Marc Edwards (civil engineering professor)

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Marc Edwards
Marc Edwards 2016.jpg
Edwards testifying during the Flint water crisis hearing, March 2016
Born 1964 (age 52–53)
Residence Blacksburg, Virginia
Nationality American
Education State University of New York at Buffalo (B.S.)
University of Washington (M.S., Ph.D.)
Alma mater State University of New York at Buffalo
University of Washington
Occupation Professor
Employer Virginia Tech
Known for Water-supply safety and engineering
Home town Buffalo, New York
Title Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Term August 23, 2004–present
Predecessor Clifford Randall
Board member of Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (president, 2001–2005)
Children 2
Awards MacArthur Fellow, 2007
Outstanding Faculty Award, 2007
Praxis Award in Professional Ethics, 2010

Marc Edwards (born 1964) is a civil engineering/environmental engineer and the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech.[1] An expert on water treatment and corrosion, Edwards's research on elevated lead levels in Washington, DC's municipal water supply gained national attention, changed the city's recommendations on water use in homes with lead service pipes, and caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to admit to publishing a report so rife with errors that a congressional investigation called it "scientifically indefensible". He is considered one of the world's leading experts in water corrosion in home plumbing,[2] and a nationally recognized expert on copper corrosion.[3] He is also one of the whistleblowers in the Flint water crisis, along with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha.

Edwards was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2007.[4] The program cited him for "playing a vital role in ensuring the safety of drinking water and in exposing deteriorating water-delivery infrastructure in America’s largest cities".[4] In 2004, Time magazine featured him as one of the United States' most innovative scientists.[5]


Edwards, a native of the Buffalo, New York area, received a Bachelor of Science degree in biophysics from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1986.[2][4] He received his Master of Science in 1988 and his Ph.D. in engineering in 1991 from the University of Washington.[2][4]

Edwards taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder.[4] In 1997, he joined the faculty of Virginia Tech's department of civil and environmental engineering.[2] From 2001 to 2005, he served as president of the board of directors for the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors.[6] He delivered Virginia Tech's Graduate School Commencement address on December 19, 2008.[7]

He lives with his wife and two children in Blacksburg, Virginia.[2]

Lead levels in Washington, DC water supply[edit]

Edwards's research in the mid-1990s focused on an increasing incidence of pinhole leaks in copper water pipes. Homeowners contacted him about the leaks, some of which were occurring 18 months after installation.[2] After a century of using copper for water pipes, the expectation is that they will last for 50 years in residential applications.[2] The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) funded Edwards's research into the cause of the leaks.[8]

A group of Washington, DC homeowners asked Edwards to investigate their corroding copper pipes in March 2003. Suspecting the water, he tested for lead. The accepted limit for lead in drinking water is 15 parts per billion (ppb). Edwards's meter, which could read values up to 140 ppb, showed off-the-scale readings even after he had diluted the sample to ten percent of its original strength.[2] The water contained at least 1,250 ppb of lead.[5] "Some of it would literally have to be classified as a hazardous waste", he said.[2] At the time, WASA recommended that customers in areas served by lead pipes allow the water to run for 30 seconds to one minute as a precaution.[2] Edwards's tests showed that the highest lead levels occurred 30 seconds to a few minutes after the tap was opened.[2]

When Edwards brought his concerns to WASA, the agency threatened to withhold future monitoring data and research funding from him unless he stopped working with the homeowners.[2] The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discontinued its subcontract with him.[2] With his funding cut off, Edwards paid his engineering students out of his own pocket so that they could continue the research.[2]

After the Washington Post ran front-page stories in January 2004 about the problem, a Congressional hearing was held in March 2004 where Edwards testified.[2][9] At the hearing, Edwards identified the cause of the readings as chloramine, a disinfecting chemical that had replaced chlorine in the water supply in March 2000.[2] Chloramine-treated water, he said, picks up lead from pipes and solder and does not release it, resulting in elevated levels.[8] Chloramine also doesn't break down over time, as chlorine does, so there is always some in the water system.[10] Edwards also testified that WASA's attempts to replace lead pipes with copper pipes could exacerbate the problem, because the copper increases corrosion of the old lead.[9]

Following the discontinuation of chloramine treatment in 2004, Edwards and his colleagues continued to study the long-term effects of the elevated water lead levels;[11] their article "Elevated Blood Lead in Young Children Due to Lead-Contaminated Drinking Water", published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, won that publication's Editor's Choice Award for the best science paper of 2009.[12]

