Ruffalo group defends Flint water work

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Water Defense, a nonprofit group fronted by actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, is defending its work in Flint against sharp criticism this week from a national researcher who helped expose the city’s lead contamination crisis.

Virginia Tech professor Mark Edwards on Tuesday called Ruffalo an “A-list actor but F-list scientist” after his group alleged that water testing amid the city’s water crisis does not account for harm from lead and other contaminants that might enter the body through skin absorption and steam or vapor inhalation.

“We stand by our work and welcome more scientific evaluation, including a full-scale epidemiological study to help better understand what is happening to the community in Flint,” Water Defense said Wednesday in a release.

The group does not release statements without vetting by “highly trained and well-qualified experts,” according to the release, which included a statement of support from Judith Zelikoff, an environmental toxicologist who works with the group.

Water Defense has conducted its own Flint water testing and purports to have found chemicals including acetone and chloroform at levels that approach or exceed drinking water standards.

Flint residents are being exposed to these chemicals through various exposure pathways other than drinking water, such as bathing, washing, laundry, irrigation, humidity and climate control, it claims.

“Unfortunately, there are no state/federal standards or safety policies relating to water-associated chemical exposure from bathing or showering, nor for inhalation of respirable droplets released during showering that can serve to deposit chemicals in the lungs,” Water Defense said.

Edwards, in a message posted Tuesday on his website, was unsparing in his critique of the Water Defense message, including Ruffalo’s own comments in a CNN interview.

The EPA and water industry have been addressing chloroform for 40 years and have adopted standards through total trihalomethane regulation, Edwards said.

The professor also accused Water Defense of having “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.”

Water Defense, in its Wednesday response, vowed to continue working in Flint and indicated it will continue releasing its findings “until the residents of Flint have the answers they need and the solutions they deserve.”

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