Flint water crisis: profiles in scientific courage

by Judith Curry

[T]the systems built to support scientists do not reward moral courage and the university pipeline contains toxins of its own — which, if ignored, will corrode public faith in science. – Marc Edwards

In case you haven’t been following this story, here is a quick recap from triplepundit:

The city of Flint, Michigan, switched drinking water sources from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money while a new pipeline was being constructed. The river water is 19 times more corrosive than the lake water and was not treated with an anti-corrosive agent. Over time, the water damaged the pipes, sending enough lead to qualify as toxic waste into the city’s drinking water and causing hundreds of people (including children) to get lead poisoning.

Before getting to the profiles in courage part, lets first take a quick look at profiles in corruption and arrogance.  Some background is provided in  this summary of a Congressional Hearing on the water crisis.  Michael Moore has a hard hitting article, excerpts:

The basics are now known: the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, nullified the free elections in Flint, deposed the mayor and city council, then appointed his own man to run the city. To save money, they decided to unhook the people of Flint from their fresh water drinking source, Lake Huron, and instead, make the public drink from the toxic Flint River. 

When the governor’s office discovered just how toxic the water was, they decided to keep quiet about it and covered up the extent of the damage being done to Flint’s residents, most notably the lead affecting the children, causing irreversible and permanent brain damage. Citizen activists uncovered these actions, and the governor now faces growing cries to resign or be arrested.

More information on the bizarre and toxic political situation in Michigan is revealed in this vox article.

Fortunately, there are some heroes in this story.

Mona Hanna-Attish

The first  hero in this story is Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attish.  CNN has a profile ‘Our mouths were ajar’: Doctor’s fight to expose Flint’s water crisis.  Excerpts:

When she told Hanna-Attisha that she had heard the city of Flint wasn’t doing “corrosion control” to prevent lead in aging pipes from leaching into the water supply, the doctor didn’t need to be told twice about the gravity of the potential consequences.

“When pediatricians hear anything about lead, we absolutely freak out,” says Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Medical Center, a public hospital in Flint.

The prospect of lead in the water made her realize urgent action was needed. Her response, she says, was to undertake “the easiest research project I’ve ever done.”

The percentage of children in Flint with lead poisoning had doubled, she says. “In some neighborhoods, it actually tripled. (In) one specific neighborhood, the percentage of kids with lead poisoning went from about 5%, to almost 16% of the kids that were tested,” she says. “It directly correlated with where the water lead levels were the highest.”

Having uncovered the shocking data, Hanna- Attisha took the unconventional step of sharing the findings at a September press conference, flanked by medical colleagues. “We had an ethical, professional, moral responsibility to alert our community (to) what was going on.”

The news understandably created a big splash — but an equally large backlash. “We were attacked,” Hanna-Attisha recalls. She was labeled an “unfortunate researcher” and accused of causing hysteria. Critics said her figures did not line up with the state’s findings.  Even though General Motors stopped using the city’s water supply because it was corroding engine parts, the official reaction, Hanna-Attisha says, was one of “denial, denial, denial.”

The criticism, she says, took its toll. “I was physically ill. I think my heart rate went up to 200. You know, you check and you double-check, and you know your research is right. The numbers didn’t lie, but when the state is telling you you’re wrong, it’s hard not to second-guess yourself.”

A turning point came, however, through a conversation with a state health official who reached out, asking how she had come to her findings.  “They re-looked at their data and found, ‘You know what? Our findings are consistent with your findings,’ ” she says.

“My job, as a pediatrician, is to take care of that kid in front of me, but to make sure that they have the brightest future ahead of them,” she says. “We owe it to these kids to make this better. I may be an optimist, too much of an optimist, but we have to try hard to mitigate this exposure.”

Marc Edwards

The other hero is Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards. The Chronicle has an article entitled The Water Next Time: Professor Who Helped Expose Crisis in Flint Says Public Science is Broken.  Excerpts:

Working with residents of Flint, Mr. Edwards led a study that revealed that the elevated lead levels in people’s homes were not isolated incidents but a result of a systemic problem that had been ignored by state scientists.

But being right in these cases has not made Mr. Edwards happy. Vindicated or not, the professor says his trials over the last decade and a half have cost him friends, professional networks, and thousands of dollars of his own money.

Q. Do you see this as an academic success story or a cautionary tale?

A. I am very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We’re all on this hedonistic treadmill — pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index — and the idea of science as a public good is being lost.

This is something that I’m upset about deeply. I’ve kind of dedicated my career to try to raise awareness about this. I’m losing a lot of friends. People don’t want to hear this. But we have to get this fixed, and fixed fast, or else we are going to lose this symbiotic relationship with the public. They will stop supporting us.

Q. Do you have any sense that perverse incentive structures prevented scientists from exposing the problem in Flint sooner?

A. Yes, I do. In Flint the agencies paid to protect these people weren’t solving the problem. They were the problem. What faculty person out there is going to take on their state, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?

I don’t blame anyone, because I know the culture of academia. You are your funding network as a professor. You can destroy that network that took you 25 years to build with one word. I’ve done it. When was the last time you heard anyone in academia publicly criticize a funding agency, no matter how outrageous their behavior? We just don’t do these things.

If an environmental injustice is occurring, someone in a government agency is not doing their job. Everyone we wanted to partner said, Well, this sounds really cool, but we want to work with the government. We want to work with the city. And I’m like, You’re living in a fantasy land, because these people are the problem.

Q. When is it appropriate for academics to be skeptical of an official narrative when that narrative is coming from scientific authorities? Surely the answer can’t be “all of the time.”

A. What these agencies did in [the Washington, D.C., case] was the most fundamental betrayal of public trust that I’ve ever seen. When I realized what they had done, as a scientist, I was just outraged and appalled.

I grew up worshiping at the altar of science, and in my wildest dreams I never thought scientists would behave this way. The only way I can construct a worldview that accommodates this is to say, These people are unscientific. Science should be about pursuing the truth and helping people. If you’re doing it for any other reason, you really ought to question your motives.

Unfortunately, in general, academic research and scientists in this country are no longer deserving of the public trust. We’re not.

Q. I keep coming back to these university researchers in Flint who said: “The state has 50 epidemiologists. They say that the water’s safe. So I’m going to focus my energy on something that’s less settled.” How do you decide when the state should be challenged?

A. That’s a great question. We are not skeptical enough about each other’s results. What’s the upside in that? You’re going to make enemies. People might start questioning your results. And that’s going to start slowing down our publication assembly line. Everyone’s invested in just cranking out more crap papers.

So when you start asking questions about people, and you approach them as a scientist, if you feel like you’re talking to an adult and they give you a rational response and are willing to share data and discuss an issue rationally, I’m out of there. I go home.

But when you reach out to them, as I did with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they do not return your phone calls, they do not share data, they do not respond to FOIA [open-records requests], y’know. … In each case I just started asking questions and turning over rocks, and I resolved to myself, The second something slimy doesn’t come out, I’m gonna go home. But every single rock you turn over, something slimy comes out.

Q. You teach a course on ethics and heroism at Virginia Tech. How exactly does one teach heroism to college students?

A. We teach aspirational ethics. What I teach my students is, You’re born heroic. I go into these animal studies, and heroism is actually in our nature. What you have to do is make sure that the system doesn’t change you, that our educational system doesn’t teach you to be willfully blind and to forget your aspirations, because that’s the default position.

We talk about the realities of heroism too. It’s not fun. These are gut-wrenching things. But the main thing is, Do not let our educational institutions make you into something that you will be ashamed of.

I tried to find out more about Marc Edwards, he doesn’t have much of an online profile (I am particularly interested to see what he is doing re teaching ethics).  I did spot this TEDxVT talk:  Heroic by nature, cowardly by convenience, which focuses on a previous similar situation in Washington, DC.  This is well worth watching.

I was also very pleased to see that Marc Edwards is a MacArthur Fellow.

JC reflections

This whole situation is frightening and appalling on a number of fronts.

The toxicity of Flint water reminds us that real environmental contamination of the air, water and soil has direct, adverse impacts on human health, with the adverse impacts commonly borne disproportionately by the most disadvantaged people.  Such horrible contamination can be present even in developed countries, with stringent environmental protection guidelines.  Sort of makes hypothesized warming  at the end of the 21st century not seem all that  ‘dangerous’ by comparison.

The treatment of whistleblowers related to environmental contaminants seems much worse than that dished out to climate change skeptics.   Climate change is global problem with a global network of skeptics and whistleblowers – there is some sort of strength in numbers (even if the numbers are only 3%).  However, environmental contamination is a local problem, and a whistleblower may be very isolated and facing a broader array sanctions from their university or employer, state and local governments, as well as federal agencies.

Every few years, some sort of event happens that triggers a massive loss of public trust in scientists and/or the regulatory agencies.  The event in 2009 was Climategate.  The Flint water crisis is the most serious one in recent memory.  Apart from the obvious public safety issue, what the heck are our tax dollars being spent on?

In the midst of this appalling and disturbing situation, it is exhilarating to see the heroism and courage of Hanna-Attish and Edwards.  I was particularly struck by Edwards’ comments regarding toxins in the university pipeline.   His comments are absolutely spot-on — the importance of skepticism, standing up for what you know is right, and teaching ethics as it relates to public service, even in the face of opposition from colleagues and government agencies.

I was also very much struck by this statement, which  makes a mockery of Lewandowsky and Bishop’s concerns over transparency:

So when you start asking questions about people, and you approach them as a scientist, if you feel like you’re talking to an adult and they give you a rational response and are willing to share data and discuss an issue rationally, I’m out of there. I go home.

But when you reach out to them, as I did with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they do not return your phone calls, they do not share data, they do not respond to FOIA [open-records requests], y’know. … In each case I just started asking questions and turning over rocks, and I resolved to myself, The second something slimy doesn’t come out, I’m gonna go home. But every single rock you turn over, something slimy comes out.

Well Steve McIntyre and a number of others could have written that particular book for climate science.  It would be a very interesting sociological study to interview scientists and others that have requested data and other materials from climate scientists to see if this ‘slime’ correlation holds up.

In the context of the climate debate, I hope that Edwards’ example and words will encourage climate scientists to stand up for what they think is right and not be driven by what their peers might think or say (which unfortunately seems to be the norm, as per the German climate scientists).

The toxins in the university pipeline start with federal research funding and ending with university priorities for hiring, promoting and rewarding faculty members that focus on glitzy metrics that end up conflicting with ethics and public service.  The net result is wasted resources (money and time) and a loss of public trust in scientists, which will act to erode away the human and financial resource base for science.

