aesthetics and bacteria known to grow on these filters. Notably, a 2002 World Health Organization expert committee consensus scientific statement indicated that these bacteria “do not indicate the existence of a health risk.” Nothing published to the present day has changed that message. Direct retail sales of PUR faucet mount lead reduction filters alone are 7-8 million units per year, which does not include any online or off the shelf sales at stores like Lowes or Home Depot. A 2013-2015 Water Quality Association Survey (pre-Flint) indicated that 43-49% of consumers (≈ 50 million residences) use some sort of filter in their home.

It is also well known that these POU lead filters are not intended to protect from disease causing microorganisms or fecal contamination of the source water. If your water is microbiologically “compromised” other treatment is necessary. The word “compromised,” generally means that fecal matter (or sewage) and or other dangerous bacteria have somehow contaminated the water supply. Public water suppliers are rigidly regulated to constantly seek out and prevent such contamination, using sensitive “coliform” and other testing. Moreover, if any event such as a main break or strongly suspected contamination event occurs, public notice is required through a “boil water” alert. A recent example is a main break occurring May 2018, triggering a precautionary “boil water” alert in Flint without waiting for a positive bacteria test result.   

The legally required coliform testing helped demonstrate the Flint water system was compromised in 2014, resulting in boil water alerts. But after the switch back to Detroit water in October 2015, GCHD, EPA, CDC, MDEQ, City of Flint and FEMA went to extraordinary lengths to be sure the Flint water system was not compromised. Three detailed Flint coliform control and monitoring plans were written from February 2016 to present day and published online. Exhaustive monitoring January 2016 to November 2018 (i.e., the latest report available) did not find even one single positive coliform test.

Hence, according to Federal law and any reasonable definition, the Flint water system after the switch back to Detroit water in October 2015 was not microbiologically “compromised.” Switching to the pure Lake Huron source water, the water treatment and enhanced chlorine residuals controlled the bacteria problems that were detected in 2014. Flint was not just meeting federal microbial standards, they were greatly exceeding them.  Federal law allows up to 5% of monthly samples to be positive for coliforms, whereas Flint had zero positive results for 3 consecutive years. Thus, the selected NSF certified POU lead filters did not have to remove dangerous bacteria in Flint, just like they do not have to remove such bacteria in their routine application in tens of millions of U.S. homes.

It is also noteworthy that the POU filters were provided to residents as a humanitarian gesture- not a regulatory requirement. Following the precautionary principle, in 2015 we argued that simply telling Flint residents to flush water to reduce lead exposure as allowed by law, was not good enough to achieve modern public health goals. All the public health agencies later agreed with us. As a result, a higher standard was upheld during the FWC than in any prior public health response to high lead in water, by supplying free lead filters to all residents and recommending their use in all homes. Note, there were literally thousands of public water supplies with lead and copper rule violations during 2015 alone, with many that had 90%’ile lead levels worse than Flint.  We cannot find another single case where lead filters were both recommended and provided free to all residents.  And Michigan taxpayers should be commended for continuing to purchase filters and cartridge replacements for Flint residents to the present day, even though many other cities in Michigan have higher water lead than Flint.

There were two early hiccups that negatively impacted public perception about safety of the filters. One occurring October 2015 was a social media hoax that briefly went viral, falsely asserting some of free filters were not NSF certified to remove lead when they were.  There was also a concern in early 2016, about what would happen when some homes in Flint exceeded the 150 ppb lead threshold that manufacturers tested to “certify” or guarantee filter performance. FEMA had an emergency phone call including Dr. Edwards, where it was decided that, even though there was every reason to believe the filters would still work, anything less than 100% certainty was unacceptable. EPA scientists were then tasked with field testing the filters in Flint. While awaiting the results of this study, some media exaggerated the possible dangers of drinking filtered water above 150 ppb. The final EPA report released publicly on June 22, 2016 proved the filters worked even when lead was in the thousands of ppb in Flint. ATSDR, CDC, EPA, GCHD, and every other group directly involved in the Federal emergency response then reaffirmed the filtered water would be safe for all populations (except immunocompromised individuals who are always advised to follow guidance of their personal physician).

Dr. Love’s and McElmurry’s Erroneous POU Filter Assumptions

A summary of emails and written public statements by Dr. Love and McElmurry related to the POU filter situation in Flint, reveals complete ignorance of the aforementioned facts and history of the lead filters in Flint (see Figure 2). Inexcusably for researchers claiming to be experts, they did not even know that POU filters were in widespread use all over the United States, until that misunderstanding was exposed and corrected in a phone call with Dr. Edwards January 6, 2017. Their complete lack of understanding of State of Michigan chlorine laws (and AWWA chlorine recommendations) and disregard of the excellent coliform monitoring results, caused them to repeatedly assert publicly that the Flint system was microbiologically compromised.

Never bothering to learn the actual history, they repeatedly claimed in public and in writing that the POU filters were first selected in January 2016 as a “regulatory requirement” to remove lead and DBPs. There is no such regulatory requirement and filters were first provided in October 2015. Love and McElmurry also made ludicrous claims that giving Flint residents a POU filter as an extra barrier, presented just a “single barrier” approach to controlling bacteria. As if simply installing the extra POU barrier somehow negated the multiple barriers in place for microbes in Flint (i.e., source water protection, sedimentation, filtration, disinfection, residual disinfection), the effectiveness of which is constantly verified by intensive coliform and other monitoring. 

In the hands of McElmury and Love, all the good intentions and results that should have been achieved by the generous donations and the Michigan taxpayer-funded free POU filter programs, would be twisted into a false narrative of an incompetent and uncaring government, with FACHEP casting themselves as messianic defenders of Flint residents. Just covering key points of this deranged story will require several future blogs. However, because it is essential to understanding the Wells and Lyon felony charges, motives behind FACHEP deliberately maligning individuals or entities who did not agree with them (State of Michigan, GCHD, EPA, Miguel Del Toral, Dr. Edwards, Dr. Masten), and the fight over bottled water that continues in present day Flint–we have to start somewhere.

July 2016:  FACHEP detects waterborne Shigella?

June-July 2016 were peak months of a serious Shigellosis outbreak (caused by Shigella bacteria) in Flint-Saginaw. At FWC data summits in early-mid 2016, Dr. Edwards observed as experts from all the agencies worked together and carefully analyzed the outbreak. The scrutiny was especially intense, because, depending on the cause, diametrically opposing public health ramifications and recommendations would result. If Shigella was being spread by traditional hand-to-hand contact, the best way to stop it would be providing standard reminders to properly wash hands and practice good hygiene.

But if the Flint-Saginaw outbreak was an unusual situation in which Shigella was being transmitted through the drinking water, the agencies would then publicly state the water was dangerous for drinking and bathing and issue recommendations that Flint residents should boil (or otherwise disinfect) the water before use. Everyone knew that drawing the right conclusion and providing the right advice was a life or death decision.

After intense scrutiny, which even included out of the box discussion as to whether accepted laws of biology, chemistry, and water treatment applied in Flint (they did, but we mention that because no stone was left unturned), the public health agencies acted on evidence that this was almost certainly a traditional outbreak. Amongst the most compelling data against the idea the Shigellosis outbreak was waterborne was the fact it was also occurring in Saginaw, which did NOT use the same water source as Flint, but it was not occurring in Detroit which DID have the same water source at that time. Moreover, many of those afflicted with Shigella had direct contact with baby diapers. To spoil the drama associated with this part of the story, even with hindsight there is every reason to believe expects correctly concluded the Shigella did not come from the water supply. At no point did the agencies drop their vigilance.

Enter Drs. Love and McElmurry. In July 2016, Love analyzed samples from the NSF POU filter project. In our next blog we will show emails where she claims to have found samples that were “positive” for Shigella DNA. Reflecting back on this discovery in a rare moment of candor October 2016, Dr. Love acknowledged in writing to the CDC (emphasis added):

“..we had detected possible Shigella or E. Coli through a high level biomolecular screen (16S Illumina sequencing) in some samples from our July sampling events. The levels were extremely low and below what we would normally consider significant. In fact, in discussing the results with a bioinformatics expert, his assessment was that the samples could represent contamination at the core lab that ran our samples.”

