Flint crisis could have been avoided for ‘just $100 a day’ – water expert in RT interview

© Konstantin Chalabov
The toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan could have easily been avoided if state and federal officials had followed the law, the principal investigator who helped discover the lead contamination in the city’s water supply told RT.

“If they [state and federal officials] had just followed the minimum standards under federal law which would have cost just $100 a day, none of these things would have happened – including the high lead in water, the likely Legionella deaths that have occurred, the leaks of the pipes, the economic devastation and the loss of confidence in government that occurred,” Dr. Marc Edwards, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, told RT in an interview.

“All of this is traceable back to not following the federal law by the very state employees that were supposed to enforce it.”

Edwards said he formed a collaboration with Flint residents in which Virginia Tech provided the funding, scientific expertise, and technological and analytical support to enable them to test whether their water met federal standards.

“What we quickly realized was Flint water was way over federal lead-in-water standards,” said Edwards. This lead contamination also led to the poisoning of children who were exposed to the water.

A Flint pediatrician at the Hurley Medical Center, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, previously told RT that the highest readings she and the state had recorded for elevated blood levels in children were 38 micrograms per deciliter. That is more than seven times higher than the level classified as “elevated” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (5 micrograms). The CDC states there is no safe blood lead level for children.

Edwards gave testimony on Flint’s water crisis to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington, DC last week. Edwards said it was the third time he had given testimony before Congress concerning the EPA lead-and-copper rule.

“I am really begging you to do what we didn’t do the last two times I appeared before this committee, which is to fix the EPA lead-and-copper rule and to fix the US EPA,” Edwards said. “The agencies involved in protecting children from lead in drinking water in this country, including US Centers for Disease Control [and Protection], the EPA, primacy agencies and the water utilities, have proven themselves time and time again unworthy of the public trust. They cannot be trusted to fix this problem.”

Edwards said corruption and scientific inaccuracy contributed to the problems in Flint, and called for changes that would hold officials accountable for public safety.

“Had it not been for people completely outside of the system, those children in Flint would still be drinking that water to this day,” Edwards told the committee.

The previous time Edwards testified before Congress was when his research showed elevated lead levels in the Washington, DC municipal water supply between 2001 and 2006. In that crisis, the water utility had used a treatment chemical that caused lead to leach from pipes. Washington residents were kept in the dark for three years. Edwards’ research revealed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had published a report so rife with errors that a congressional investigation called it “scientifically indefensible.”

Edwards said the problem involves a failure of federal science and engineering agencies “to do their job and protect the public.”

In a recent Ted Talk, I described what the culture is in these agencies wherein if you do your job and want to protect the public that’s the only thing that can really get you are fired!” said Edwards to RT.

Edwards was referring to Michigan’s EPA regulations manager, Miguel Del Toral, who raised the alarm about the Flint water crisis. He was put under “quasi-house arrest” and banned from talking to the press by the EPA.

“We have this situation where good, heroic actors are being weeded out from the system and, frankly, unethical cowards who defend the system, and the reputation of their agency at the expense of the truth, keep their jobs. So if you’ve ever wondered why these agencies are the way they are, it’s because of this corrupt culture,” Edwards added.

Edwards told RT there are low-cost preventative measures people can take to avoid lead poisoning, such as buying bottled water or a $20 NSF-certified water filter.

“If you are in the high risk group, which is any children under the age of six, or you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, you should think twice about drinking water if you are in a city with lead pipes, or if you have lead pipes or older plumbing in your house,” said Edwards.

“If you are in a newer house that has lead-free plumbing materials, you really have nothing to worry about. But for older houses, the bottled water and the filters are a low cost solution.”