 

277 responses to “Flint water crisis: profiles in scientific courage

  1. Chelate ye may, take it away, EDTA!
    ==============

  2. Thanks for this info. I have not followed the story so this is my first overview of it.

    • Here is one more
      The Camelford water pollution incident involved the accidental contamination of the drinking water supply to the town of Camelford, Cornwall, England with 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate in July 1988, raising the concentration to 3,000 times the admissible level. ….. Immediately after the contamination the authorities said that the water was safe to drink, possibly with juice to cover the unpleasant taste. In an inquest in 2012 into the death of one of the victims, the coroner stated that South West Water Authorityhad been “gambling with as many as 20,000 lives”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camelford_water_pollution_incident

      • That’s pretty bad.

      • And nobody was ever charged… surprise, surprise. Public agencies have carte blanche these days; a few years back in the UK, one of our local health trusts was found to have caused the deaths of over 1000 patients through negligence and poor care. A few staff nurses got the sack. Nobody who was actually responsible for this suffered in any way, indeed, one of the high level perpetrators then went on to another high paying post in care, and made a total mess of that. Made a fortune in pay-offs tho’ – more than most of us earn in a lifetime. You know there’s no success like failure.

        Mid-Staffs Health Trust, should you be interested. Or Mid-Staffs Morgue as I call it.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stafford_Hospital_scandal

        As for

        “[T]the systems built to support scientists do not reward moral courage and the university pipeline contains toxins of its own — which, if ignored, will corrode public faith in science. – Marc Edwards”

        too late. It’s happened.

        h

    • jeremyp99 | February 10, 2016 at 6:03 am |
      “You know there’s no success like failure.”
      “She knows there’s no success like failure, and that failure’s no success at all.”
      Love Minus Zero No Limit by Bob Dylan

  3. Judith, I hesitated to be first comment, and may not be. Been there, done that, in the corporate world. it is not only an academic problem. But of always the same human motivations.

  4. This happens too often. When Warren and Marshall publisged their findings, the establishment simply went on the attack, when all they had to do was look. In one very simple day they could verify or falsify what Warren and Marshall were saying. Instead, they delivered misery to a whole heap of people for 20 years. Flint is the same situation but the misery is much greater – let’s hope this one gets cleared up in a lot less than 20 years. Then let’s change science so that it works. First requirement : look before attacking.

    • “Instead, they delivered misery to a whole heap of people for 20 years.”
      Absolute nonsense. Warren and Marshall published their paper in 1984. In 2003 they were awarded the Nobel Prize. There is a debunk of this myth here. To quote from it:
      ” By 1987—virtually overnight, on the timescale of medical science—reports from all over the world, including Africa, the Soviet Union, China, Peru, and elsewhere, had confirmed the finding of this bacterium in association with gastritis and, to a lesser extent, ulcers. Simpler and less invasive diagnostic methods were devised (Graham et al. 1987; Evans et al. 1989).”

      And the establishment?
      “The New England Journal of Medicine, the most widely read medical journal in the world, offered this editorial: “Further unfolding of the details [of the possible etiologic role of C. pylori in peptic ulcer disease] will be enhanced by the development of an animal model, by epidemiologic studies, and by identification of the source and the virulence properties of specific serotypes of C. pylori. The prospects are exciting, intriguing, and promising” (Hornick 1987).”

      More establishment:
      “In case there were still pockets of resistance to the H. pylori argument, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) convened a Consensus Conference in February 1994. Marshall was a member of the planning committee.”

      • Nick, it took around 3 or 4 years for their paper to be accepted but there was considerable pushback at the time. One of the scientists actually had to ingest infected water to develop a gastric ulcer to prove that the helicobacteria caused it. There was huge resistance in the lead up to the the publishing that paper.

        This is an issue close to me as I was a “victim” of the consensus medical view of the time as to the cause and treatment of duodenal ulcers. In 1982 at the age of 12 I had a duodenal ulcer and the consensus medical view was that I was a “stressed”. They prescribed sedatives and huge life style changes that at the time ironically caused me actual and very acute stress.

        It is true – there was huge resistance to their findings until they took the unethical step of giving themselves an ulcer via the bacteria.

      • Agnostic,
        You should read the link above; it has a lot more details. I see no evidence that the 1984 paper took a long time in publication; they say it was based on a conference presentation in Brussels, 1983. The paper describing Marshall’s self-test was in 1985, only a year later. It clearly wasn’t provoked by desperation. As it happened, Marshall didn’t get an ulcer, but merely some gastritis, which cleared up by itself. The initially delay in clinical adoption was partly because their diagnostic technique was cumbersome, and had to await improvement (which came from others within 3 years), and also the antibiotic treatment was also very troublesome.

      • Nick the resistance was prior to the paper. They were trying to establish the link for a while before the 1984 paper. And they definitely got push back.

        From an interview with Barry Marshall:

        http://www.slate.com/blogs/thewrongstuff/2010/09/09/stress_doesn_t_cause_ulers_or_how_to_win_a_nobel_prize_in_one_easy_lesson_barry_marshall_on_being_right.html

        Q: “By the time of that self-experiment, Barry, you were reasonably sure that you were right, and you’d been saying so in public for quite some time. Can you describe the general response you received when you first began to publicize your work?”

        BM: “When you start off with a new idea like this, all your scientific pals set out to prove you wrong. That’s the scientific process. In my case, people were especially interested in showing that I was wrong, because at the time I was not at the pinnacle of gastroenterology, or even in the mainstream. I didn’t know all of its secret teachings, if you like. I would just charge in with this stuff about bacteria, and nobody wanted to be told that they had spent their life doing research on something that somebody in western Australia figured out in 12 months. You can imagine that would be a bit difficult to stomach.”

        Q: “That makes it sound like the driving force was ego and insider/outsider status as much as it was the scientific process.”

        BM: “Well, and money. I think there was a strategy in the pharmaceutical industry to keep the new bacteria theory of ulcers under wraps. At the time we made the discovery, a new antacid was coming out every year or two that was stronger or better in some way, and as each drug was rolled out, the pharmaceutical companies funded scientists to do clinical studies on people with ulcers.”

        Sound familiar?

      • The timeline is in http://www.dragonfly75.com/eng/gastr-bacteria.html
        OK, I accept that “20 years” was an overstatement, for which apologies, but there was a heap of obstruction both before and after which did indeed deliver misery. A quick look would have resolved it instantly. The obstruction continued long after the findings had been published – eg. your “there were still pockets of resistance” in 1994.

      • ‘eg. your “there were still pockets of resistance” in 1994’
        There is always the 3% :(

      • “Skeptics” seem less concerned with new ideas and explanations and more concerned with tearing down the existing explanation. I think that is an important difference between this case and others like it and the situation we find with the science related to AGW..

      • MAX_OK, Citizen Scientist

        Joseph, I’m not sure about that. I believe skeptics would tend to be more skeptical of new explanations than existing explanations, since the latter have stood the test of time. True skeptics would not limit their skepticism to one subject or one side of an argument. I’m afraid most who identify themselves as global warming skeptics are not true skeptics.

      • Max, you are right, that’s why I put it in quotes.

  5. Odd … neither article about the Flint toxic water crisis mentions what the lead content of the water was/is … what ppm?

    Anybody have a link to data?

    • Kip, the levels are in dispute. See my link below. I think the extensive timeline discusses the disputed testing protocol that created part of the breakdown in decisions. Another aspect not discussed until recently relates to spikes in Legionaires desease. There are numerous articles under Flint water crisis.

    • Nor do know what it was before the switch and whether changes in testing affected detection. New corrosion is probably making huge difference, but there may have been a problem before the switch too.

    • Reply to cerescokid ==> I found the data set and linked it below, with some comments.

    • See my post below for links to the data. Long story short, the BLL (blood lead levels) less than 5% the kids in this “catastrophe” zone are even half the level that 90% of all kids in America had before 1980. The panic is basically about nothing–BLLs are so low they are barely even detectable, and there is no evidence of any long-term health consequences for BLLs so low.

  6. ==> “Every few years, some sort of event happens that triggers a massive loss of public trust in scientists and/or the regulatory agencies. The event in 2009 was Climategate.”

    Data please. I’ve asked you for that w/r/t the “crisis” in trust from Climategate…you never provided any.

    I’ll ask again. By what data do you quantify this “loss of public trust in scientists,” or are you just generalizing (unscientifically) from your own experiences?

    • Before Climategate I had my suspicions that a lot of ‘climate scientists were just third-rate academic shysters.

      With it I had the proof.

      So any remaining trust I had in them was completely gone.

      • Larimer –

        So, you’re saying that Judith should generalize about trends in public opinion by asking you about your opinion?

        What should she do with all the evidence that there is no major loss of public trust in scientists, where the public is actually sampled?

    • David Springer

      Did your mother have any children who lived?

      • If you count living but brain dead.

        Josh is actually quite remarkable for someone suffering from that condition. We should be positive in our comments to him. As in “Josh, you are an amazing fellow, for a brain dead mo fo.”

    • Hmm, yet another divergence problem. But I’ve kept my fork for the cherry pie, so let’s discuss the cherries over your cordial tip.
      =============

      • Glenn –

        Those data aren’t very informative. The data that I’ve seen on “public trust in scientists” does not show the pattern that Judith confidently asserts.

        Further, the research on the direct impact of “Climategate” shows that it it had a very limited effect on public opinion. Not that many people even heard of it. Of those who did, not many say that they had their opinions significantly altered. Of those who say that their opinions were significantly altered, some say that it increased their concern about climate change. Of those who said that it undermined their confidence in scientists, it is hard to know whether that was just a politically convenient response – because the vast majority of those who said that it undermined their confidence in scientists are ideologically aligned to find it convenient to make such an argument.

        It’s interesting that you’d post a response that really doesn’t address the issue as if it does address the issue. Would you be using inadequate data to draw conclusions? If so, why would you be doing that?

    • Why should we trust any group of people as a class?
      Honestly, the “trust the 97%” thingy is what raised my suspicions and set me on the path to denierhood.

      Skepticism, and/or mistrust, is like a good fence.

      • Indeed – when I see people who are “deniers” (flat earth, climate change, whatever), if the consensus presents data etc (as per main post) I too “trust” them – because of their honest appearing behaviour. When they just say “trust me” and call those who disagree names, I don’t trust ’em at all.
        Simple really.