Nearly anyone with basic knowledge about this issue would agree that, based on such a result, Dr. Love had no basis for public notification or decision-making. The “possible” Shigella DNA could have been from dead or non-disease causing bacteria, or it could have just been contamination as she was told. Even if she found conclusive evidence of dead disease-causing bacterial DNA, which she did not, this would simply confirm disinfection was working properly. Allowing such information to leak publicly or otherwise serve as a basis for “going public,” violated the most basic “Sloan MOBE 101” principles described earlier in this document.

In fact, jumping ahead to late 2017, after Dr. Edwards eventually gave up trying to reason with FACHEP and had quietly endured almost a year of their unprofessional personal attacks and rumor-mongering without public comment, he gave an overview of FACHEP mistakes in an invited and recorded Sloan MOBE Keynote. The instant popularity of this part of the keynote was surprising, humbling and encouraging, and it is now being viewed in classrooms all around the country as a case study in “How to never do Microbiome Research.” At that point we could only see the tip of an iceberg to be revealed in this investigative science blog series (you can watch the video from 11:54 to 21:00: please note if you watch past that point that Mr. Scott Smith has bravely corrected the record about his work in Flint).  

FACHEP’s  “Real Time” Communication “Builds Trust” with Residents

One reason it is important to expose the role of FACHEP faculty in the Flint Shigellosis situation, is that it provides an opportunity to expose their hypocritical moralizing about the analogous response of MDHHS to the Flint Legionairres’ disease outbreak. While we ourselves have many concerns about the response, especially how it exposes a lack of laws and policies about this important emerging source of human disease, we ask “Are FACHEP faculty really in a position to sit in judgment of Dr. Wells and Mr. Lyon in the felony criminal cases involving the Flint Legionnaires’ disease outbreak?”

Consider Dr. Kilgore’s testimony in State of MI vs Wells that making sure that they <the public> don’t have access to misinformationhas to be balanced by the fact that if you “withhold critical information which will undermine trust and actually increase chances that people will do the wrong thing (Figure 3).” Or, as Dr. McElmurry stated under oath at trial: “We thought it was very important to give the residents information as it — we became aware of it…Because it builds trust.” How well did the FACHEP faculty handle Love’s dubious DNA data in their public messaging related to the emerging Shigellosis outbreak?

Under the direction of the world renowned Dr. Seeger (Wayne State), FACHEP’s designated “real time” and the on-the-ground communicator with Flint residents was Dr. Laura Sullivan (Kettering University). Her role on the team was “to build trust between local and state governments, stakeholders in Flint and citizens in the community.” As we will repeatedly see, what Dr. Sullivan often did, was sabotage any trust that was justly earned by the government agencies with Flint citizens, to create a hero narrative for Dr. Sullivan and FACHEP.

Starting July 22, 2016, the same month Dr. Love claimed to have discovered “possible” Shigella DNA in Flint POU filters, Sullivan began to repeatedly lash out at state and local health departments as uncaring and incompetent, disseminating a hypothesis that the Shigellosis outbreak was coming from water (Figure 4). Dr. Sullivan believed that she herself contracted Shigellosis from the Flint water and publicly broadcast that WSU/UM had sampled water at her house, and she was told to “boil water before bathing in it.” You read that correctly- a written public statement from a FACHEP faculty member that she was told to boil bath water before bathing!

Consider the practical consequences to Flint residents who may have followed Dr. Sullivan’s leadership. The work it would take to boil enough water to bath in, the dangers of using less water and taking less effective baths, or the very serious risk of scalding from making large volumes of boiling water and transporting them. Not to mention the distrust from a message implying Flint residents could get Shigella if they did not boil their bath water. Sullivan kept repeating the unsubstantiated hypothesis that the Shigella was coming from Flint water through at least August 17, 2017. While she never mentioned FACHEP in those particular posts, she did refer to FACHEP faculty (WSU/UM), and her posts carried great weight because they appear to provide “privileged” insider information.

Dr. Sullivan’s barrage of “real time” misguided social media messaging was an early example of “building trust” between FACHEP and Flint residents, at the expense of lost trust in the public health agencies who were working responsibly to provide Flint residents accurate information. FACHEP faculty repeatedly and strategically maligned the people and public agencies working to fix Flint’s water problems, in order to promote their self-anointed role as the only entity worthy of Flint residents’ trust. At certain points, true experts, including internationally-renowned scientists (e.g., Michael Schock EPA, Figure 4) would try to weigh in, writing on Sullivan’s Facebook page There’s no evidence that I or my microbiologist specialists colleagues have seen that it’s transmitted by organisms in tap water. Using even less water for washing and bathing is the worst thing they can do (Figure 4).” The fact that FACHEP never publicly corrected any of Dr. Sullivan’s statements speaks volumes—in such situations silence is acquiescence. 

By the time Dr. Love finally realized and publicly-acknowledged that she never credibly detected Shigella at all in December 2016 (see future blog), the urban science legend that “Shigella came from the POU filters” was set in stone for many. For instance, Dr. Sullivan’s close friend and FACHEP supporter, Melissa Mays, asserted through at least February 2018 that “We have shigella because we wash our hands” and “The [State-distributed lead] filters cause dysentery.”  Thus, even though the choicest parts of the Shigella screwup will be presented future blogs, we confidently give the world renowned FACHEP experts an “F” grade for both creating and disseminating misinformation during the Shigella outbreak.

New Perspective on August 12, 2016 meeting between FACHEP and MDHHS

We now circle back to revisit the now infamous August 12, 2016 meeting between McElmurry and the State of MI, that discussed FACHEP’s desire to test the POU filters for DNA using MDHHS funding.  

We now know that on August 8th, 2016, FACHEP submitted a scope of work for Phase 2 Legionella research that was full of plans to sample the POU filters. At that time, the team already had the three NSF grants underway to examine the POU filter issue. FACHEP misinformation, based on what eventually turned out to be misleading DNA data, had leaked via Dr. Sullivan on FACEBOOK. There were also Sullivan’s false statements that the state was not looking at the bacteria hazards, and the implication that the country health department was incompetent (Figure 4). Finally, the POU filters had nothing to do with the 2014-2015 Legionella outbreak because they were not yet deployed at that time, and such filters are not considered a significant Legionella exposure pathway, even if they had been. Add it all up, the agencies were correct to be wary of what FACHEP might would do with state sanctioned filter and DNA analyses on a Legionella project. 

In the August 12 emails, McElmurry incorrectly claims that not sampling POU filters will have a “major impact on the science” of understanding Legionella, and further asserts that the only possible explanation for the state not wanting to sample the POU filters was “purely political.” Is it not possible that another viable explanation is that the state wanted to avoid another shigella-like FACHEP fiasco?  Pulling out all the stops with classic FACHEP crybullying, this time under oath, McElmurry actually claimed that if FACHEP had not been denied $2000 of state money to sample just 20 filters, so much more would have been learned about Legionella.  Seriously? McElmurry already had hundreds of thousands in NSF and NIH funding specifically designated to study the filters. And whining about $2000 is considered major evidence in FACHEP-based felony cases that have already cost MI taxpayers millions and millions of dollars to date?

Our own read? McElmurry’s claim the state was trying to hide Legionella problems as described in the emails, is utterly absurd. It seems to us, that the state was actually trying to help FACHEP find Legionella problems, by reminding them as to what the goals of the project actually were. The alternative was to feed Love’s misinformed and growing obsession with the POU filters. Concerns expressed in the emails about FACHEP looking for DNA of live or dead bacteria, were also more than justified by that point.

So much damage in so little time with so little effort. After just a few weeks of Love and McElmurry’s POU filter research, FACHEP was already causing problems with public health messaging about Shigella, and strategically subverting public trust in government agencies while ingratiating themselves with Flint residents..and they were just getting warmed up.

