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Marc Edwards, the Charles P. Lunsford Professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech, will deliver the Charles and Mary O’Melia Lecture in Environmental Science at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 20 in 110 Hodson Hall.
The title of Edwards’ lecture will be “The Washington D.C. Lead Crisis (2001-2004): Prelude to Flint 2015.”
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 same agencies later 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. Their efforts exposed some of the wrong-doing by the agencies and their “hired gun” consultants, who brazenly twisted science to obfuscate the truth of what occurred. These 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 need for checks and balances on agency power. Due to our inability to learn from and admit our mistakes, a similar crisis such as that which occurred in Flint, MI, 2014-present, was inevitable.
This event will be live streamed on the Johns Hopkins University Facebook page.
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. In 1994, 1995, 2005, 2011 and 2016 Edwards received Outstanding Paper Awards in the Journal of American Waterworks Association and he received the H.P. Eddy Medal in 1990. His M.S. Thesis and PhD Dissertation won national awards from the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) and the Water Environment Federation. He was later awarded the Walter Huber Research Prize from the American Society of Civil Engineers (2003), State of Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award (2006), a MacArthur Fellowship (2008-2012), and the Praxis Award in Professional Ethics from Villanova University (2010). 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.