  7. Seems like another example of politicized science.

    http://gregbranchwords.com/2016/01/17/the-real-tragedy-in-flint/

    “This is a huge public health disaster. And we Americans like our big, bad disasters in black and white. We want to blame it on one bad guy and reward one good guy. We’re not real good at nuance and chains of events … especially if they clash with our political beliefs.

    Every Democrat in the country is calling for Gov. Snyder’s head and blaming it purely on the Republican governor and his emergency financial manager law. And not only are they ignoring the guys in the black hats who actually caused the problem, they’re really ignoring the victims. Worse, they’re using them as a tool to gain a political advantage. And that’s even larger tragedy.”

    • Interesting, there always seems to be two sides to a story.

    • No one mentions that Flint was under an Emergency Manager 10 years ago. Took back local control and got into financial trouble again. Several cities have been and are being run by Emergency Managers. Proposals to go to a new water source were developed by the Mayor and City Council prior to the latest Emergency Managers being named.

    • I was lucky to read the piece by Branch when I was trying to make my way past the hucksters and deep-narrative types like Moore, Brockovich etc.

      I fail the right wing/libertarian test because I don’t see the value in user-pays when the user simply can’t pay for a service which is absolutely basic. Water is basic welfare and, while I love it when the rich get richer and don’t care if the poor have to scratch for cars and smartphones, civilisation seems pointless without a low but solid welfare base. Take that away and you just end up stepping over corpses and wishing certain lawyers would become corpses.

      Flint should not have been that desperate, Detroit should not have been that starved for revenue. When there’s wealth in a nation, that level of public poverty in one corner of a nation is not acceptable.

      User-pays is a good idea which, like all good ideas, makes a pernicious dogma. Our NSW Forestry is so hungry for funds that it charges ridiculous amounts for grazing on right-of-way strips it never maintains and which will never be grazed or used as rights-of-way. The fees used to be negligible, but now owners waste big money to fence off the narrow strips so the ungrazed, unmaintained scrub will not be subject to spiralling fees. So forestry has to jack up fees even more for those who can’t afford to fence or just can’t get access to do fencing in heavy, useless scrub. Naturally, the strips are fire-traps. It’s a perfect lose-lose, and all thanks to an irrational interpretation of a good policy of user-pays.

      Sorry if I’m sounding bolshie. Not like me, I know. Here’s to the rich!

      • Re yer welfare base, moso, humans jest can’t git by w’out
        water and cee-oh-too. Bamboo, important too, but less so.

      • MAX_OK, Citizen Scientist

        The rich are morally superior to the poor. Poverty is a moral failing. Being immoral can make one poor ( think divorce and single mothers) and being poor can make one immoral ( theft, drugs, etc). The rich are entitled to immoral fun, however, as long as it doesn’t make them poor.

      • Glad Michigan has a governor who wants to cut tax and slash spending to retain/attract business. Hard to tax the rich in Michigan once they move to Texas or Singapore. But water comes before everything. A city without basic services and amenities cheaply available to all is no city at all. (And don’t get me started on my favourite subject of yummy black coal for the cheapest and best power of all!)

        My serfs can’t serve me properly if they have dysentery or can’t find a bus from the slums. (Er, I meant to say citizen-serfs. Hard to keep up with these modern terms.)

      • I am a right wing libertarium type and have no problem with social safety nets to help those who can not help themselves, or to give a hand up to those who need it. My problem is extending, endlessly, safety nets to those who are capable, but refuse to help themselves. Our social safety nets now enable far too many people who are capable of “paying” to do nothing while recieving all sorts of free stuff from the government.

      • chris moffatt

        Oh Boy! Free stuff from the government? where do I sign up? Government ain’t handed out much free stuff to me. All I want is my fair share…

      • Chris, I supply my own water and sewage, handle my own garbage, and fix my own road.

        But when I drive or ride on to a public road, use a public utility in town, need to take a neighbour’s kid to a hospital emergency ward or library, make use of infrastructure like the wireless bush internet I’m using now, it’s a pretty good bet that someone has paid more taxes than I to make those things possible. Someone has probably paid less. We live comfortably with that inequality, and the high tax group can even get indirect benefits from having better infrastructure available to all. What makes me and others uncomfortable are the abuses of welfare and the tax-the-rich hucksters like the appalling Michael Moore (himself a wealthy miser and all-round nasty plutocrat). I’m not arguing for the abuses, just for the maintenance of a solid welfare base.

        The great aqueducts and baths of Rome were available even to slaves, since nobody could see an advantage in keeping the poor and powerless unwashed as well as poor and powerless. (It took many more centuries till certain Italian cities worked out that having lots of poor and powerless was bad for business. Long live capitalism!) User-pays is a great philosophy or policy, and, like all truly great ideas, it makes a lousy dogma.

        Probably getting needlessly philosophical here. I’m starting to think that all this fuss has occurred because some dope at a treatment plant failed to add a cheap chemical. I’m sure that dope is happy to have the likes of Michael Moore and Erin Brockovich bloviating about environmental and social justice.

        Mike and Erin…big dope sends his thanks. Scoop up a few more million for your trouble.

      • who are capable, but refuse to help themselves. Our social safety nets now enable far too many people who are capable of “paying” to do nothing while recieving all sorts of free stuff from the government.

        In the US, at least, the only ones who get cash assistance and most of the housing benefits are single parent families, the elderly,and the disabled.. Everyone else primarily gets food stamps and in some states health care. I don’t consider our system to be overly generous.

      • MAX_OK, Citizen Scientist

        I believe all able adults should support themselves or if less than able at least partially support themselves. I have no problem with assisting the working poor through programs such as earned-income tax and universal health insurance, and I believe a progressive tax is fair.

        While I don’t like my tax supporting able adults who don’t work, I doubt much of my tax goes to their support. I am skeptical of the notion welfare recipients are significantly reducing the middle-class’s standard of living. The amount of hate directed at welfare recipients seems disproportionate to the problem they represent.

    • treyg,

      How did it ever come to this, where protecting some institution, like a political party, is the holy grail?

      Spin, deflect, lie, obfuscate, destroy or withhold evidence, mount vicious and unfounded attacks on the instituion’s critics, or on its victims — anything goes when it comes to protecting the name and the reputation of the institution.

      And it’s not just the political parties.

      We saw it with the Penn State football program and Jerry Sandusky.

      We saw it with the Catholic Church and its pedofile priests.

      We see it with law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and other criminal justice organs across the country, circuling the wagons to protect killer cops.

      And now we’re seeing it with the institutions charged with protecting public health.

      Where does it stop?

      When did spin, deflection, obfuscation, destroying or withholding evidience, and mounting vicious and unfounded attacks on one’s critics and victims become OK?

    • as soon as I saw that Judith was relying on Michael Moore, I just shook my head.

      Seriously, Judith.

  8. https://thelukewarmersway.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/climate-scientists-in-like-flint/

    “But his closing quote is also worth remembering: “Do not let our educational institutions make you into something that you will be ashamed of.”

    Please remember that one of the central pillars of my personal arguments against the consensus view of climate change is that most of the climate scientists are hard working, professional and honest. However, they have let a motley crew of band wagoners, lobbyists and glory seekers step in front of them on the public stage–that these charlatans have grabbed the microphone out of their hands and changed the nature and the content of the conversation away from the points we should be discussing.

    I am specifically thinking of people like Stephan Lewandowsky, Naomi Oreskes, Jim Prall, Michael Mann and a double handful of others. That’s out of perhaps 30,000 working in the field.

    Marc Edwards gives us all a compelling reason for some of the other climate scientists to step up to the plate and confront the nonsense peddled by a few bad apples. Sadly, he also shows the obstacles confronting anyone who has considered it.”

    • stevefitzpatrick

      +1
      Of course. But we have already seen what happens to climate scientists who try. It is a political problem, not a problem of courage, and this only has a political solution….. withhold most public funding from the field.

    • The climate scientists all bought into the IPCC and the hockey stick despite the fact that they knew or should have known that the hockey stick study had never been checked. Gross negligence. Reckless misrepresentation.

    • Thomas: Well said and I agree that there are a few really bad characters out there who are creating a nasty environment for climate scientists. That said, I think you underestimate the systemic problem associated with the way individuals compromise their judgments and ethics in order for a peaceful or profitable career. I also think you underestimate the peculiar relationship between funding agencies and those seeking funding and the dead hand of organizational and professional hierarchies that are on record supporting a particular policy, practice or world view. There are many avoidable tragic stories in scientific endeavors that are similar to Flint. The Challenger disaster is another one that springs to mind. Last year I read Destiny of the Republic that retells the agonizing death of President Garfield from sepsis caused in part by the wholesale resistance of American medical practitioners to sterilization practices. There is also the wonderful little book Newton’s Tyranny that shows that the greatest minds can be mean and small-minded.

  9. Thirty years ago, Jerome Nriagu argued in a milestone paper that Roman civilization collapsed as a result of lead poisoning. Clair Patterson, the scientist who convinced governments to ban lead from gasoline, enthusiastically endorsed this idea, which nevertheless triggered a volley of publications aimed at refuting it. Although today lead is no longer seen as the prime culprit of Rome’s demise, its status in the system of water distribution by lead pipes (fistulæ) still stands as a major public health issue. By measuring Pb isotope compositions of sediments from the Tiber River and the Trajanic Harbor, the present work shows that “tap water” from ancient Rome had 100 times more lead than local spring waters. ~wiki

    • Reply to Wagathon ==> As I recall, the counter-data resulted from the testing of actual Roman era skeletons and associated hair samples….if significant lead poisoning had taken place, it would have shown in bones, teeth (I think) and hair. Wasn’t found to be the case…..

  10. For anyone with the time, this is the most complete timeline I have found of all the decisions leading up to the present. At the bottom of the article are comments including one from one of the principles in the Governor’s Office.

    Had the right treatment been in place, and apparently at one point was represented to EPA as being in place, the lead service lines would not have leeched and the drinking water would have been safe. I have not found any statement as to why those who should have known if the treatment was in place, thought it was. A massive failure by so many officials who should have just stopped, gathered all the parties, forgot the bureaucracy and taken the safest course of action.

    http://bridgemi.com/2016/02/flint-water-disaster-timeline/

  11. This really is an intricate story. The corrosive nature of the Flint River water appears to be due to road salt and Flint blood lead levels are not as high as other cities in Michigan. Marc Edwards did a test using Flint River water with and without corrosion inhibitors and the standard orthophosphate fix wouldn’t work even if the piping were brand new.