Primary Author: Dr. Marc A. Edwards

FACHEP vs. The People of the State of Michigan: Part III FACHEP makes a mockery of ethical codes — The FACHEP whistleblower from Michigan State University

An investigative science reporting series by

The Flint Water Crisis (FWC) and its aftermath as revealed in the ongoing legal cases (Wells, Lyon, Edwards vs Wayne State, Edwards versus Schwartz et al.) and this FlintWaterStudy blog series is destined to become a historic and instructive engineering ethics case study. We continue to document our efforts to navigate ethical dilemmas and hold “public safety paramount” as embodied in ethical codes of conduct such as that of the American Society of Civil Engineers. 

After FlintWaterStudy first made the startling claim that a few engineers had primary responsibility for the Flint Water Crisis, our position was affirmed December 2015, and finally reached closure when two of the engineers pled guilty December 26, 2018. In 2015, Governor Snyder apologized for their mistakes and took actions promoting reform at MDEQ (and EPA). His appointment of independent and knowledgeable truth-speakers to the Flint Water Advisory Task Force in 2015 was critical — this Task Force’s reports withstood the test of time and their recommendations effectively guided the disaster response. Snyder also invited critics Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Dr. Edwards to work on the recovery alongside the agencies they were previously fighting against, worked to close loopholes with Michigan’s tough new Lead and Copper Rule, and funded FACHEP to investigate the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak.

And while it is true that every level of government had some responsibility for creating the FWC, it should also be noted that every level of government came together in an unprecedented and exemplary fashion after January 2016 to help fix the Flint water system. After President Obama declared a Federal Emergency, Dr. Edwards participated in over a dozen FWC data summits and hundreds of interagency teleconference calls focused on controlling lead and Legionella. The National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Genesee County Health Department (GCHD), City of Flint (COF), United Way and others played exemplary roles. Whistleblower Miguel Del Toral was released from effective house arrest and became the public face of the Environmental Protection Agency emergency response, while hundreds of EPA and MDEQ employees worked tirelessly for Flint.

By mid-2016 it was obvious that these extraordinary efforts, along with the switch back to treated Lake Huron water purchased from DWSD/GLWA on October 16, 2015, had produced major improvements in water quality. Chlorine disinfectant levels rose after switching back to Detroit water, EPA implemented enhanced corrosion control and boosted chlorine, and financial credits supported a “Flush for Flint program.” The 90th percentile lead level was dropping below the EPA action level and every reasonable recommendation made to control Legionella was implemented. While the system had not yet fully restabilized, the trends were promising and the Flint Federal Emergency designation officially ended August 14, 2016.

FACHEP’s Toxic Mindset

FACHEP was funded in February 2016 under emergency procedures and their Phase 1 study results were published in late June 2016. Their Phase 2 work had a primary goal to “Reduce the occurrence of Legionellosis-associated cases, hospitalizations and deaths to levels at or below those seen in years prior to 2014.” It took a few months to negotiate and fund the substantial $3.4 million FACHEP Phase 2 budget and vet a correspondingly expansive scope of work, and the work was slow because Professor Shawn McElmurry was inexperienced  with human subjects research–he literally had to complete the most basic training before he could even conduct the work. 

The behavior of FACHEP collaborators and emails between May and August 2016 reveal an increasingly toxic and unscientific mindset, suggesting a growing sense of frustration that Flint’s rapidly improving water quality would leave them with no urgent problems to solve. In this series we argue that those who took the public mantle of FACHEP leadership considered themselves to be the sole entity worthy of the residents’ trust and who had the expertise to solve the FWC. This mindset may have arisen from McElmurry’s touching story of FACHEP’s “divine conception” due to his myth of work in Flint from 2010-2015 and Wayne State’s public proclamation of “unique expertise.”

Consider testimony from Drs. McElmurry, Kilgore, and Zervos (WSU) about a May 2016 meeting discussing the FACHEP Phase 2 work plan with Mr. Lyon. During that meeting, they argued that if FACHEP’s requested $11-13 million in funding was not immediately granted, “people will die” due to delays in engaging their expertise. A witness attending this meeting with FACHEP faculty stated:

Dr. Kilgore turned red and pounded his hand on the table and said, “People are going to Fucking die” if the research was not able to proceed immediately and as planned.

To their chagrin, all the data that came in during summer 2016 proved that those diligently working on the water emergency since October 2015 were not the uncaring incompetents from which FACHEP imagined they would save Flint residents. Moreover, FACHEP Phase 1 documented increasing chlorine levels and no detectable Legionella in samples collected from homes during January 2016. The incidence of Legionnaires Disease had plunged dramatically through September 2016, compared to the 2014-2015 outbreaks, without any help from FACHEP whatsoever.

A set of revelatory emails was exchanged just two days before the Federal Emergency ended, after an upbeat Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee meeting and as McElmurry was finally completing his last required human subjects paperwork.  After arguing that certain disagreements with the team’s ideas (to be discussed in future blogs) were due to “purely political” reasoning, McElmurry noted:

 We really are running out of time. With summer nearly complete….I can’t tell you how furious I am with the state, they have completely screwed us and the people of Flint…

This statement echoed the prior false claim that “people will die” unless FACHEP funding was immediately granted. McElmurry expressed further angst that “Marc Edwards also gave (sic) presentation saying legionella detected in residential households was low,” raising fears that a primary FACHEP goal had already been achieved before their work even began, and there were concerns that the State was “pulling out of Flint.”

The email discussion concluded with Dr. Zervos appropriately suggesting that FACHEP should consider “working totally independently from the <GCHD and MDHHS> health departments,” a point that McElmurry immediately agreed with:

 I am fine with working outside of health department (sic), their conflict of interest is even worse than the State…it will just be extremely difficult for some aspects of the project.

At this point, we raise a critical ethical question. If the circumstances were truly as noxious as expressed, was it ethical for FACHEP faculty to accept research funding from MDHSS in the first place? For example, codes of ethics state that engineers  “shall act for each employer as faithful agents or trustees,” “shall advise their clients or employers when they believe a project will not be successful,” and “shall disclose all known or potential conflicts of interest that could influence or appear to influence their judgment or the quality of their services.”  It strikes us as fundamentally unethical and unfair to all parties,  to accept research funding from a client who you believe has just “completely screwed us,” particularly for a project that you felt would not be successful. And how it is possible that the personal conflicts would not affect FACHEP’s judgment or quality of services? Unfortunately, rather than seeking out other sponsors as was discussed, or even going to the media with their complaints which was also mentioned, they decided to take the funding.

Not surprisingly given FACHEP’s toxic attitude, three exemplars of unethical tactics and incompetence, were to reach a crescendo almost immediately after their Phase 2 launch including: 1) Low chlorine alerts, 2) Claims to have discovered “dangerous” bacteria on Flint’s point of use filters, and 3) Implying Flint water was causing a Shigella outbreak. We will first review the “low chlorine” issue, because it illustrates the maddening position of Dr. Eden Wells and how the only FACHEP team member with significant drinking water experience (Dr. Susan Masten, Michigan State University) eventually became alienated from the rest of the team.

Meet the whistleblower from Michigan State University

We have come to know Dr. Masten as a quiet, knowledgeable, humble, and highly ethical professor, characteristics destined to clash with some other collaborators selected by McElmurry. Dr. Masten has remarkable moral humility and a healthy respect for the second canon of Civil Engineering ethics, which, to the present day, compels her to be the first to acknowledge the limitations of her own expertise and her own shortcomings. She considers her core expertise to be drinking water treatment with some experience in monitoring municipal water distribution systems.  The topics of building plumbing, Legionella and chlorine regulation are not within her expertise. Dr. Masten was also McElmurry’s teacher when he attended MSU, and she once considered him a friend and colleague.  These factors make the events described herein all the more painful, yet laudatory.

In the interest of full disclosure, through February 2018, Dr. Edwards and Dr. Masten respected but did not really like each other. It was only after Dr. Faust informed Dr. Edwards that McElmurry had gone out of his way to malign Edwards with her, that he recalled some ill feelings about Dr. Masten had similarly originated from McElmurry. Edwards decided to reach out to Dr. Masten to better understand what happened and apologize for hard feelings based on hearsay, when he learned Dr. Masten had anger about Dr. Edwards that also originated from McElmurry. Both Masten and Edwards then went to Dr. Faust, who confirmed McElmurry had also bad mouthed Masten. Confused?  Well, to put it simply, three people who once disliked each other for no good reason, were now fast friends, and a pathological rumor-mongerer had been exposed. As we dug deeper, we found that strategically maligning others was a habit of McElmurry and other FACHEP leaders. In this case, the false statements effectively prevented  Drs. Faust, Edwards, and Masten from exchanging revelatory information, whereas in other cases, these tactics morphed into something even more twisted. 

