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Drinking Water Lead Crises-Marc Edwards

October 25, 2016 / 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Drinking Water Lead Crises: How Scientists and Engineers Betrayed the Public Trust

The 2016 Walter J. Weber, Jr. Distinguished Lecture in Environmental and Energy Sustainability

Marc A. Edwards
Charles P. Lunsford Professor
Virginia Tech

Lecture Abstract: The 2001-2004 Washington D.C. lead in drinking water crisis (and its aftermath to the present day) is a unique case study in the history of engineering and scientific misconduct.  The multi-year exposure of an unsuspecting population to very high levels of the best-known neurotoxin was perpetrated by multiple government agencies whose mission was to protect the public health.  These agencies published falsified research reports, covering up evidence of harm and justifying ill-conceived interventions wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and which created even more harm.  Aspiring to uphold the duty of scientists and engineers to hold paramount the public good and welfare, Marc Edwards worked alongside collaborators in the public, press and in Congress for over a decade to expose scientific misconduct. Those experiences raise concerns about the veracity of "research" conducted and funded by government agencies, especially in crisis situations when public harm has occurred, as well as the lack of checks and balances on agency power. Moreover, due to our inability to learn from the DC disaster, a similar crisis such as that occurring in Flint MI was inevitable, but in that case after outsiders exposed the problem harm to Flint residents was acknowledged--over $400 million in relief money has since gone to assist in the disaster recovery and several agency employees have been criminally indicted. Flint reminds us that academics have an important role to play in confronting misconduct and environmental injustice-if we do not do so, public trust in science will never be restored.

Speaker Bio: Marc Edwards is the Charles Lunsford Professor of Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech, where he teaches courses in environmental engineering, applied aquatic chemistry and engineering ethics. His research group aspires to pursue science as a public good, through laboratory work on practically important but underfunded topics such as corrosion in buildings and opportunistic premise-plumbing pathogens—that work laid the groundwork for investigative science uncovering the 2001-2004 D.C. Lead Crisis and the 2014-2016 Flint Water Disaster. Time Magazine dubbed Edwards “The Plumbing Professor” in 2004, and listed him amongst the 4 most important “Innovators” in water from around the world.  The White House awarded him a Presidential Faculty Fellowship in 1996.  His paper on lead poisoning of children in Washington D.C., due to elevated lead in drinking water, was judged the outstanding science paper in Environmental Science and Technology in 2010. In 2013 Edwards’ was the 9th recipient (in a quarter century) of the IEEE Barus Award for “courageously defending the public interest at great personal risk,” and in 2016 he was named amongst the most influential people in the world by Fortune and Time magazine.

If you are unable to attend the lecture, it will be webcast.

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The Walter J. Weber, Jr. Distinguished Lecture in Environmental and Energy Sustainability brings one of the world’s foremost experts in environmental engineering and science to campus each year to share the results of their work and their vision for the future.This seminar is made possible through the endowment to the University by the 1996 Athalie Richardson Irvine Clark Prize awarded to Professor Walter J. Weber, Jr., Ph.D., P.E., D.E.E., by the National Water Research Institute for Outstanding Accomplishments in Water Science and Technology. During his 46-year career at the University of Michigan, Dr. Weber made numerous significant contributions to the field of environmental engineering as a scientist, educator, and mentor. In 2008, he was chosen as one of the “One Hundred Engineers of the Modern Era” by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in honor of his many career accomplishments. Dr. Weber became an emeritus professor in May 2009.



Kelly Raickovich Senior Administrative Assistant
Chemical Engineering (734) 647-6207 B-28 G067W NCRC
October 25, 2016
5:00 PM - 6:00 PM