    The EPA has a 90th percentile test rule and no troubleshooting guidelines so what was obvious a red flag to Marc Edwards was within regulation until about September when the degradation of the old existing iron, lead and copper lines started really corroding.

    Northern cities have a Spring water main break season due to the iron mains and thawing which creates boiled water alerts and high disinfectant Chlorine to be added to the systems for biological issues which adds to the corrosion issues. The breaks and repair tend to break lose the protective scale build up in the old lead run outs.

    While lead is getting most of the press, Legionnaire’s Disease had a spike that may or may not be related Flint water, but was getting most of the attention of the Michigan DEQ during the building lead situation.

    Flint should have started an inventory of the piping system in the 1990s to locate old lead run outs for replacement, but since copper and steel are the locally approved materials it probably wouldn’t have been very effective given the average age of the homes on the system. PVC replacement would be a better choice since it creates a dielectric union breaking part of the electrolysis circuit.

    To top all that off, maximum lead levels have been reduced substantially with the typical disclaimer that there is no safe level ala linear no threshold, so it is hard to tell how much of a health crisis it really might be. If 10 ppb is critical, then there are dozens to hundreds of cities with lead issues also needing a few heroes.

  12. Does anyone know what GM did with the information that the water was corroding their auto parts?

  13. Found data:

    “Forty percent (40.1%) of the first draw samples are over 5 parts per billion (ppb). That is, 101 out of 252 water samples from Flint homes had first draw lead more than 5 ppb. Even more worrisome, given that we could not target “worst case” homes with lead plumbing that are required for EPA sampling, Flint’s 90%’ile lead value is 25 ppb in our survey. This is over the EPA allowed level of 15 ppb that is applied to high risk homes. This is a serious concern indeed. Several samples exceeded 100 ppb, and one sample collected after 45 seconds of flushing exceeded 1000 ppb.”

    The full data set of “home water tests” (collected by Flint residents and sent to Virginia Tech) is at http://flintwaterstudy.org/2015/12/complete-dataset-lead-results-in-tap-water-for-271-flint-samples/ Because these are end-used based tests, and not professionally (dependably) collected, there is some natural doubt about the veracity of the findings.

    Of 300 homes, only 50 had *any* reading (out of 3) that exceeded the EPA limit of 15 ppb. Many of the test results are questionable — data that does not make sense, indicating some problem with water collection or testing.

    It is obvious that some of these homes still have lead pipes in the water supply line.

    This quote “and one sample collected after 45 seconds of flushing exceeded 1000 ppb.” should never have been included in a report from a scientist.
    The actual results for that home are First Draw–7.244, After 45 sec Flush –1051, After 2 min Flush–1.328 .. Something wrong with this data, should have been retested. (Maybe someone left out the decimal point?) It is vaguely possible….but unlikely.

    Nonetheless, no modern home should have water that exceeds 15 ppb lead in the water supply, ever.

    The problem is the lead in the pipes, of course, not in the water itself. The river water leaches the lead from the lead pipes and old lead-based solder connections.

    Well done to the brave souls who fought to out the situation.

    • Kip, IIRC those were sent in by volunteers organized by one Mom, who brought in Edwards. Because the iron mains were also corroding, the water was rust tinged in some places in Flint. My guess is that many homes where the worst lead feeder leaching occurred did not sent in water to be tested, maybe because not rusty. Newer mains, newer lead feeders would mean less rust but more lead.
      Else on this data there would not have been a sudden tripling (5% to 15%) of kids testing above the present ‘safe’ blood lead level as found by the pediatrician. Its a wicked stats problem when not all homes have lead feeders, and not all lead feeders leach the same due to protective scale build up. The oldest lead feeders may in fact not have leached very much at all; takes a long time to dissolve lime scale buildup.

  14. MAX_OK, Citizen Scientist

    Michael Moore on the Flint Water Tragedy

    “This Was Done, Like So Many Things These Days, So the Rich Could Get a Big Tax Break. When Governor Snyder took office in 2011, one of the first things he did was to get a multi-billion dollar tax break passed by the Republican legislature for the wealthy and for corporations. But with less tax revenues, that meant he had to start cutting costs. So, many things – schools, pensions, welfare, safe drinking water – were slashed. Then he invoked an executive privilege to take over cities (all of them majority black) by firing the mayors and city councils whom the local people had elected, and installing his cronies to act as “dictators” over these cities. Their mission? Cut services to save money so he could give the rich even more breaks. That’s where the idea of switching Flint to river water came from. To save $15 million! It was easy. Suspend democracy. Cut taxes for the rich. Make the poor drink toxic river water. And everybody’s happy.”

    http://www.pressenza.com/2016/02/flint-us-lead-in-water-privatisation-and-democracy-shattering/

    • This reminds my of the movie The Big Short which chronicles the efforts of a few analysts who saw how weak mortgage backed bonds actually were and established short positions to hedge against the weakness. Once people started defaulting on mortgages on a national scale the banks, the regulators and the politicians illegally collided to prop up the bonds. The movie doesn’t explicitly say whether they were fraudulent or just stupid. Both options were presented.

      My question is, is this kind of behaviour systemic in our cultures now? Have we allowed stupid people to assume positions of responsibility, people without moral compasses, common sense or decency?

  15. Dr Curry

    Regarding the Flint water contamination story, the issue boils down to: “Whom are you going to believe?”

    First of all: Michael Moore is not to be believed. His perspective is one of uttering outlandish crap, to make himself appear to be good and on the side of the “little guy” which of course he is not. He’s just an extravagant egotist.

    Now I adventure into a very tricky issue: Dr. Hanna-Attisha is a Pediatrician on the faculty of the Department of Pediatrics and Human, College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University. Some State of Michigan’s Epidemiologists were trained at University of Michigan. Rivalry on the football field and basketball court are not the only place where there is rivalry, i.e. this extolled “Public Ivy that is University of Michigan” houses some snooty professors which trickles into the State’s bureaucracy and policy making arenas. This was important for the “whom do you believe? question.

    Anyways, in Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s pediatric practice she found some children with rising lead levels. She went to Flint’s City hospital, Hurley archives, and combed through their archives of children’s lead levels. She matched lead levels with addresses as well as previous lead levels with recent lead levels. Ah. Elevated lead levels from more recent exposure, but from where? We now know some of that story. What had fooled the State Epidemiologists was that not all Flint’s children have elevated lead levels. Not all Flint residents get their water from the switched over water source; hence, not all children had elevated lead levels. The mystery deepened until the light…water from Flint River, not the source of lead, but was corrosive of the existing lead water service lines, from street to house. (Lead pipes bend when the house settles so the pipe keeps its wall integrity). When measuring all of Flint’s children, there was no crisis. When measuring those children’s lead levels whose water source was switched from the Detroit/Lake Huron source to the Flint River source, there was a crisis.

    Now the rest of the story: Flint became a black resident city after riots, bussing, the decline of the neighborhood school system, loss of ethnic neighborhoods and white flight, just like many US cities. What followed next was urban decay, crime, drugs, poverty, city government becoming a jobs program, city and local school and government corruption and a decline in the tax base. The only middle class employment was working for the City Government. Ultimately, people’s jobs in government were tied to supporting the government and not as serving the people of Flint.

    The watchdog for cities water quality is our own EPA. The EPA delegates authority along with Federal dollars to the states’ Departments of Environmental Quality for monitoring. A funny thing happened. CO2 became a toxin in the eyes of EPA so focus, money and other resources were diverted from a host of other worthy projects and oversight responsibilities, to trashing coal and cars and trucks and things that go and pretty soon, on the regulatory end, when the phone rang in Washington about a potential problem, there was no one to answer the phone because of the great boogie man CO2 had gobbled up all those resourceful people.

    The multi system failures that is the Flint Water crisis resides in the question: Whom are you going to believe? and its related question: Whom are you going to call when there is a problem?

    EPA’s CO2 endangerment finding is the real catastrophe since it diverts resources from EPA’s original and useful to most people’s, environmental mandates.

    As EPA is a supervisor of all cities water quality in the US and currently they are preoccupied with exhaled CO2, whom are you going to call? who do you trust? whom are you going to believe? when your lead level rises.

  16. Corrosive is not necessarily toxic. Deionized water is as corrosive as extremely acidic or alkaline. Absent the lead…before you chalk this up to blind greed, consider the possibility that it was just a bad business idea, a mistake…like Carbonism.

    • Somebody didn’t have the time or inclination to do that research, gymnosperm. Michael Moore was more convenient. And he has has got a much more exciting story.

    • MAX_OK, Citizen Scientist

      Bad business ideas can be motivated by “blind greed.” I speak from experience.

      I agree that “corrosive is not necessarily toxic.” But it can harm water pipes.

      • That is why the feds have regulations that require anti-corrosion stuff to be added to water that is corrosive, before it goes out to the folks. The Flint water dept. incompetents failed to do that. It has to be the Republican Gov’s fault.

      • Max
        Moore is a moooorooooon. The worst possible source for the facts on this disaster. The cost cutting was to benefit the homeowner by lowering their monthly water bill, something we all pay. Flint residents, with a 39% poverty rate, were paying well above the state average and 4 times what I pay. Snyder increased taxes on state retirees pensions which had been tax free. Moore has conflated a number of issues which have little relationship to each other. Anyone wanting a more honest assessment of what happened should read my link above. Emergency Managers have been used under Governors of both parties.

      • And bad government ideas can be motivated by “blind greed.” The difference is that bad business ideas are corrected by the market and bad government ideas destroy lives for generations.

      • Stanton

        Normally, I’d find the truth in your point of view. Nothing in my lifetime upsets that onion cart more than the bait and switch Paulsen played after the real estate collapse. Together with his mostly GS cronies, they rigged the free market game for the banks and robbed main street. It was only a free market for them until they needed it to be otherwise. They have created a demi god of society where they corrupt the moral compass of free enterprise while lining their pockets. They laugh all the way to the banks they own.

        My head just exploded, so rant over.

    • Can anybody offer some “technical” information around this problem? (Disclaimer – I don’t mean to imply that this changes who is a good guy or a bad guy, shifts responsibilities, or diminishes the consequences and importance of this problem.)

      Any insight around the following would be appreciated. Is is correct to say the initial river water was safe for consumption but that it interacted with the pipes to deliver toxic water to consumers? Is that level of corrosiveness in water always a problem or just when interacting with a subset of water systems? Compared to most water systems was impacted Flint typical, if not how did it differ from the norm? Any chance that the CHANGE in water caused significant additional lead to leach into the water but with continued flows the leaching would lessen (or alternatively would the corrosive water just continue to eat at the pipes to produce similar high levels)?