Before we finally dive into this story, we must once again remind readers about the difficult tightrope water utilities walk in terms of controlling the levels of chlorine in distributed drinking water. Specifically, if chlorine levels in distributed water are too low, there is concern that the incidence of some waterborne diseases might increase. Conversely, if chlorine levels are too high, consumers may get itchy skin, complain of “swimming pool” smells and tastes in water, and the levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) can exceed regulatory limits. Based on her extensive experience and analysis, Dr. Masten co-authored an excellent paper highlighting all these problems and trade-offs for Flint in late 2016 from a perspective of water treatment.

How much chlorine is “too low” or “too high” in a given Michigan home? In terms of the minimum, Michigan law states that:

The residual disinfectant concentration in the distribution system, measured as total chlorine…shall not be undetectable in more than 5% of the samples each month for any 2 consecutive months that the supply serves water to the public.

In other words, 95% of samples collected at defined monitoring points of the distribution system, must have detectable (≥ 0.1 mg/L according to MDEQ) levels of chlorine. The maximum chlorine is set by the U.S. EPA Maximum Residual Disinfectant Level (MRDL) of 4 mg Cl2/L. Hence, according to the chlorine balancing act as defined by Michigan law, a chlorine level of 0 to 4 mg/L is perfectly acceptable at a given home. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has the same recommendation, but with a recommended minimum of 0.2 mg/L (instead of 0.1 mg/L) for 95% of sampling sites. It is also worth noting that millions of Michigan residents use ground water with no chlorine residual at all (including MSU) as is common all over the U.S. 

FACHEP’s First Press Release: Lower Chlorine Than Recommended

The “low chlorine” fiasco started when FACHEP prepared their first press release October 16, 2016, just after McElmurry returned from three weeks in Australia. McElmurry claimed he completed a “literature review” on chlorine recommendations, and inserted the following concerning statement into the press release about levels of chlorine in Flint homes.

 So far we’ve also found chlorine levels in about 20 percent of the homes to be less than current recommendations. The American Water Works Association recommends maintaining a residual chlorine level between 0.2 mg/L and 2.0 mg/L at all times. We’ve identified some homes that are below 0.2 mg/L.

Upon review of the draft release, Dr. Wells immediately noticed a key concern, stating “we advise you repeatedly that controls were needed—this appears again to be results without context.” This meant FACHEP should show data from other cities (i.e., controls), to make sure they would never make it falsely appear to Flint residents that they were in some kind of unique danger when that was not the case. FACHEP had already collected data showing many homes outside of Flint had non-detectable levels of chlorine as allowed under Michigan law, but McElmurry ignored Dr. Wells and did not put that information in the press release. Dr. Edwards also reviewed a copy of the press release and explicitly noted the statement on the AWWA chlorine recommendation was highly misleading.  He subsequently sent Wells a direct web link to a 2015 AWWA reference about chlorine levels. For whatever reason, Edwards’ input was also not reflected in the final press release.

After the statement was published, Flint consumers received sampling results with worrisome statements that chlorine should always be 0.2 – 2.0 mg/L to protect them from Legionnaires disease. FlintWaterStudy then received phone calls from Flint residents who were very concerned that their chlorine was  “too low” (i.e., 0-0.2 mg Cl2/L) or “too high,”  (i.e., 2.1-4.0 mg Cl2/L), even though Michigan law allows chlorine to be anywhere between 0 – 4 mg/L. Lawyers at the state immediately jumped at the claim 20 percent of Flint homes were failing to meet AWWA recommendations, and Dr. Wells urgent efforts to get information from McElmurry on what to do about this problem were unsuccessful. Wayne State’s risk communication “expert” Dr. Matt Seeger was the first to respond to Wells urgent request:

As I indicated earlier, FACHEP is making no public health recommendations. We are not a health department and whatever we say would be inappropriate. We are trying very hard to stay in our lane.  We referenced existing documents in the release 

By “existing documents,” Seeger was apparently referencing McElmurry’s use of a citation from a 1990 AWWA book that was written before distribution monitoring of TTHMs were required.  (i.e., Pontius, AWWA, 1990, p 1194). It took us a few weeks to obtain this hopelessly outdated reference, and it turns out there is no such recommendation on page 1194, nor could we find it anywhere else in the book. In fact, there were many statements about residual chlorine in the book contradicting McElmurry’s quote.

Considering that there were two other FACHEP train wrecks in progress at the exact time (to be described in future blogs), Dr. Wells was being too kind when she wrote back the evening of October 19, 2016:   

Your group today seems to want to throw out some vague information about finding some cases, without controls, with no context and THEN throw your hands up and say “oh we have nothing to do about it, that is a public health issue”. Your statements stating that you have no role exemplifies your lack of knowledge or sensitivity to public health issues when producing early unconfirmed and uncontrolled results from your studies… (such as what you are telling residents about their chlorine levels) that THEN  has to be dealt with by the local and state health department, if not also the DEQ, the City, federal CDC and EPA, …. The questions we are getting from our attorneys were for whether the any of these issues indicated a boil water alert!…These experiences …have taken up an INORDINATE amount of time from local state and federal agencies who are already stressed to the maximum to try to deal with responses for important day-to-day issues in our state.  We are funding you to be responsible research partners for a PUBLIC HEALTH issue. While you are independent, you do not operate in isolation, and you are responsible for the impact that your statements may cause in the population that you deliver them to.

On the morning of October 20 2016, McElmurry finally emailed a response to Wells, repeating his quote that supposedly came from the 1990 AWWA book, which he was interpreting to mean that every resident with chlorine less than 0.2 mg/L in their water was in danger. He then asked Wells to figure out what to do about this “problem,” and suggested that Wells should consider issuing a warning to residents with less than 0.2 mg/L chlorine and point of use filters to “boil water” before consumption.

McElmurry drags others into the debacle

At that point, Dr. Wells directed McElmurry to the chlorine subject matter experts (SME) at EPA, Dr. Jonathan Pressman and Mr. Mark Durno, who had been intensively working on improving the chlorine situation in Flint for almost a year. Over the next week they also grew frustrated with McElmurry, who admitted he had errors in residential addresses, some of the low chlorine results were from homes with whole house filters designed to remove chlorine, and he therefore could not help EPA help the State solve the problem he supposedly had uncovered. While they waited for McElmurry to get the addresses, on October 24th, Dr. Pressman point blank asked McElmurry the same question Dr. Edwards had in mind when he first read the press release:  

I’m curious to know the reference of the quote…from your press release…The sources of chlorine residual advice that I am most immediately familiar with, such as the AWWA partnership for safe water, use a 95% of the time statement, not “at all times.”

Incredibly, although McElmurry must have known that he personally inserted that erroneous phrase into the press release just a week earlier, he emailed Dr. Masten:

I feel like he is splitting hairs here but I’ll have to respond. I can’t remember how this sentence made it in….if we had a real quote to reference or not. Do you?

What? McElmurry had needlessly created a false alarm amongst Flint residents and disrupted multiple agencies working to protect public health, and he now wanted Dr. Masten to bail him out and find a real quote to support his mistake? Over the next few days, Dr. Masten looked hard to find something,  but in the end she could did not find a “real quote to reference.” As was typical whenever McElmurry was confronted with an important question that demanded a response, and providing an honest answer would expose his mistakes and ignorance, he simply never responded to Pressman at all. McElmurry also refused to answer Dr. Edwards when asked the same direct question months later. 

When McElmurry finally got around to providing EPA the addresses, the expert chlorine response team with representatives from Flint, MDEQ, and EPA was dispatched to investigate. On October 31st, 2016, they reported back that hydrant sampling near the “low chlorine” sites reported by FACHEP had good chlorine at > 0.61 mg/L. Dr. Pressman then requested that if McElmurry was going to keep telling residents that they had “low chlorine,” he should immediately inform the city of Flint so they could respond.