Referring to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that essentially dismissed the idea of health risks from DC's lead-contaminated water, Edwards wrote to James Stephens, the CDC's associate director of science: "Why is it that every child I have personal knowledge of, who had a strong chance of having elevated blood lead from water, is either deleted or otherwise misrepresented in the data that CDC has and used for this publication?"[13] Edwards did not receive a response until March 2008, when Stephens wrote "We have examined CDC's role in the study and have found no evidence of misconduct."[13]

As a result of Edwards's research, the United States House of Representatives' science and technology subcommittee conducted a congressional investigation into the matter. They concluded that the CDC made "scientifically indefensible" claims that the lead levels in DC were not harmful, knowingly using flawed data.[14] In the wake of the investigation, Edwards called for the CDC paper's senior author to resign.[14] The day after the House report was released, the CDC released a public statement admitting to their errors.[15] James Elder, former national director of groundwater and drinking water for the EPA, said "Had Edwards not gotten involved, this would never have come out".[15]

In 2010, the CDC said that 15,000 homes in the DC area might still have water supplies with dangerous levels of lead.[16] Following Edwards's recommendation, the DC water authority now warns homeowners with lead water-supply lines to let the tap run for ten minutes before drinking or cooking.[5]

During his work on the Washington water quality, said Bill Knocke, head of Virginia Tech's civil and environmental engineering department, Edwards was so concerned about the public health impact that he was hospitalized due to the stress.[17]

Later work[edit]

In 2006, Edwards suggested that the EPA testing procedure for lead in tap water could miss elevated levels because it called for homeowners to remove the aerator from their faucet before drawing water for testing. The screen in the aerator, he said, could trap lead particles; if so, water drawn for testing would not reflect the full lead exposure experienced by people drinking from the faucet under normal use.[18]

In 2007, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hired Edwards to investigate water-quality problems in three buildings. (When UNC asked its engineering faculty for guidance, their response was "We have two words for you—Marc Edwards.")[19] He found "low-grade and fixable" lead contamination, which he blamed on "lead-free" brass plumbing fixtures.[20] According to Edwards, Federal regulations permit up to 8 percent lead in "lead-free" brass fixtures, which can leach from the fixtures if the water is corrosive.[20] He says that the Federal standard uses a water formulation that is remarkably tame compared to actual water supplies, allowing such fixtures to pass lead-leaching tests.[19] Edwards provided a solution to UNC's problem: Accelerate the leaching of the lead by running each faucet at full flow for ten minutes, and then leaving it open at a trickle for three days, after which most of the lead had leached out.[19]

In a 2008 radio interview, Edwards noted that the United States has over five million lead water pipes, many of which are nearing the end of their useful life.[21] "In some cases, you can take a single glass of water," he said, "and if you're unlucky, and it has that piece of lead in it, you can get a very high dose of lead, similar to that which you could obtain by eating lead paint chips."[21]

During the Society of Environmental Journalists' 2008 annual meeting, the group was given a tour of Edwards's lab. He told them that the number one cause of waterborne disease outbreaks in the United States is pathogens growing in home water heaters.[22] Energy-conscious households may set their water heater's thermostat to 120 °F (49 °C), but that temperature encourages the growth of microbes such as mycobacteria.[22] A setting of 140 °F (60 °C) would kill such organisms.[22] Edwards says that infections from inhaling steam from contaminated water in the shower, or contact with contaminated water in a hot tub, kill an estimated 3,000 to 12,000 Americans each year.[22]

Responding to a 2009 Associated Press investigation of contaminants found in the drinking water of schools across the United States, Edwards was quoted as saying "If a landlord doesn't tell a tenant about lead paint in an apartment, he can go to jail. But we have no system to make people follow the rules to keep school children safe?"[23]

Edwards has also warned about the unintended effects of state-of-the-art water conservation techniques being used in new buildings. Systems such as rainwater capture and water recycling, he says, may reduce the flow of water from the city's system so much that the water remains in the plumbing for as much as three weeks before use.[24] This can cause the water to pick up lead and grow bacteria.[24] He has called for a more holistic approach to water quality monitoring.[24]

In 2011, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Public Health Law Research Program funded a $450,000 study of the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule, an EPA regulation relating to drinking water. Edwards will spearhead the study.[25]

Flint Water Crisis[edit]

In September, 2015, after receiving a call from Flint, Michigan citizen, Lee Anne Walters, Dr. Edwards formed a water study team and traveled to Flint, Michigan to perform a study that uncovered high levels of lead in potable water. The city's water sourced had been switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in 2014, exposing over 100,000 people to high lead levels and affecting up to 12,000 people with lead poisoning.[26][27][28]