      • yep the treated river water was perfectly safe to drink but it had a corrosive issue that might be related to road salt. The source of the iron, lead and copper was in the old pipes mainly service lines and pre 1978 plumbing fixtures generally.

        Flint should be fairly typical for north eastern cities that have gotten behind on replacing older service lines. According to an experiment by Marc Edwards continued use would have made the problem worse. But then replacing services lines would have helped. That though is a homeowner issue in most cases and costs roughly $5000 per home in that area.

        It isn’t just Flint, even water softeners can cause problems with older plumbing.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/us/regulatory-gaps-leave-unsafe-lead-levels-in-water-nationwide.html

      • PE, itnis common to treat water with phosphate as a corrosion inhibitor. When Flint was supplied by the Detroit system, Detroit did this. When the waterworks built its own treatment plant in anticipation of a new direct pipeline from Lake Huron, then switched from Detroit to the Flint river while awaiting Huron pipeline completion, they did not. It is a collossal failure at multiple levels. Not adding corrosion inhibiting phosphate. Not knowing which houses had lead service lines. Improper regional EPA supervision (senior admin resigned). Improper state supervision (two resignations, one firing so far). Improper response to the Doctor’s findings. Improper response to Edwards samples organized by him and the doctor. Emails at the governors level debating whether this was all just Flint politics in light of the emergency manager….
        Very climate and climategate like.

      • Thank Capt and Rud for the info.

      • ==> “Is that level of corrosiveness in water always a problem or just when interacting with a subset of water systems?”

        Interesting that we’ve been told, with complete confidence, that the problem lies at least in part with the plumbing in individual homes with older plumbing systems.

        What, then, would explain the reports that GM stopped using the water because it corroded auto parts?

        Are those reports not true?

        Did the GM manufacturing plants use similarly outdated plumbing systems?

        And an additional question: Assuming the reports are true, what did GM do with the information that the water in Flint was corroding auto parts?

      • Joshua – I have no dog in this fight and I’m just trying to make sense of things. I don’t know if I understand the premise behind these questions: “What, then, would explain the reports that GM stopped using the water because it corroded auto parts?” “Are those reports not true?”

        What I’ve seen seems to say that individual plumbing can contribute to the problem, but so can distribution lines. Isn’t that an obvious explanation? Are you saying that some have represented that there is no problem unless the individual residences are involved? Something else?

      • The cooling fluid for machining engine blocks is typically a water/oil emulsion. GM engine mfg. plant shut off Flint R. water in 2014 due to excessive chloride, which could corrode cylinder bores:
        http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/10/general_motors_wont_use_flint.html

        It was excessive chloride in the water that corroded the iron water mains (brown water) and lead lines from the mains to older houses.

      • Joshua

        “Interesting that we’ve been told, with complete confidence, that the problem lies at least in part with the plumbing in individual homes with older plumbing systems.

        What, then, would explain the reports that GM stopped using the water because it corroded auto parts?”

        1. River water is more corrosive .
        2. Everyone treats this problem.
        3. Flint did not.

        “What, then, would explain the reports that GM stopped using the water because it corroded auto parts?”

        1. Because it did corrode auto parts. duh.

        AND it also corroded the pipes to people houses.
        That leads to two things

        A) lead leaching into the water
        B) cast iron pipes rusting.

      • “Interesting that we’ve been told, with complete confidence, that the problem lies at least in part with the plumbing in individual homes with older plumbing systems.”

        Yep, the source of the lead is plumbing components manufactured and installed prior to 1980. There are hundreds of places in the US that have lead problems in drinking water that isn’t provided by the Flint river.

        “What, then, would explain the reports that GM stopped using the water because it corroded auto parts?”

        One of the indications is that road salt increased the Flint river salinity just enough to make it corrosive and due to main breaks which are pretty common, additional chlorine was added to the water. Since the GM plant was a large volume water customer, it would get more chlorine than others. I believe there were 10 deaths in Flint due to Legionnaires Disease likely related to main breaks which required more Chlorine than normal to kill the bacteria.

        “Are those reports not true?” Those are but there is a lot of confusion as well. .

      • Mosher, another factor not mentioned very often is that if the electrical service has an imbalance with the neutral grounded to the plumbing you can get more galvanic corrosion. An absolute off the scale reading like at the Walters’ house probably has some other issues.

        From the NYC pamphlet, “How does lead get into the water we drink?

        Since natural levels of lead in New York State water supplies are low, lead in drinking water usually results from the use of lead pipe in water systems or leadbased solder on water pipes. Water in the plumbing system can dissolve lead from pipes and solder. This is called leaching. Soft, corrosive or acidic (low pH) water is more likely to cause leaching. Water left standing in the pipes over a long period of time also increases leaching. The longer the water stands in the pipes, the greater the possibility of lead being dissolved into the water. Stray electrical currents from improperly grounded electrical outlets or equipment also may increase the level of lead in drinking water. And pipes that carry drinking water from the source to homes can contribute lead to the drinking water, if the pipes were constructed or repaired using lead materials.”

        https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2508/

      • PE –

        ==> ” What I’ve seen seems to say that individual plumbing can contribute to the problem, but so can distribution linesIsn’t that an obvious explanation? “

        The possibility that municipal supply lines are part of the problem certainly occurred to me. But then it seems that people were arguing that it wasn’t the municipal supply that was causing the problem so much as the lead in the plumbing in individual houses (of poor people who couldn’t afford to install new plumbing). It seems to me unlikely that the pluming in GM’s manufacturing infrastructure would be similarly antiquated.

      • Ok.

        So more corrosive water caused problems through a direct interaction with the auto parts, and more corrosive water leached lead out of older, residential plumbing.

      • PE,

        I think it is premature to claim that the Flint water crisis was in its inception due to evil intent. Metal pipes become passivated based on the chemistry of the water in them. When the water was changed to the river the passive layer was destroyed, probably dissolved, and both the layer and additional lead and other metals from the pipes leached into the water system.

        Flint should have evaluated the impact of changing to the river and taken appropriate compensatory actions. I strongly suspect this was an issue of incompetence. Who would cause these issues intentionally? And why?

        This is plenty of government stupidity in this story, but I am extremely skeptical that anyone intended this to happen. The more egregious issues relate to the slow response from both the state and EPA.

      • “The possibility that municipal supply lines are part of the problem certainly occurred to me. But then it seems that people were arguing that it wasn’t the municipal supply that was causing the problem so much as the lead in the plumbing in individual houses (of poor people who couldn’t afford to install new plumbing). It seems to me unlikely that the pluming in GM’s manufacturing infrastructure would be similarly antiquated.”

        The mix of old and new creates part of the problem. If you add Chlorine for the “average” need, the newer plumbing uses less than the older so high volume customers with newer lines would get too much Chlorine while a low volume customer at the end of the older piping runs get no disinfectant. You could reduce that with spot treatment but not eliminate it. When GM switched to Flint Township they basically got back on the end of run which would have the least Chlorine.

        btw, about 70% of all new water mains are PVC which doesn’t react with Chlorine and makes things easier. The brown color was rust from the city mains that was eating up the Chlorine.

        One of the big things you need to remember is that these major screw ups are learning moments. Any system that is barely making it by with current treatments would be subject to a massive failure just like Flint. Phosphate(corrosion control) is a patch not a fix which would have just delayed the breakdown. The real fix is getting rid of the lead and iron piping.

  17. MAX_OK, Citizen Scientist

    JC said “In the context of the climate debate, I hope that Edwards’ example and words will encourage climate scientists to stand up for what they think is right and not be driven by what their peers might think or say (which unfortunately seems to be the norm, as per the German climate scientists).”
    _____

    I thought the main finding of the German study was that most climate scientists are reluctant to communicate uncertainties to journalists for fear such information could be misinterpreted by the public or exploited by interest groups. Concern about publishing unusual research results was another subject. To quote from the abstract “Asking scientists about their readiness to publish one of two versions of a fictitious research finding shows that their concerns weigh heavier when a result implies that climate change will proceed slowly than when it implies that climate change will proceed fast. What their peers might think was one of their concerns.” Note there are two sides to the that coin.

  18. “Conclusions

    This work has shown that the labile fraction of sediments from Portus and the Tiber bedload attests to pervasive Pb contamination of river water by the Pb plumbing controlling water distribution in Rome. Lead pollution of “tap water” in Roman times is clearly measurable, but unlikely to have been truly harmful. http://www.pnas.org/content/111/18/6594.full

    So, how much would have been too much if “‘tap water’ from ancient Rome had 100 times more lead than local spring waters,” was, “unlikely to have been truly harmful.”

  19. Thanks Dr J
    A fine topic on many levels.
    Situations like this are the reason people like you fought so hard for what you have accomplished.
    It appears there is plenty of blame to go around.
    What long term management policies led to this?
    Why did the current leadership hesitate to take action?
    Lots to be debated and explored on the issues.

    In the meantime, people died and got poisoned.
    Credibility lost on both sides of the aisle.
    What’s worth observing is how the involved agencies are NOW releasing preliminary data directly to the public. Data is available with a few easy google searches. Notice the effort to be transparent in the face of failure. Why isn’t this done all the time?
    Sure there will be outliers that will require additional data collection, and some will panic, others won’t, but all will experience the process in full and open transparency. Climate science can learn many lessons from this disaster. Indeed, Flint may provide the path within the path to science that serves the public better.

    • Knute said:

      Why did the current leadership hesitate to take action?

      I think the allegations are a little bit more severe than that.

      The current leadership did take action, by spinning, deflecting, obfuscating, destroying or withholding evidience, and mounting vicious and unfounded attacks on its critics, all in an effort to make the problem go away and to avoid accountability.

  20. Willis Eschenbach

    Judith, my thanks to you both for raising this issue, and for your stance on this issue. Well considered, well examined, well explained, well written.

    A job well done!

    w.

  21. Wow, Judith! You couldn’t find any accounts that are more biased, inflammatory or toxic than those? Flint is a busted city. The city government was just making it more busted. The state didn’t decide that Flint is broke. Everybody knows it’s broke. The people weren’t hooked up to a toxic river. Flint River is not toxic. That is not the problem. Pathetic research effort and jumping to conclusions, on this one. Very unscientific and un-objective. Lazy too.

    • MAX_OK, Citizen Scientist

      The Flint River is a nice place to swim or scoop up a cool refreshing drink.

