Va. Tech professor rips Ruffalo group’s Flint message

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards, whose work helped identify Flint’s lead contamination issues, has issued harsh criticisms of a nonprofit group that has raised alarms over the safety of the city’s water for bathing and showering.

Water Defense, an organization fronted by A-list actor Mark Ruffalo, has been working in Flint since late January and has been arguing that the state needs to reword its advisory, which allows residents to bathe and shower with water coming from their homes.

The group’s reason — current testing allegedly does not take into account the harm from lead and other contaminants that might enter the body through the inhalation of steam and vapor, or by being absorbed through the skin.

On Monday, Edwards took Water Defense and Ruffalo to task for making statements that he says are not backed by science. He issued the statement under the title: “A-list actor but F-list scientist: Mark Ruffalo brings fear and misinformation to Flint.”

Edwards cited a snippet from Ruffalo’s appearance on CNN earlier this month discussing Flint’s long-running water contamination problems, particularly Water Defense’s discovery of disinfection by-products in water during its own testing.

“Where the problem really lies is not the EPA, nor the State of Michigan, nor ... Dr. Marc Edwards, can tell the people of Flint that it’s safe to bathe in that water because there are no standards,” Ruffalo said. “We haven’t done enough study. There is up to 600 different disinfectant byproducts that haven’t been studied ...We do not know where these disinfection byproducts are coming from — are they coming from the corroded lead, or are they coming from galvanized iron pipes?

“It’s a huge mess.”

In a posting on his website, Edwards was unsparing in his critique of Water Defense’s message, including the assertion that certain byproducts aren’t accounted for in federal standards.

“The dangerous chemical that Water Defense discovered and has been most concerned with?” Edwards wrote. “Chloroform — the same chemical that the EPA and water industry have been addressing for 40 years and for which we now have standards via the total trihalomethane regulation.”

Edwards added that Water Defense’s efforts have “exploited the fears of traumatized Flint residents, whose unfortunate prior experience taught them to carefully listen to views of outsiders who question authority.”

“Ruffalo’s absurd hypothesis that (disinfectant byproducts) in Flint could be coming from ‘corroded lead’ or ‘galvanized iron,’ defies basic laws of physics and chemistry,” Edwards wrote. “Indeed, we do know where DPB’s come from — they do not come from corroded pipe.”

Scott Smith, Water Defense’s chief technology officer and investigator, could not be reached Monday for comment.

Flint resident Melissa Mays, who has worked to bring the city’s water crisis to national attention, has been supported by Water Defense’s efforts in recent months. On Monday, she took to Facebook to express disappointment with Edwards’ criticisms of the group — calling it “heartbreaking and infuriating.”

“Marc Edwards is treating Water Defense EXACTLY how the State treated him when he first began testing,” Mays posted. “And I'm sorry, the 93 ppb of chloroform in my shower, the 500 ppb of 1,4 Dichlorobenzene coming into my home ALONG WITH the 150 ppb of lead coming in at my water meter IS NOT SAFE. EPA STANDARDS EVEN SAY THAT!!

“Why isn't Marc listening to the residents?? We are NOT SCARED by detailed lab results. We are scared of the UNKNOWN and DISGUSTED by the dismissal of our concerns and test results by so-called experts. I don't need a PHD to know that my shower is unsafe. I can read my lab results.”

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