Edwards' initiative inspired Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint public health advocate and pediatrician, to perform her own study on Flint children's that found that the lead levels in their blood increased as a result of the water source switch.[29] Edwards and Hanna-Attisha's results caused the City of Flint, the State of Michigan and the United States to declare a state of emergency.[30]

In early 2016, Dr. Edwards testified twice before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the crisis,[31][32] and was appointed to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, to alleviate problems related to the water crisis.[33]

In 2016, Edwards gave an interview to The Chronicle of Higher Education arguing for scientists to work in the public interest.[34]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • 1989 Outstanding MS Thesis award. Water Pollution Control Federation
  • 1990 H.P. Eddy Medal. Outstanding Paper in Journal Water Pollution Control Federation
  • 1992 Academic Achievement Award. Outstanding Dissertation. 2nd Place. American Water Works Association
  • 1992 Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award. Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors
  • 1994 Outstanding Paper in Journal American Water Works Association
  • 1995 Outstanding Paper in Journal American Water Works Association
  • 1996 National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellowship. Awarded by the White House/NSF for work on corrosion in water distribution systems
  • 2000 Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, for service as Chair of the AEESP Awards Committee
  • 2003 Deans Award for Research Excellence
  • 2003 Walter L. Huber Research Prize from American Society of Civil Engineers
  • 2003-2005 President. Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP)
  • 2005 Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, for service as board member and President of the Association
  • 2006 Outstanding Paper in J. American Water Works Association-Water Quality Division
  • 2006 Alumni Award for Research Excellence. Virginia Tech
  • 2007 Outstanding Faculty Member Award. State of Virginia Council on Higher Education, for his work on the Washington lead issue.[17]
  • 2008 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.[4] Awarded to Marc for his "vital role in ensuring the safety of drinking water and in exposing deteriorating water-delivery infrastructure in America’s largest cities".[4] The fellowship included a five-year, $500,000 grant.[35]
  • 2008 National Assoc. of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) Technical Achievement Award
  • 2010 Praxis Award in Professional Ethics. Villanova University, citing his "exemplary dedication" to his ethical ideals in the Washington, DC water lead level investigation.[36]
  • 2010 Best Science Paper, Environmental Science and Technology
  • 2010 Outstanding Dissertation Advisor Award. Virginia Tech
  • 2011 Outstanding Paper in Journal American Water Works Association-Research Division
  • 2016 Dr. Marc Edwards and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha presented the commencement address at Virginia Tech on May 13, 2016 in Lane Stadium, in Blacksburg, VA.[37]
  • 2016 Dr. Marc Edwards and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha were named to Time magazine's list of 'The 100 Most Influential People'. They are listed in the 'Pioneers' section.[38]
  • 2016 Dr. Marc Edwards and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha were named as one of 10 finalist for Time magazine's annual 'Person of the Year' award.[39]
  • 2017 Dr. Marc Edwards and Shuhai Xiao were named Virginia Outstanding Scientists for 2017 by the Science Museum of Virginia and Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe on February 9, 2017.[40]
  • 2017 Dr. Marc Edwards and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha received the inaugural Disobedience Award from the MIT Media Lab on July 21, 2017, for their work in the Flint Water Crisis. [41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Welcome to the homepage of Marc Edwards". Faculty. Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech. May 19, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Home-Douglas, Pierre (November 2004). "The Water Guy". Prism. American Society for Engineering Education. 14 (3). Archived from the original on September 15, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Pinhole Leaks in Copper Pipes". Research. Laurel, MD: Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Marc Edwards". MacArthur Fellows 2007. Chicago: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. September 2007. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c August, Melissa (April 12, 2004). "The Plumbing Professor: getting the lead out". Time. New York: Time. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  6. ^ "AEESP Management". Association of Engineering and Science Professors. Archived from the original on February 23, 2005. 
  7. ^ Edwards, Marc (December 19, 2008). Marc Edwards speaks at Virginia Tech's 2008 Fall Graduate School Commencement (YouTube). Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Vesilind, P. Aarne (2009). Engineering Peace and Justice: The responsibility of engineers to society. New York: Springer. pp. 141–142. ISBN 978-1-84882-673-1. 