      True or False?

      • Do you think maybe the gubmint of Flint tested the river before deciding to use the water?

      • MAX_OK, Citizen Scientist

        Seems like they would have tested Flint River water before using it to replace water from Lake Huron and the Detroit River. I guess they didn’t think the difference would matter. Looks like it did.

      • Come on Max. Michigan has been a leader in cleaning up its rivers for over 40 years. They are no longer on fire. The problem were the lead in the service lines which leeched by changing from Detroit water to Flint River. Had corrosion controls been made, no lead problems. Using Flint River water was an interim measure after Detroit terminated their contract with Flint. Then Detroit changed their mind and offered to renew connection but at a very high cost.
        There was a lot of incompetence to go around and more complex than how Moore portrayed it. Many bad actors. Bureaucrats were at fault as anyone.

      • cerescokid, Thanks for the timeline. I’m only about a quarter of the way through it. It looks like there is plenty of blame to share.

      • Could you follow the pea in the story of the “reporter”, Steven? The comments are more interesting.

      • Steven Mosher | February 9, 2016 at 2:25 pm |
        http://michiganradio.org/post/reporter-s-notebook-some-state-officials-still-denial-or-misinformed-over-flint-river-decision#stream/0

        To summarize:
        1. July 2011: Rowe Engineering presents Flint City Council with a study evaluating the city’s options for drinking water…

        Switching to the Flint River is cheaper than Detroit in the long run, but making it a permanent source would require more than $60 million up front.

        KWA was identified as the best option.

        3. March 2013: Flint Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz resigns.

        2. April 2013: State treasury officials approve Flint’s move to join KWA.
        They were apparently under the impression the Flint river option was not being pursued – having been informed that it wasn’t in December.

        4. June 2013: Flint Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz hires an engineering firm “for assistance in placing the Flint Water Plant into operation using the Flint River as a primary drinking water source for approximately two years and then converting to KWA.”
        Resigned but still working Flint Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz hires LAN Engineering for the apparent purpose of determining how to switch without doing the work in the Rowe Engineering report.

        5. By 2014 the Flint Emergency Manager was Darnell Earley. In March he reports they are actively looking at using the Flint River.

        6. April 2014: Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality signs permits that approve “Improvements to the City of Flint Water Treatment Plant to enable treatment of Flint River water on an interim basis

        Gee.
        1. They knew what was needed.
        2. They had options.
        3. They did something else anyway.
        4. The guilty are all state employees or entities hired by the state..
        5. Kurtz loaded the gun. The ammunition was provided (apparently) by LAN and MDEQ.
        6. Earley shot himself in the foot.

        What is interesting is there is no sign Treasury approved using the Flint river.

        This isn’t a science problem… But more of a regulatory/engineering/management problem. How do you stop people from doing something they know is wrong? This problem should have never gotten to the “science” stage.

      • Well PA, what exactly was wrong with the decision to temporarily use the Flint River, other than the Flint City Water Dept’s subsequent gross negligence and then cover-up in failing to treat the water properly, which would have been really freaking easy and very cheap?

        We would have never heard of anything to do with Flint’s little water problem. Was the Emergency Manager who had the authority and the RESPONSIBILITY to make the decision supposed to foresee this crap? Is there any evidence that the Flint City officials were not consulted or did not approve of the use of the Flint River to bridge between Detroit Water and the KWA implementation? You did a lot of work there but very little thinking to come to a very silly conclusion.

      • Don.

        Thanks for the TIP!!

        “Could you follow the pea in the story of the “reporter”, Steven? The comments are more interesting.”

        man what a mess.

    • Don Monfort,

      You seem to be forgetting something….

      • Don Monfort,

        I don’t find it surprising to see you caught up in the heat of the battle — a full-blown, mutally sustaining folie à deux between Democrat and Republican for the soul of America.

        Nothing is more important than the party, no?

        Nevertheless, I think most of us would like to see the chiliastic battle between Republican and Democrat put on hold, at least for long enough to address some of the problems plaguing the nation.

      • Yammer on, glennny. The Dems and their pubic employee union goons institute one-party rule and when they screw things up completely the people turn to guys like Walker in Wisconsin and Snyder in Michigan to save the state. The party of public employee goons will do anything to get rid of those guys. We fight back. Got a problem with that, glennny? You wittle wascally blankety-blank.

      • Don Monfort,

        Well I’m sure that’s right, that you “*can* fight.”

        Your vision is far more exalted than mine.

        You aspire to the eipic grandeur of Rome, the ethos of the pagan warrior — or moral crusader — rather than that of the comfortable bourgeois.

      • If I throw in a cartoon, will you stop deleting my replies to this clowns bogus comments Judith?

  22. Dr J/Posters

    This is a pretty good link. It has internal memos, names, and timelines.
    http://flintwaterstudy.org/author/flintwaterstudy/

    Doubtless, the blame game will be robust on this one. Yet, one wonders if something like this would have been captured sooner if environmental priorities focused on real issues, versus make believe ones like CAGW.

    • knutesea said:

      Yet, one wonders if something like this would have been captured sooner if environmental priorities focused on real issues, versus make believe ones like CAGW.

      It’s not like we haven’t seen this movie before.

      Like with imperial Spain:

      Spain at her height could do anything.

      She could exhaust her treasury and forget her poor, her bankrupts, her devalued currency, her incompetent economy, her overvalued currency, her recessions and depressions, her debts both internal and foreign, her deficit spending, her negative trade balance, as long as she could keep herself at the head of the mission against the infidel, the Islamic threat and the Protestant threat.

      But eventually reality caught up and imposed the limits that imperial folly had so easily hurdled over.

      — CARLOS FUENTES, The Burried Mirror

      Or with the British Empire:

      And when through an ancient and still powerful state there spreads a mood of deep discouragement, when the reaction against recurring ills grows feebler…, when learning languishes, enterprise slackens, and vigour ebbs away, then…there is present some process of social degeneration, which we must perforce recognise, and which, pending a satisfactory analysis may conveniently be distinguished by the name of “decadence.”

      — ARTHUR J. BALFOUR, lecture at Newham College, January, 1908

  23. The parallel is that in the case of climate, the scientists are trying to sound the warning and the politicians are trying to squash that by saying it is too expensive to fix anyway, so why do anything.

    • The fix was very simple and inexpensive, yimmy. Read more, comment less.

      • They still have (now corroded) lead pipes, and those will be expensive to replace. No fix anticipated.

      • The fix is to abandon Flint all at once, instead of little by little. It is a failed city.

      • The Republicans already abandoned it when people were still living there. That was the problem in the first place.

      • They did OK when their mayor and local politicians were in charge of water decisions. It was the top-down interference by someone not involved with the neighborhood that led to the problems.

      • MAX_OK, Citizen Scientist

        Montfort’s solution is to “abandon flint.” That happened to Picher OK, but the problem was different. Picher was done in by lead and zinc mining.

      • Flint was busted by the local officials, yimmy. You are just making crap up. The local officials are the ones who came up with the water plan and got themselves cut off from the Detroit water source. But their plan would have been fine, if previous Democrat officials running the Flint plantation had replaced the nasty-ass lead freaking pipes that they knew needed replacement for decades, or if their corrupt and incompetent water workers had just put the freaking anti-corrosives in the freaking water. If you had any integrity you would shut up now, yimmy.

      • Flint has much deeper and more permanent problems than lead in the water, Max.

      • JimD
        Oversimplify much? At least study the facts. At its core this is a microcosm of what had been going on in the Rust Belt economy for
        several decades with the diminished Auto Industry. It is mixed in with the causes for the City of Detroit population going from 1.8 million to under 700,000.

        Some of these cities had unemployment of over 20% over the last 40 years. The state lost 500,000 jobs, most in manufacturing, earlier this decade. The problems of Michigan’s economy precede Snyder by decades. He is just the last of 5 Governors who have been trying to turn the Michigan story around.

        I sat in a legislative hearing in 1980 when the State Budget Director told the Senate Appropriations Committee that Michigan’s Auto Industry would never come back. That was when the the statewide unemployment rate was double digit and many cities were over 20%.

        The systemic problems in Michigan go way beyond this issue in this city. Listen to Don on this one. He knows a hell of a lot more than you do.

  24. The lead ain’t from the Flint River. It’s leaching out of the Flint city owned and operated water dept.’s pipes that many decades of broke-ass incompetent Democrat city governments failed to replace.

    The city government made the original decision to switch to the Flint River and they were very proud of themselves for being so smart. OK, so far. But when the switch took place the Flint water dept. clowns (highly paid union I’m just guessing) failed to follow federal regulations and put a little anti-corrosive stuff in the water. Then the cover-up and the witch hunt to blame it on the Repubs. The rest is history. It’s the Republican Gov.’s fault, And if they fail to pin it on him, it’s Bushes fault.

    • The Governor put his own man in who made some bad decisions, partly due to ignorance about corrosiveness, or possibly trying to save money and hoping no one would notice any problems.

      • Someone failed big-time and it looks like the manager that the Governor put in charge. The buck should go up to the Governor too.

      • Yes, it’s not the Democrat Flint City Plantation Water Dept’s fault they didn’t put the anti-corrosives in the water. The Emergency City Manager trying to save a another busted Democrat Plantation should have known to do that himself. And if he didn’t know to do it, the Rep. Gov. should have done it. And if not the Governor, it should have been..wait for it yimmy… GW Bush!

      • What’s this with plantations?

      • JimD

        If you research climate issues as poorly as you have researched this one, I will feel comfortable in ignoring your comments.

      • OK, maybe you don’t see what went wrong with the Governor’s choice of manager and his decisions. These two people need to take responsibility for the mess they caused on their watch. The MDEQ battled against the EPA for months to keep the anti-corrosives out of the water supply, seeking more testing and using other bureacratic delaying tactics instead. The EPA knew things were wrong but couldn’t get anything done in the face of that resistance.

      • Nothing but lies, yimmy. The EPA has the authority to order the MQED to put the anti-corrosives in the water. It’s required by federal law. The EPA admin responsible has resigned, as you have noted elsewhere. Try to get your story straight, yimmy. Your lies fall apart too easily when you are self-contradictory.

      • Ceresco,

        It took you this long to figure out you can ignore almost all of Jim D’s comments? Remember that the D stands for Deflon – the densest non-stick compound in the world. Information contrary to Jim’s narrative slide right off.