By this point McElmurry knew, or should have known, that his scientific basis for providing “low chlorine” alerts to residents and the agencies were bogus. So why on earth did he keep issuing them? The emails suggest he even derived satisfaction from continuing to raise alarms with the agencies for no good reason. For instance, after sending an email alerting EPA and the city to “low chlorine” in a Flint home November 29, 2016, he proudly forwarded it to Dr. Seeger with a statement: “They are going to love me.” Dr. Seeger responded “Wow.”

And as McElmurry continued to sample for chlorine around the State of Michigan, getting the control data that Wells had repeatedly requested, he not surprisingly found many other homes meeting the Michigan standard but violating the McElmurry standard. He was issuing low chlorine letters and email alerts to residents and government officials in Ecorse and River Rouge, MI through late November 2017.

FACHEP makes a mockery of ethical codes

It was around November 2017 when Dr. Masten’s growing concern over what she considered unethical behavior by FACHEP’s leaders, reached a breaking point. FACHEP was trying to rush out a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) publication concluding that the 2014-2015 Legionella deaths in Flint were due to chlorine levels dropping below 0.2 mg/L in consumer’s homes. In the text of the accepted paper the team had a misleading statement that claimed (bold emphasis added):

To reduce the risk associated with bacterial growth in water distribution systems, regulatory agencies recommend a minimum free chlorine residual of 0.2 to 0.5 mg/L.   …chlorine residual is the most widely reported measure of water quality within distribution systems

Dr. Masten emailed the lead author Dr. Michelle Swanson to explicitly point out what all of FACHEP should have known:

This is still factually incorrect. Chlorine residual is NOT the most widely measure of water quality. In fact, it is NOT a measure of water quality at all.  It is a measure of the amount of disinfectant that remains in water.  One can have a low chlorine residual and the water can be of excellent quality. One could have a high chlorine residual and the water could be of poor quality. 

After Swanson refused to give Masten time to correct this and other errors in the manuscript, Masten made a very difficult decision to remove her name from the accepted publication. Immediately after this PNAS paper was published, it was used to support FACHEP in their now public disagreement with Mr. Lyon and Dr. Wells, and in court to support criminal charges brought against them. At that point, Dr. Masten decided she was ethically obligated to write the journal editors about her concerns with the document. The erroneous text that Dr. Masten called out was not changed in the final manuscript. In fact, the PNAS paper does not even acknowledge that the present day Michigan law had a standard for detectable chlorine (0.1 mg Cl2/L) at 95% of test sites.

Throughout this ordeal, FACHEP’s engineering faculty (other than Masten) repeatedly lectured anyone questioning miscues like their “low chlorine” alert, that the engineering code of ethics mandate to “hold public safety paramount” justified their every action. But those same faculty repeatedly violated that same code of ethics, by working outside their core area of expertise, which did not include Legionella, chlorine measurements, Shigella or lead. It seems as if FACHEP leadership had created an alternative universe, in which they were the true heroes of the FWC, fighting against villains, real or imagined, such as Dr. Wells, Mr. Lyon or even Dr. Masten. This mindset is revealed in several illustrative statements, some of which are delusional considering that their real work started AFTER the Federal Emergency and Legionella outbreak had ended.

Illustrative and highly dubious claims of FACHEP faculty heroism

Source/ Date Statement
Wayne State Press Release on PNAS article 2/6/2018 “This abandonment of basic human and civil rights by those who once had the public trust led to water quality, safety and access issues that endangered the public health. In the midst of this maelstrom, a group of engineers along with medical, public health and social scientists assembled a research team to pursue answers to problems that others would rather leave unexamined. The authors of these papers from several universities and members of the research team — which included community members in meaningful roles — affirmed the higher purpose of science — to expand knowledge and serve the common good. As this FACHEP team developed, the key underpinning was the attention to clear, honest communication and careful listening to disenfranchised, marginalized Flint residents.”
Dr. Sullivan (FACHEP) 10/20/2016 Thanks, all, for the integrity you’ve already demonstrated to Flint.  History will show that in the aftermath of tragedy at the hand of opportunists, you were among the first to demonstrate the nobility of great men.
Dr. Ben Pauli (FACHEP) 11/24/2016 Of all the people and groups that are doing or have done testing in Flint, I think our team stands out for demonstrating that a commitment to the residents need not preclude a commitment to good science, and vice versa.
Dr. McElmurry
Responding to a Facebook post that said: Thank Shawn McElmurry for Standing Up for Flint During the Legionella Outbreak…You Rock! *
McElmurry wrote “all of this would have been swept under the rug <without FACHEP>”

* There is no evidence that McElmurry and FACHEP did anything of substance during the Flint Legionella outbreak.

If anyone on FACHEP is to be considered ethical and heroic, in our opinion it will be Dr. Masten, who gave up authorship on a PNAS paper and made other sacrifices as a matter of principle. As her reward for doing the right thing, she was subsequently locked out of future FACHEP conference calls and shunned by the other faculty.

An enlightening conference call and FACHEP crybullying

As noted in our previous blog, the relationship between FACHEP and the State was without normal checks and balances. Specifically, because government failures created the FWC, FACHEP was fully aware that the press would always take the side of presumably noble and independent faculty in any disputes. Based on media coverage since 2016, it is apparent that they were correct in this assumption. In their emails, FACHEP faculty openly discussed that special prosecutors were looking to charge high ranking public officials within MDHHS for the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak, and there is even some evidence these faculty had been speaking with the prosecutors. FACHEP repeatedly exploited that power imbalance.

In evaluating the evidence against Wells and Lyon related to FACHEP, we must give special weight to situations that do not involve he-said /she-said recollections. The last communication between Dr. Zervos (FACHEP) and Dr. Wells came March 3, 2017, when he wrote an angry email accusing her of being unethical (emphasis added):

Dr Wells, your comments to us at earlier meetings such as, “Do you know who is funding you?” or your more recent mandate to us to put a stop to the retrospective epidemiologic component of the project, can only be interpreted as a threat, and a clear attempt to influence our independent work and scientific integrity.

The “earlier meeting” in question, was a teleconference call on October 21, 2016, where the issue of the “low chlorine” alerts described herein was discussed. To our knowledge, even as of today, Dr. Wells is probably completely unaware that FACHEP’s written statements in the press release were based on McElmurry’s use of a now 28-year old AWWA citation that does not agree with modern AWWA recommendations or Michigan law. And that FlintWaterStudy, or even McElmurry for that matter, cannot even find a reference for the recommendation that caused so much trouble.

At the start of the call, Wells ethically informed everyone it would be recorded and transcribed for all parties. The call starts in typical FACHEP fashion — Dr. McElmurry announcing that FACHEP can only spare 30 minutes to work through concerns raised by his research sponsor. The MDHSS employees whose life had been upended by multiple FACHEP train wrecks currently in progress, can be heard to say “What the hell?” while the phone was muted, in obvious reference to McElmurry’s misplaced priorities.


Wells started by noting the awkward position that FACHEP had placed the State in with the “low chlorine” press release claims. McElmurry then made a false statement to Wells, based on what was possibly his zero years of experience measuring chlorine in Flint homes (despite claims of 5 years work) that the data:

was far beyond what it normally–what would normally be expected within a water distribution system and that’s why we thought it was important to relay that information to the public and the water utility

Wells reinforced the need for appropriate controls and sharing critical data immediately with their public health partners before going public, which is something McElmurry was not set up to do as mentioned previously. McElmurry then referred to FACHEP’s policy of communicating results to the public before they even have a chance to do quality control or analyze what they mean (i.e., “real time” reporting):

I am concerned about the values, that’s why I reported it as soon as I realized that we had this problem. I’m reporting to real time (??).