  9. ^ a b Cella, Matthew (March 6, 2004). "No Easy Fix For Water: Scientist says new lines could make lead worse". The Washington Times. News World Communications. p. A09. 
  10. ^ Zacher, Jason (April 6, 2004). "Disinfectant linked to lead in D.C. used in Greenville". The Greenville News. Greenville, SC. p. A1. 
  11. ^ Edwards, Marc; Triantafyllidou, Simoni; Best, Best (2009). "Elevated Blood Lead in Young Children Due to Lead-Contaminated Drinking Water: Washington, DC, 2001−2004". Environmental Science and Technology. American Chemical Society. 43 (5): 1618–1623. doi:10.1021/es802789w. 
  12. ^ "R&D Briefs". The Roanoke Times (Blue Ridge Business Journal). Roanoke, VA: The Roanoke Times. March 22, 2010. p. BRBJ11. 
  13. ^ a b Renner, Rebecca (April 10, 2009). "Health agency covered up lead harm". Salon. Salon Media Group. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Leonnig, Carol D. (May 20, 2010). "CDC misled District residents about lead levels in water, House probe finds". The Washington Post. Washington, DC. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  15. ^ a b McCartney, Robert (May 23, 2010). "Virginia Tech professor uncovered truth about lead in D.C. water". The Washington Post. Washington, DC. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  16. ^ Brown, David (December 11, 2010). "Study of D.C. water sharpens understanding of lead threat". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  17. ^ a b Esposito, Greg (February 8, 2007). "Outstanding Faculty Awards to be Presented to 12 Today". The Roanoke Times. Roanoke, VA. p. B3. 
  18. ^ "Looking out for lead (Editorial)". News & Observer. Raleigh, NC. July 9, 2006. 
  19. ^ a b c Raloff, Janet (October 30, 2008). "Lead-free? Faucets are anything but". ScienceNews. Society for Science & The Public. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  20. ^ a b Clabby, Catherine (May 12, 2007). "UNC-CH finds lead in three buildings". News & Observer. Raleigh, NC. 
  21. ^ a b "Lead in our drinking water". National Driller. BNP Media. 29 (1): 73. January 2008. 
  22. ^ a b c d Raloff, Janet (October 23, 2008). "The Case for Very Hot Water". ScienceNews. Society for Science & The Public. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Study: Unsafe Toxins Found in Drinking Water at Thousands of U.S. Schools". Fox News. Associated Press. September 25, 2009. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  24. ^ a b c "United States: Water and health subject of panel". TendersInfo News. Euclid Infotech. June 6, 2010. 
  25. ^ "Marc Edwards to head $450,000 study to identify lead risks in drinking water" (Press release). Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech. January 4, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  26. ^ Steve Carmody, Virginia Tech ending Flint water investigation, Michigan Radio (January 11, 2016).
  27. ^ Kolowich, By Steve (2 February 2016). "The Water Next Time: Professor Who Helped Expose Crisis in Flint Says Public Science Is Broken". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2016-02-03. 
  28. ^ Itkowitz, Colby. "The heroic professor who helped uncover the Flint lead water crisis has been asked to fix it". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-02-03. 
  29. ^ D'Angelo, Chris. "How A Stubborn Pediatrician Forced The State To Take Flint’s Water Crisis Seriously". 
  30. ^ Egan, Paul. "President Obama declares emergency in Flint". 
  31. ^ Former EM removed from witness list for Congressional hearing on Flint water The Flint Journal via MLive, February 2, 2016
  32. ^ Ex-EPA official defends agency’s work in Flint water crisis at Capitol Hill hearing MSN, March 15, 2016
  33. ^ Ron Fonger, Gov. Snyder signs executive order to create new Flint water committee, The Flint Journal via MLive (January 11, 2016).
  34. ^ "The Water Next Time: Professor Who Helped Expose Crisis in Flint Says Public Science Is Broken". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 
  35. ^ Sriwiriyarat, Tongchai (October 26, 2007). "Virginia Tech's Marc Edwards named MacArthur Fellow". The Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Virginia Tech. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  36. ^ Moen, Estela (January 7, 2010). "Dr. Marc Edwards will receive Villanova's 2010 Praxis Award in Professional Ethics". The Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Virginia Tech. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  37. ^ Owczarski, Mark (April 17, 2016). "Flint water leaders Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards to deliver University Commencement address". Virginia Tech. Retrieved January 21, 2017. 
  38. ^ Maddow, Rachel (April 21, 2016). "Time 100 - Pioneers: Marc Edwards and Mona Hanna-Attisha". Retrieved January 21, 2017. 
  39. ^ Lutz, Eric (December 5, 2016). "'Time' 2016 Person of the Year Short List: Here are the nominees and their chances". Retrieved January 21, 2017. 
  40. ^ Lindsey Haugh and, Steven Mackay (February 9, 2017). "Marc Edwards and Shuhai Xiao named as Virginia Outstanding Scientists for 2017". Retrieved February 10, 2017. 
  41. ^ Haugh, Lindsey (July 21, 2017). "Marc Edwards receives inaugural award from MIT Media Lab for work in Flint, Michigan". 

External links[edit]

Media related to Marc Edwards at Wikimedia Commons