      • If you ignore yimmy’s comments, you will miss the opportunity and satisfaction of using him for a punching bag clown (metaphor Judith), who dutifully represents all the worst character traits of the climate alarmist dogma crowd. Little kenny wottsup rice doesn’t show up here often enough and doesn’t bounce back nearly as well as our resident champ.

      • The EPA had the science right very early, but their problem was that their bureaucracy got in the way. The MDEQ were in denial of the evidence for six months and presented only obfuscations and that is where the delay came from.

    • Yep, sure looks like a Dem hit piece on Snyder.

      Rev. Allen Overton, chairman of the Coalition for Clean Water in Flint, told a reporter that “…the governor has a lot of culpability in this entire problem. At the same time, I know for sure they were getting bad information from the City of Flint and (former Flint Mayor) Dayne Walling.”

      Lee-Ann Walters, a “hero” not mentioned by Judith, was a “fierce force from the outset, insisting that something be done about the contaminated water that children had drunk. Lee-Anne Walters noticed that the growth of her son, Gavin, was being stunted. She also saw that her hair and that of her daughter’s was falling out in clumps. She refused a bribe from city officials who promised to replace her lead pipes if she signed an agreement that the city would not be held liable for any damages already done to her family and others. She refused. Instead, she contacted a water expert, Dr. Marc Edwards, and persuaded him to come to Flint to do a scientific evaluation of the water quality.” (http://flintwaterstudy.org/page/2/)

      The EPA keeps quiet, a former mayor misleads the state, city officials try to bribe a mother with a sick son…and it’s all Snyder’s fault?

      • Bingo! Any time Michael Moore speaks, you know you’re not getting the facts. There is enough blame to go around. I have read dozens of accounts of the history and there is no clear cut culprit. Very sad for the Flint residents.

  25. Why would anyone seeking an honest assessment of a political issue consider an article by Michael Moore to be a good source?

    Guilty as the Michigan government officials may be, the EPA also played a role in this fiasco. This article discusses Marc Edwards’ criticism:

    http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2016/01/12/epa-stayed-silent-flints-tainted-water/78719620/

    EPA head Gina McCarthy told reporters “EPA did its job” as she lectured a Washington, D.C., soup kitchen on how to reduce food waste. Its “job” in this case, included hiding the facts from the residents of Flint, Michigan.

    Miguel Del Toral, regulations manager for the Ground Water and Drinking Water Branch of the EPA’s Region 5, was effectively gagged by EPA Region 5 Administrator and political appointee Susan Hedman when he tried to warn Flint residents back in July of 2015. If any heads are to roll, Hedman’s should be among them.

    A trove of information here:
    http://flintwaterstudy.org/
    Click on “older posts” at the bottom of the page to see Dr. Edwards’ presentations.

  26. johnvonderlin

    How about some skepticism?
    “The percentage of children in Flint with lead poisoning had doubled, she says. “In some neighborhoods, it actually tripled.” The definition of “lead poisoning” today is such that nearly every child of my generation would have qualified for that designation. The banning of leaded gasoline, lead paint and other lead-containing products lowered the average child’s LBL today to about 10% of my generation’s. (from 90% over 10, mean of 15 to less than 2% over 10, mean of less than 2 )
    At the same time, with ever more controversial studies (not safe at any level thinking) the “safe” level has been lowered repeatedly. Just as with climate models, researchers are sure they can tease the observed problems in children with higher levels (still lower than what the average had when I was young) from all the other problems afflicting communities and the families that typically have those higher levels.
    While the Flint matter is a concern, it seems it is being overhyped. In my opinion; poverty, diet, parental input, family stability, poor medical care, poor schools, crime, and other environmental issues will have more deleterious effects on these children than the levels of lead in their pipes or their blood.
    Finding the exact numbers has been difficult, but what I have been able to find makes me skeptical that we are getting the complete and accurate picture.
    If you are skeptical that a few parts per million of CO2 in our atmosphere, can destroy our world, I’d suggest that being skeptical about the effects caused by a few parts per billion of lead in a water system might not be irrational. I’d appreciate being shown the error of my thinking.
    The CDC has lots of materials online about their recommendations and I respect their desire to make us safe. However, responding to the “Parts per Billion” activists sometimes seems to drive their policy decisions more than it should.

    • The Alinskyite community organizers will gleefully make hay with this and the low information types will get suitably outraged. I didn’t think I’d see it here, among all these smart scientific folks.

    • David Springer

      Don’s childhood home had all lead pipes and he ate lead-based paint chips as they fell from the walls. He turned out semi-okay so what’s the big deal?

  27. Unfortunately corruption in its many forms is self-feeding.
    My own experience is in the construction industry where the question arises of what to do when one of your competitors is bribing a public official to obtain contracts.
    The two obvious, but unattractive, alternatives are to offer bribes yourself, or go bankrupt.
    There is a third way: expose the corruption, but that is never easy because of the secretive nature of the activity which can be hidden away behind “commercial confidentiality”.
    And, even if you do find the evidence, the public body is likely to mount a cover-up in order to avoid reputational damage.
    As with science, the only remedy is absolute transparency.

  28. “Science should be about pursuing the truth and helping people”

    Here it starts. You can justify anything as “helping people”.

  29. Another view of the crisis …

    Flint’s water crisis isn’t a failure of austerity. It’s a failure of government.
    http://theweek.com/articles/600101

    In short, the problem that could have been averted by less than a hundred thousand dollar investment will now end up costing hundreds of millions without ever being able to undo the damage to the health and lives of Flint residents. This is not the fault of government austerity — but government incompetence, negligence, and rank stupidity on the very part of those agencies that are entrusted with public health. And there is no amount of government spending that can fix that.

    • This is a factual account of what happened and who is to blame for what. Should be referenced in the post.

  30. John Gall in _Systemantics_ (and following editions) explains why systems fail. In this case, systems attract systems-people.

    As for fixing university science, I’d say don’t build systems. They will always fail.

  31. This quondam chemist found that he had been a trifle mislead by press reportings of the Flint fiasco. Yes, the sources of lead were service lines connecting residences to the city water mains, but responsibility for maintenance of these lines is less obvious. The ‘service line’ is generally defined as the underground line connecting a curbside shut-off box to a basement meter. Up until the 1950’s these lines were generally of lead, but copper then became the required material (check what’s in your basement). An internet search of water companies and service lines overwhelmingly places responsibility for these lines on the property owner.

    My own water company defines the line from box to basement as a connecting line and, if I fail to maintain it as they see fit, I may be disconnected. For new home construction, they require a copper line of a minimum diameter to be installed by a registered plumber and inspected by them prior to back-filling.

    I believe there are legal requirements that all utilities treat their water with an anti-corrosive, usually orthophosphate, to protect grandfathered lead service lines, no matter whether the source be Huron, Detroit, the River or a solar-powered distillery. Reports indicate that this treatment was belatedly initiated last fall and, presumably, the lines will re-stabilize at the same rate as when first installed. Maps of lead ‘hot-spots’ do resemble scatter plots suggesting local variability. So, keep the water flowing ’til the pipes re-establish the surface they’ve had for 50 years and pick your winner for the class-action derby.

  32. I am wondering. My comment from last night is still in moderation: Yay? Nay?

  33. Geoff Sherrington

    For some decades after WWII it was perceived wisdom that all lead poisoning of people required rather massive doses of lead, orders of magnitude more than children would typically get from a public water supply. More so in recent years when affluence and preference cause carbonated purified drinks to be top choice.
    Starting in the 1980s there was public concern that small weights of lead ingestion by children would lower their IQ or intelligence generally.
    There emerged a whole new industry of trying to pin lead tail on the baby donkey. It has several parallels to the global warming industry, one being that the critical evidence of causation is hard to impossible to find.
    I have not had cause to study the most recent lead literature. If anyone has a credible reference to a final proof that trace lead links to intelligence loss in children I would appreciate it.
    When in the articles above I read that more children than usual showed lead
    poisoning after the change to Flint I would bet some money that the working definition of lead poisoning was no more than elevated levels in blood tests. I would also bet that no description of a medical condition of lead poisoning from Flint was detected just a “threat”.
    Please, show me wrong or concede that Establishment science has self funded its advancement on unsupportable science – again.

    • You said what I was thinking, Geoff.
      Most readers here probably grew up with higher lead levels in the environment. I know I had lead pipes in at least one house with medium-soft water.

      Whether that affected my decisions to be politically Republican- or Democrat-leaning, waits for the MSM to tell me what to think.
      Yes, lead poisoning is serious. Put enough of it in the drinking water and people might start believing carbon dioxide is a real pollutant.

      More seriously, might current politically-excessive regulatory attitudes by the EPA et. al. lead to a wider contempt for legislation aimed at curbing real pollution?

    • GS:

      As you are aware, heavy metals are known to cause acute symptoms at high doses. Thanks to modern detection technologies, extremely small doses of potential toxins can be measured. Most people would argue in favor of a margin of safety given the remaining uncertainties at very low lead exposure levels. In the Flint situation, the issue was not such much the presence of lead as it was the absence of enforcement of present standards.

      With regard to your bet, small-dose effects typically are estimated through behavioral observation and large statistical population studies, so the conclusions remain open to challenge. Given that the “linear no-threshold” theory is almost impossible to refute, absolute dis/proof is probably unavailable. However, if your research turns up any interesting studies, I hope you will share them with us.

    • “I have not had cause to study the most recent lead literature. If anyone has a credible reference to a final proof that trace lead links to intelligence loss in children I would appreciate it.”

      If you have grand children , do your own test. That’ll cure your skepticism
      right away.

      The cost to treat the water in Flint was $140 a day. For $140 a day they could have treated the water to make it less corrosive. The water they got from Detroit was similarly treated.

      GM learned it was stupid not to treat the water. You dont go around “questioning” whether GM’s observations about the corrisivity of the water was right, now do you?. You dont go around questioning the actual damage to GM parts, now do you?. But you want to question the science of lead poisoning. Fine, experiment on your self and your kin. Do a test. report your findings.
      While you are at it test the science of cigarettes and lung cancer.

      But here is a hint. You ask for proof. There is no proof in science.

      • SM; “But here is a hint. You ask for proof. There is no proof in science.”

        While the phrase “scientific proof” is often used in the popular media,[13] many scientists have argued that there is really no such thing. For example, Karl Popper once wrote that “In the empirical sciences, which alone can furnish us with information about the world we live in, proofs do not occur, if we mean by ‘proof’ an argument which establishes once and for ever the truth of a theory,”.[

        Scientific evidence is evidence which serves to either support or counter a scientific theory or hypothesis. Such evidence is expected to be empirical evidence and interpretation in accordance with scientific method. Standards for scientific evidence vary according to the field of inquiry, but the strength of scientific evidence is generally based on the results of statistical analysis and the strength of scientific controls.