As we will repeatedly see in future blogs, what FACHEP’s leaders would most consistently reveal in “real time,” was that they were incompetent and operating outside their expertise. But Wells then informs McElmurry about the ethical obligation to not just report problems, but to also provide vetted information to residents on what to do about them. She then stated “apparently you have done this type of research before,” and asked how he had ethically handled it, to which McElmurry stated:

So the answer to that is I have done this kind of thing, we’ve measured chlorine before and we found it low. And I reported that back to the EPA and DEQ. In, you know, about the same time that I’m doing now. You know, I have not had the same level of urgency from the DEQ and the EPA regarding the data I’m showing.

When this all comes out at trial, we certainly hope that evidence is demanded from McElmurry to document exactly when, where, and how he previously reported “low chlorine” data back to EPA and DEQ.  Especially when a “low chlorine” measurement at a home does not violate Michigan law and he cannot find the reference in his press release. Call us skeptical, but by this point, his statement to Dr. Wells sounds like other unsupported McElmurry claims about his work in Flint.

The transcript goes on and on in this manner, with Dr. Wells bending over backwards to try to be understanding and work with FACHEP, when she makes the following statement:

And so there’s been some feeling that perhaps while academia is, you know, collecting all this data and may be able to sort of talk about this in the press–and, again, I’m not faulting you on the press release, but the impression was is oh, well, you know, MDHHS will go figure out what to do about this, and I–and so I just want, I plead that, you know, public health, to us in our world reigns supreme, and we will–we will continue to advocate for your role as an independent, as independent as can be, but remember we’re funding you, and our IRB is with you, but we want you to be as independent, we want you to find anything with the system that had anything to do with the Legionella outbreaks would be great, but to please understand our passion and some of our knowledge when it comes to trying to do these studies in the public sector. All right?


According to Zervos, this mention of funding, “can only be interpreted as a threat, and a clear attempt to influence our independent work and scientific integrity.” Interestingly, after the transcript of the call was finally admitted at trial, Zervos still insisted “I took it as intimidation.” We take Zervos’ claim as an example of “crybullying,” a tactic that FACHEP truly excels at and which they deployed repeatedly. We have attached 77 pages of Zervos trial testimony, a highlighted 45 page transcript of the conference call, and the conference call recording itself to provide supporting documentation for readers that allow their own conclusions to be drawn about FACHEP’s credibility when it comes to “threats” and “intimidation” from Dr. Wells (and by extension Mr. Lyon). Our own perspective is that she was bravely trying to do her job, as best she could, given the power imbalance in the face of repeated unethical and incompetent behavior by FACHEP.  

The DHHS call transcript ends, with the State employee’s, justifiably mocking the warped engineering code of ethics as embraced by FACHEP’s inept leadership as follows:

(Many thank you’s and goodbyes)

Phone all hang up

MS. HANLEY: Wow, that’s concerning. I mean–-

DR. WELLS: He still hasn’t gotten that household data.

MS. HANLEY: What the heck? Seriously. Those of us here around the table could be doing what–it doesn’t take a rocket scientist.

DR. WELLS: No, it doesn’t.

MS. HANLEY: Really? Hand entering?

DR. WELLS: Yeah.

MS. HANLEY: I can’t believe it. And it’s like—I mean, what do you need for it to be a public health emergency? I don’t get it. I mean, we talked about, not just Ebola, but the Zika and whatever else. I mean, there aren’t a lot of people who have it, but there’s the threat that it could spread, right? And so I just don’t understand why it is that they’re slicing hairs like that, and they’re sitting there spending the time to make these determinations.

MS. CALLO: Right, when they’re telling us that, oh, it’s my ethics, my engineering code of ethics, remember that? Anyway, at one point I got this big speech they have this engineering code of ethics <indistinct> it was Nancy Love (fades out and recording stops)


All emails, testimony and relevant documents cited in the article above can be downloaded below:

Oct 20, 2016 Conference Call in FULL (audio)

Primary Author: Dr. Marc A. Edwards

FACHEP vs. The People of the State of Michigan: Part II The Problematic Birth of FACHEP

An investigative science reporting series by

A whistleblower’s journey requires navigating one gut-wrenching ethical dilemma after another. First, one must make every attempt to resolve problems within the system, before taking distasteful allegations public. Second, a whistleblower must also believe that true harm (e.g., public endangerment or a miscarriage of justice) could result from remaining silent. After those thresholds are met, it is a difficult decision whether or not to  blow the whistle, because retaliation is a virtual certainty, and weeks to years can pass before society renders any kind of verdict about the righteousness of your cause.

For example, Flintwaterstudy’s Dr. Edwards worked quietly behind the scenes from April to July 2015 with LeeAnne Walters, ACLU Michigan reporter Curt Guyette, EPA employee Miguel Del Toral and others, in what proved to be a futile effort to force the City of Flint, State of Michigan and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to follow the Lead and Copper Rule. We launched Flintwaterstudy in August 2015 only after we felt government had failed at all levels—history has judged our work as honorable whistleblowing. Dr. Edwards was also vindicated after seven years work revealing the depths of the Washington DC Lead Crisis and associated cover-up.

When we started to have problems with the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership (FACHEP) in 2016, we first sought resolution through direct communication with FACHEP faculty. After about a year of vacuous responses we gave up. We helped Flint residents file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, publicly called out behavior we deemed irresponsible, filed an ethics complaint with the appropriate authorities at the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), testified under oath in response to a subpoena, and then documented numerous concerns about FACHEP’s founder Dr. Shawn McElmurry

For 9 months we have waited, but unfortunately, it seems clear that the system is once again failing at multiple levels, including:

  1. Wayne State University has repeatedly ignored FOIA law, delaying release of critical documents to Dr. Edwards
  2. Wayne State University issued numerous press releases expressing unqualified support for McElmurry, while at the same time failing to produce a shred of evidence to validate his claimed work record
  3. Wayne State University has also denied a reasonable FOIA request for public documents critical to the defense of Mr. Nick Lyon.  They claimed it would cost $280,000, that McElmurry was the only person who could review the documents and it would take 11 years to do so. These are not typos: McElmurry decides what documents he would release to Mr. Lyon, it would cost $280,000 and take 11 years!
  4. Flint Water Crisis special prosecutors failed to acknowledge, much less address, legitimate questions about McElmurry’s testimony under oath
  5. State of Michigan’s Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) has not yet resolved the serious ethics allegations raised about McElmurry

As this untenable stalemate has persisted, THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN vs. EDEN WELLS (and NICK LYON) is now proceeding to a full trial. The pre-trials were amongst the most expensive in State of Michigan history, with taxpayers paying millions and millions of dollars for both the defense and prosecution, and the special prosecutors’ case is almost completely dependent on the testimony of FACHEP faculty. 

While it is another difficult and painful decision, we once again consider it in the public interest to resume our investigative science series on the FACHEP saga, especially considering the possible miscarriage of justice, high cost, and misinformation that has been spread by FACHEP team members since 2016. Our series is based on review of over 20,000 pages of FOIA documents we obtained from the: United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Genesee County Health Department (GCHD), Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), University of Texas (UT), Michigan State University (MSU), and Wayne State University (WSU). We also rely on information provided to us by Flint residents, thousands of pages of sworn testimony in the Wells and Lyon pre-trials, interviews with those involved with the Flint Federal Emergency response, and personally witnessing many of the relevant events described herein.

Origins of McElmurry’s Leadership Role and of FACHEP

In part 1 of this series published March 2018, we documented how McElmurry burst onto the scene of the Flint Water Crisis mid-October 2015, with an assertion that he had been working “in Flint” on water issues from 2010 to 2015. He further claimed that he had developed “a complete hydraulic model of Flint’s water distribution system” through that work. In our earlier blogs we described how we began to doubt McElmurry’s qualifications, compiled inconsistencies in his testimony about working “in Flint” and other issues. We have since learned some other relevant details about the problematic  birth of FACHEP.

In the felony court cases Dr. Larry Reynolds testified about the moment in January 2016, that the idea was first floated to select McElmurry to lead a study of the Flint Legionella Outbreak. Reynolds, a member of Governor Snyder’s task force and a respected activist throughout the Flint Water Crisis, stated that in response to an inquiry from Harvey Hollins (Governor’s office) regarding capable Legionella researchers that “..I recommended Doctor Shawn McElmurry, an environmental engineer at Wayne State because he had done hydraulic modeling for the city of Flint I think within the past year.” Harvey Hollins was a former Vice-President at Wayne State who had met McElmurry a few times, and Reynolds is a Wayne State alumni.

