Wayne State defends professor on Flint accusation

The Detroit News

Wayne State University on Thursday defended environmental engineering professor Shawn McElmurry, who has been accused by Virginia Tech water expert Marc Edwards of falsifying a research proposal and exaggerating his work resume to obtain grant funding.

Edwards filed a complaint with a state agency on March 1 and followed over this past weekend with a more detailed critique questioning whether McElmurry did any work in Flint from 2010 to 2014. McElmurry is the lead investigator of the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership, a state-initiated, multi-university study of the 2014-2015 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that killed 12 people and sickened another 79.

McElmurry has said he had done work in Flint since 2010.

In a Thursday statement, Wayne State referenced the Virginia Tech online critique as including “unacceptable, inappropriate and vitriolic personal attacks on an individual faculty member. We feel it is necessary to defend our faculty member against these personal attacks.

“Dr. McElmurry is a committed scientist and educator, and an academician of the highest character. We have the utmost respect for the commitment and character of Dr. McElmurry and the FACHEP research team.”

The university said it has not received a “formal request” to investigate the Flint water infrastructure project but would “evaluate the credibility of the request and follow our established protocol as appropriate” if one is filed.

FACHEP released a peer-reviewed study this year that most of the Legionnaires’ disease cases during the deadly 2014-15 outbreak were caused by changes in Flint’s water supply. Virginia Tech published prior studies reaching the same conclusion based on its own work in Flint.

The controversy has pitted Edwards, who helped discover the Flint lead contamination crisis in August 2015, against McElmurry, who was a witness for the prosecution in the involuntary manslaughter preliminary exams of state Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells and Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon. Edwards testified for the defense about whether the actions of the two state officials contributed to the Legionnaires’ deaths.

In the complaint to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Edwards alleged that McElmurry’s “lack of competence and expertise” contributed to the prosecution of Lyon and Wells. McElmurry said Lyon and Wells tried to obstruct the Flint Legionnaires’ study.

Last week, the university issued a statement on the FACHEP site that attacked Virginia Tech’s accusations but was pulled within a day. A Wayne State spokesman said in a voicemail that the university took down the statement when it decided to “handle this professionally rather than publicly.”

The Virginia Tech Flint team responded Thursday by noting that Wayne State’s latest defense of McElmurry “does NOT provide a specific response to any of our questions. Also, for the record, a month ago, we did alert Wayne State to our concerns related to repeated public claims of McElmurry’s work experience ‘in Flint’ from 2010-2014. We have received no response to this day.”