Around that same time (January 22, 2016) the Flint Task Force that Dr. Reynolds was a member of recommended that Governor Snyder:

“Establish an inter-disciplinary work group comprising subject matter experts drawn from respected public utility associations and institutions of higher learning in Michigan and elsewhere (including Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech), to oversee the conversion to KWA supplied raw water. Commission and/or contract with an unbiased third-party organization or consortium (hereafter: Flint water safety scientific assessment team [FWSSAT]) that will be responsible for assessing the quality and safety of drinking water…<for> lead and Legionella..”

Dr. Reynolds recommendation of McElmurry to lead FACHEP (i.e., evolved from “FWSSAT”) carried a great deal of weight. Because decision makers felt there was no time for normal scientific vetting amidst the chaos of the federal emergency declaration, they implemented emergency procedures to give McElmurry a sole source contract. When doing so, Mr. Lyon acknowledged in an email January 24th 2016, that the Flint community was “understandably skeptical of government actions and deserves the assurance of independent subject matter experts.”

From the perspective of scientific expertise necessary to lead an investigation into Legionnaires disease, McElmurry had none. He literally had never led or contributed to any research or project or publication pertaining to Legionella, the bacteria that cause Legionnaires disease. There is no record that he ever conducted work in applied microbiology or building water systems, and he also had very little experience with potable water quality or regulations. But to some, his repeated claim of intimate local knowledge about the pipes, people and politics was priceless, especially for a situation involving a vulnerable community reeling from distrust due to the failure of government at all levels. According to court testimony, McElmurry also claimed to have stored Flint biological samples from Flint in 2014 and 2015, that could help unravel origins of the 2014 and 2015 outbreak. In all respects the selection of McElmurry to lead FACHEP was a concession to those “understandably skeptical” of government (like Reynolds) and who valued claims of local knowledge over scientific expertise. The testimony of Hollins, Reynolds and McElmurry revealed their shared Wayne State ties also played a role.

Even if the judgment of history were to someday decide that tapping McElmurry for leadership of FACHEP was a complete disaster, in Dr. Reynolds’ defense, Dr. Edwards’ trust was also once misplaced in McElmurry’s due to his superficially plausible and compelling stories. McElmurry’s heartwarming tale of 5 years volunteer work “in Flint” and claim to have created a complete hydraulic model in advance of the Flint Water Crisis, gradually snowballed over the years, to a point in 2017 where an assistant special prosecutor described McElmurry to a judge as follows:

This is an Environmental Engineer who has devoted his life to water quality and water safety in regard to distribution systems and drinking water safety……He’s an Environmental Engineer that has significant experience in the spread of disease from water distribution systems.

There is no record in the transcript that anyone in the courtroom either burst out laughing or corrected this false claim.

Michigan’s foremost Legionella experts denied a role

It is painful to reflect on what FACHEP could and should have been. Dr. Joan Rose at Michigan State University is one of the most celebrated waterborne disease experts in the world. A 2016 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate (a sort of  Nobel Prize of the water field), she is presently chairing a National Academy of Sciences committee on Management of Legionella in Water Systems. Dr. Rose was one of the first professors to volunteer her services after the switch to Flint River, was respected by all the key players, and authored an article on Flint’s growing water problems in spring 2015.

In early 2015, Dr. Rose was in close contact with Jim Henry and Suzanne Cupal (GCHD) on the Legionella issue, and other world class experts including Dr. Ruth Berkelman (Emory), and Dr. Janet Stout (Special Pathogens Lab) who was addressing the Legionella outbreak at McLaren hospital. This team was making a sound plan for action on the Legionella issue and were also assisting Virginia Tech’s independent research into the Legionella issue. Thus, when Dr. Eden Wells reached out to Dr. Edwards on February 16th 2016 to provide professional references on Legionella experts, he enthusiastically endorsed Dr. Rose’s team that had been working in Flint for more than a year at that point. At the time, Wells gave Edwards a strong sense that she would like to have given the leadership role to Rose, but McElmurry’s local experience in Flint from 2010-2015, hydraulic model, and archived samples from 2014 to 2015 were compelling to others, as were the “politics” (presumably referring to Reynolds or whoever recommended McElmurry). Wells did reach out to Rose an hour after speaking with Edwards, but the two did not immediately connect because Dr. Rose was traveling overseas.

When Rose returned to the U.S. and her team read a March 1, 2016 press release announcing that McElmurry had been given the leadership role in a Legonella project, they internally expressed prescient concerns about the situation. For example, after Dr. Rose spoke with McElmurry on March 1, 2016, she emailed her colleagues:

So Shawn called me today, and gave me some of what was going on, but not all of it. I think this is the STATE has decided they needed to do something and was in communication with CDC without including you all. I don’t get it but it is what it is.

Suzanne Cupal (GCHD) immediately responded to Dr. Rose:

We want to work with all of you. Our concern is that Shawn and this team do not have Legionella expertise. I am concerned that the communication issues continue. The health of our community is our greatest concern. There is far too much politics happening. We want to keep people safe and move the science forward. It will take your third party involvement to help keep the politics out.

On March 2, 2016, Dr. Rose reached out to Dr. Eden Wells at MDHSS, trying to diplomatically alert her to the limitations of hiring McElmurry (i.e., sacrificing scientific expertise for politics and local knowledge):

I am sure you saw the newspaper article on the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership, Shawn called me today as well and said the You all were funding them. But there is much concern that while the epidemiology, public engagement is well represented with the expertise of the team, there is little experience with monitoring.

But at that point, the deal that McElmurry would lead FACHEP was already sealed. Rose was apparently unaware of the massive financial scope of the sole source project McElmurry was proposing with the State of Michigan. On March 3, 2016, Rose suggested to McElmurry that her team of true Legionella experts, could make great progress on a critical Legionella project in Flint for $30,000, to which McElmurry responded:

I think $30k is certainly reasonable and something we could request as part of FACHEP as long as it fits within the framework of what everyone is trying to do.

Trial testimony revealed McElmurry’s original estimate to the State of a budget of $1 million for FACHEP, immediately ballooned to an opening bid budget of $13 million after he received sole source status.  

As discussions through April continued between Dr. Rose’s experienced team and McElmurry’s hand-picked FACHEP team, McElmurry’s obvious lack of knowledge about basic sampling of Legionella in buildings was painfully obvious. After a conference call Dr. Janet Stout summarized her impressions of the McElmurry FACHEP team in an email to Dr. Rose’s team on April 8th 2016:

“….the scientists being tasked with investigating the presence of Legionella in the water of Flint lack the necessary expertise to perform such a study – a study that can withstand the scrutiny that will come from being a state-funded study….. Shawn…said that among this group there were people that may have been retained as expert witnesses related to these lawsuits. …Michele <Swanson> shared that she had been approached by the Michigan State Attorney General’s Office of Special Counsel presumably to serve as an expert that could eventually be called to testify.”

Still mystified about the decision to hand McElmurry control of FACHEP, Dr. Stout then floated the idea that the whole situation was a plot to purposefully hire someone inexperienced that the State could control.  She wrote:

These issues are of grave concern to me, as they may be for you. We must remember that what got Flint into trouble in the first place was state and local officials manipulating data and ignoring well validated and accepted policies, procedures, practices and science. This desire to control information led to the crisis in Flint. In my opinion, the only way to save this effort is for Joan to be appointed Principal Investigator.

Within the next few days McElmurry had made it clear to Dr. Rose that he would be leading the project, Cupal (GCHD) was frustrated by the fact “that Shawn has not provided a written plan” even though it “has been requested repeatedly,” and Rose made plans to proceed independently of FACHEP.   

Obviously, there is enough intrigue and miscommunication revealed herein to fill a book, but one obvious question is: “Why wouldn’t McElmurry do everything in his power to get Dr. Rose involved with FACHEP in the first place?” Our own interpretation is that McElmurry felt threatened by Dr. Rose at multiple levels. In late December 2015 when Dr. Rose was trying to coordinate work amongst all parties in Flint, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha emailed Dr. Edwards to ask his opinion of her.  Edwards immediately wrote back “Joan is awesome” to which Hanna-Attisha replied “Shawn <McElmurry> does not think she is awesome.” In later phone calls and text, Hanna-Attisha explained that McElmurry thought Rose would get too much credit for success on any project, and he wanted to cut her out of Flint research.

If it is discovered that McElmurry did falsify his record, he would also have a need to assemble a team who would not question his lack of qualifications to lead FACHEP.  Ironically, that meant that everyone with extensive practical experience with Legionella in drinking water systems would be disqualified. For whatever reason that is exactly what ultimately happened. Dr. Rose was not involved. Dr. Lut Raskin, a University of Michigan superstar faculty member with world class expertise in microbes and opportunistic pathogens in building plumbing , and who also engaged in the Flint Water Crisis mid-2015 (well before McElmurry even heard of the Flint Water Crisis) was also not included on the FACHEP team. McElmurry also claimed that the State of MI would not permit him to have Dr. Edwards on the team–something the State later denied.    

FACHEP: Set up for failure?

One might think that such an unfortunate situation could not get any worse, but as the contract negotiations related to the main body of work with FACHEP proceeded throughout 2016, McElmurry testified that FACHEP developed a sense they were being “set up” by the State. This remarkable admission was first made in McElmurry’s November 15th, 2017 testimony:

As time went on, and the project wasn’t fulfilled we were concerned we were being set up to not be able to find anything and then have to pronounce that all was good, there was no problem, in which we would be put on the spot to essentially explain that even though we did all the sampling there was nothing we could tell from it….

Under cross examination McElmurry eventually identified three elements of the “set up” including: 1) a sense that the contract was deliberately slowed, 2) the final funding of ≈$4 million dollars was much less than his initial ask of $13 million, and 3) concerns that the team would not obtain clearance to private patient data for their work. McElmurry even testified that after one meeting, Dr. Zervos (Wayne State) became so frustrated about being “set up” that he recommended FACHEP should “just throw in the towel and go to the media with what was going on at MDHHS.” But McElmurry admitted they did not go to the media “Because I felt like if we did that nobody would (sic) –..” One can only speculate what McElmurry meant by “nobody would (sic).”  No one else would have accepted $4 million to do the research, even though the most qualified researchers in the world (Dr. Rose and her team) had been prepared to address the most urgent questions for just $30,000? We wonder if McElmurry ever asked himself, whether his decision to request $13 million to do a project that he initially estimated would cost 13 times less ($1 million), or that an experienced investigator could have done for 10-100 times less, was a key reason the project took months to negotiate?

In any case, McElmurry’s statement that the FACHEP team felt like they were being “set up” for failure by their sponsor, even before the project was signed and their sampling started in late 2016, foreshadowed future difficulties. For instance, the story of a “set up” also conveniently laid a groundwork for McElmurry to blame his own failings on external factors. His testimony also anticipates FACHEP’s later, reckless efforts, to find something wrong with Flint water in 2016-2017, and a refusal to publicly acknowledge Flint water quality was improving. 

Update on McElmurry’s Claims

As we began investigating this story 18 months ago, we FOIA’ed numerous documents at Wayne State that could shed light on McElmurry’s work experience, hydraulic model, local knowledge and the archival samples from 2014-2015. After Wayne State repeatedly broke FOIA law and refused to release relevant records, we filed a lawsuit Edwards vs. Wayne State University to compel document production with the assistance of Mackinac pro bono lawyers. Some of requested documents have now been produced as a result of the lawsuit.

Strikingly, there is still not one shred of evidence provided to date, that can support McElmurry’s claim that he worked “in Flint” 2010-2015 or that he personally created a working hydraulic model of the Flint water system before October 2015. In addition to evidence presented elsewhere, there are four very worrisome indications that add to our growing doubts about the veracity of his claims.

  1. In a letter dated August 16, 2018, WSU Associate General Counsel admitted that McElmurry never had a hydraulic model of the Flint water system in 2015. Rather, WSU now claims that McElmurry was seeking funds in 2015 “to support….the development of a hydraulic model.” This undermines the very rationale Dr. Reynolds used to justify McElmurry’s leadership of FACHEP in the first place.
  2. WSU pressroom web pages that touted McElmurry’s experiences “in Flint” going back to 2010  have disappeared, leaving behind only a “Oops! Looks like this page can’t be found!” message.
  3. In response to our questioning McElmurry’s claims, FACHEP member Dr. Ben Pauli of Kettering University claimed in a draft book chapter that he and other activists have no interest “in what McElmurry did or did not do in Flint prior to the water crisis.” Dr. Pauli’s implication, is that it would not be a big deal if McElmurry falsified the story that gained him leadership of FACHEP and millions in sole source research funding—funding that Pauli just happened to benefit from. This is a major shift from the FACHEP storyline presented publicly through spring 2018, which always paid homage to McElmurry’s claim of work in Flint since 2010 (e.g., listen at 7:24 in Dr. Michelle Swanson’s interview on Michigan radio).

We have compiled (attached) a comprehensive listing of sworn testimony about McElmurry’s work experiences “in Flint” for anyone, like us, who thinks it would be a big deal if these statements do not represent the whole truth.

There is one more point we find fascinating and noteworthy.  Specifically, where are the results for the analysis of the priceless biological samples (McElmurry and Hollins testimony) which McElmurry supposedly collected in Flint from 2014-2015? The only archival biological samples from Flint described in FACHEP reports, were collected January 26, 2016, weeks after the initial call from Harvey Hollins in which McElmurry claimed to have samples in storage. There was no detectable Legionella in any of these 31 samples—so they were worthless and not priceless. Did McElmurry misrepresent himself to the State again?  

In summary, we have been unable to verify any of the main reasons the State was provided for giving McElmurry the leadership role for FACHEP including: the Flint hydraulic model, archival 2014-2015 Flint biological samples for Legionella, or his 2010-2015 work on the ground with Flint residents. And we wonder, just who, exactly, was really being set up for failure on this project: FACHEP, or taxpayers and the MDHHS employees tasked with overseeing McElmurry’s team?

All emails, testimony and relevant documents cited in the article above can be downloaded below:

Primary author: Dr. Marc A. Edwards

Mr. Scott Smith and Flint Water Study

There were several questions by reporters and others last week, related to the timing and circumstances by which Mr. Scott Smith first decided to reach out to Flintwaterstudy. The first we heard of this, was a telephone conversation that Dr. Edwards had with Miguel Del Toral of EPA, as memorialized in an email on June 8th.

Dr. Edwards email to Miguel Del Toral EPA  June 8th, 2018

“…On Scott <Smith>, he would have to make a public statement before I spoke with him, but if he did make an appropriate statement, or if he wanted to jointly work up something mutually agreeable in writing for release on Flintwaterstudy– I would work with him.”

That conversation was followed by an email from EPA’s Mark Durno to Dr. Edwards on June 14th.

 Mark Durno EPA email to Dr. Edwards on June 14th, 2018

 Just following up on the discussion that you had with Miguel.  Scott is interested in having a private discussion with you about how his data is being misrepresented by the less-than-scrupulous activists in Flint.  He acknowledges and supports the Agencies and supporting experts position on the progress of the Flint distribution system.  Would you be willing to discuss this with him?  If so – how would you like to connect.”

Flintwaterstudy then began to work with Mr. Smith by phone and email, to give him a platform to correct false scientific statements, along with “lessons learned” from Water Defense’s disastrous work in Flint from 2016-2017. In all subsequent radio interviews, print articles on MLive and Huffington Post and other media–  Mr. Smith has stood by his retraction of flawed science as published on Flintwaterstudy. In a phone call this morning (7-28-2018), Mr. Smith again affirmed that he was sorry about his flawed scientific statements from 2016-2017, and that he still stood by his public retraction and apology. While we will continue to support Mr. Smith’s efforts to apologize and correct scientific errors—we have no other relationship with Mr. Smith. Any representation made to the contrary, by those who long supported Mr. Smith, or who have represented him—is simply false.