        Looks like you are a Popper after all.

      • hardly a popper. you dont even begin to get it.

      • Steven,

        Well, some people choose to question GM. (Josh, cough, cough)

  34. The most disgusting thread I have read on this site.

  35. “profiles in scientific courage”

    This is the kind of propaganda we are daily exposed to. We get scientist as hero stories while the entire scientific culture (at least in climate science) is corrupt.

    Where’s the “hero scientist” in climate science blowing the whistle?

    There isn’t one.

    Andrew

  36. The lead “poisoning” in Flint, while an issue of concern, is apparently not a major health threat when one considers how common lead “poisoning” was just some 30 years ago as documented by the CDC’s long term blood lead level monitoring:

    Until recently, children were identified as having a blood lead “level of concern” if the test result is 10 or more micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood.
    CDC is no longer using the term “level of concern” and is instead using the reference value (of 5 ug/dL) to identify children who have been exposed to lead and who require case management.
    The new lower value means that more children will likely be identified as having lead exposure allowing parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead.
    What has NOT CHANGED is the recommendation for when medical treatment is advised for children with high blood lead exposure levels. The new recommendation does not change the guidance that chelation therapy be considered when a child has a blood lead test result greater than or equal to 45 micrograms per deciliter.

    http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/ACCLPP/blood_lead_levels.htm

    Substantial progress has been made over the past four decades in reducing the number of children with elevated (> 10 ug/dL) BLLs.

    For the 1976–1980 monitoring cycle .. an estimated 88% of children aged 1–5 years had BLLs ≥10 µg/dL.

    (most likely it would have been almost 100% if the 5 ug/dL reference value had been used).
    By 1991–1994, the estimate was down to 4.1%.
    By 1999–2002, estimate was 1.6%
    By 2007–2010, estimate was 0.8%

    The greatest reductions have occurred among children in racial/ethnic and income groups that historically were most likely to have BLLs ≥10 µg/dL.

    http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6213a3.htm

    johnvonderlin below also touched on the fact that lead “poisoning” had been common.

    • Thanx for the objective insights.

      For perspective let’s also add that the word “Plumbing” derives from Latin for lead ( Pb – plumbum ), so while there are obvious risks from lead, numerous humans since Roman times have had exposure.

      And those of old enough to recall leaded gasoline and lead based paints know that exposure hasn’t been zero.

    • Geoff Sherrington

      Phil,
      Can you please clarify?
      It is well documented that the BLL for action has dropped steadily down to 5 microgram per decilitre and that the number of children tested as exceeding a nominated BLL has decreased over the years. This seems to be what you refer to as “lead poisoning”.
      I’d refer to that as blood lead monitoring. What are the demonstrated symptoms of the poisoning that you mention? Do you know of any child who has become “sick” at these levels below (say) 50 micrograms Pb per decilitre BLL? On one reading of past data, a large portion of the US citizens alive today would have been poisoned in their childhood. Were you? Do you know of anyone who was?
      Is lead the reason why people call me stupid?

      • No, Geoff, it’s because they don’t probably understand much chemistry or biology. Zero exposure is not possible and never was, but advancing technology has always pushed the detectable levels lower. Environmental campaigners tend to want zero or undetectable levels, even if this is unachievable or not shown to be necessary or helpful.

        But merely pointing this out will risk you being lumped in with tobacco-salesmen by the silent spring brigade. In their world, merely saying words like lead or plutonium is justification enough for whatever is demanded.
        As you can see in this case, whatever the merits or truth of the matter, even asking for evidence of harm is considered as a sign of being a bad person.

  37. People have a right to know the facts. Wish we had them. Even if in reality the risk to the individual is very low given all of the circumstances — being exposed to higher than normal Pb concentrations in the water due to old plumbing — I have zero confidence in science overcoming politics to get to the truth. Still, I wonder how many in Flint actually drank the water from their old plumbing or if they did boil a cup of it for tea boil an egg in it, didn’t they at least run the water a bit first? Doesn’t everyone know that much?

    • Wagathon said:

      I have zero confidence in science overcoming politics to get to the truth.

      That’s the saddest part of the entire, sordid tale.

      • We have, through the Enlightenment, elevated science upon a pedestal, from which she can be used by the authoritarians to control through narrative. She’s losing touch with her feet, though, as they leaden.
        ==============

      • Is this a case of the blind leadening the blinded?

  38. What exactly is a ‘disadvantaged’ person?

    I was a ‘disadvantaged’ person once.
    I started biking to work at 5am, saved enough money to get back into school, working my buns off for years and years and never looked back.

    please.

    • Garcia got his message from under a bootstrap.
      =============

    • The “disadvantaged” is a generic term for individuals or groups of people who: Face special problems such as physical or mental disability [or alcoholics, drug addicts, abandoned mothers]. Lack money or economic support [excepting students who are putting themselves through college]. Are politically deemed to be without sufficient power or other means of influence [victims of racial prejudice who are denied the vote because they can’t make it to the DMV]. ~wiki

      • Hmmm. I guess the tradeoff is, “Do I let someone offend me and call me a loser, or is my check big enough?”

      • Ha ha. Just figured out your [..] trick.

      • “victims of racial prejudice who are denied the vote because they can’t make it to the DMV” — After searching the entire nation, the Democrats have never actually found such a person.

        Registering to vote is easy. Black churches routinely pass out forms at church services. Is someone trying to allege that blacks are being kept from attending church? Really?!

    • a disadvantaged person is a constituent
      and must be kept in the base
      therefore, the disadvantage is perpetual

      this is why the list of the disadvantaged has grown to the point where there is only one group that isn’t

  39. This article: A rationale for lowering the blood lead action level from 10 to 2 μg/dL☆ gives an overview of the reasons for past and proposed governmental policy on lead.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2212280/
    Having read some of the underlying studies I remain skeptical; of the studies, their interpretations, and the efficacy or cost effectiveness of the policies they engender. This same mission creep has cropped up in numerous other areas, particularly, but not limited to the environmental and health arenas.
    If serious crime were to disappear in our society, don’t expect the cops to go home and bake cookies, jaywalking will become the new murder.

    • johnvonderlin said:

      If serious crime were to disappear in our society, don’t expect the cops to go home and bake cookies, jaywalking will become the new murder.

      Institutional interests are like the Hydra. Chop off one head and another will immediately grow in its place.

  40. This plays on both sides of the ‘global warming’ story.

    Skeptics can point to the government corruption of science, either because of motivated reasoning, or aversion to paperwork, or whatever versus the freer scientific thinking of individuals.

    Activists, however, can point to the heroes in the story as scientists who were activists we admire, not because of their science so much as their activism ( and all the emotional corruption to science that entails ) to fight the system and raise alarm.

    Some differences:
    lead is toxic while CO2 is necessary for life and enhances it in abundance
    lead was local to Flint, CO2 is global ( and dispersed among developing countries )
    risk of lead is quantifiable risk of climate change is nebulous and little discussion of benefits occurs
    lead has no significant advantage – fossil fuel advances impoverished lives

  41. certainly not redbbs

  42. People on this blog and maybe others have wondered about the blood lead levels on children’s neurological development including I Q.

    This article:

    http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/get_the_lead_out/pdfs/health/Bellinger_2008b.pdf

    gives an overview of the topic and is relevant for today’s discussion regarding Flint Michigan.

    There are important caveats for why the current standard of 10 micrograms per deciliter. There are also issues regarding race, poverty and global population influences.

    What may be helpful are the references, particularly those 25 through 30 at the end of the article.

    Back when, when the slogan of “Get The Lead Out” stood for a campaign to remove lead from houses, exposed children would be hospitalized for chelation therapy to reduce their elevated blood lead levels (EBLL) down to 10. Issues directly with chelation therapy were well documented, and bone sequestering of heavy metals including lead became known. Pretty soon it became apparent that multiple exposures could been seen on x-ray initially described as “lead lines” which in fact turned out to be “growth arrest” lines. Literally the child stopped growing as a result of lead ingestion, would restart growing and then have another ingestion, another growth arrest and so on. X-rays of the susceptible bones, like the upper arm bone (humorus) showed fine horizontal lines, maybe a dozen or more.

    Lead’s impact upon a child’s grow, and without any therapy specifically aimed at lead toxicity, the child would start to grow again. Does the same thing happen to intellectual development? As far as I know, there have been no studies that I can find that have approached this subject.

    There is this bit of curious findings: children with lead levels 10.

    There is more to this…Horatio are you listening?

    • The Flint water system used river water from 1917 to 1967. Was there an earlier problem with lead poisoning?

      • verdeviewer

        I would have to dig for the specifics, however, lead as an everyday exposure through the air (lead gasoline), lead in the soils from contamination from air, and lead dumped into unshielded waste sites or just into the rivers seems to be unaccounted for.

        As far as elevated blood lead levels in children, most USA children (88%) in that time frame had levels of 30 or more and were considered normal, or at least not to need intervention.

    • There is this bit of curious findings: children with lead levels 10.

      I will try to have a complete thought.

      There is this bit of curious findings: children with lead levels < 10 have a descending dose related loss of IQ. That is, starting at 10 micrograms per deciliter, there is an increasing loss in IQ towards 1.9.

      • RiHoo8, that is strange. There is a big diet issue with lead, higher calcium and iron intake reduces lead absorbed and poor nutrition in general could limit development.

        http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/environmental-health/exposure-topics/lead/child-health/protect-children/types-of-foods-help-to-prevent-lead-poisoning.html

      • Amphoterism has alot to do with its bioavailability. As you dig into the rabbit hole, you’ll find all lead is not created equal and many of the health based models don’t account for it’s chemistry/bioavailability model.

      • Capt’nDallas

        Yes it is strange.

        Thank you for the 2016 Massachusetts Health and Human Services information handout for parents. Nothing has changed in the last 40+ years. It seems like just yesterday.

        Pica, eating non-edible foods like paint flecks or red Georgia clay (pregnant clay eaters) has not disappeared. What may be relevant today is eating fatty foods facilitating heavy metal absorption. Fat and meat protein in the diet slows digestion giving a longer time to absorb many gut items. Fat itself may facilitate heavy metal absorption during the formation of chylomicrons.

        However, my best guess at this point is heavy metal deposited in bone is remobilized. So lead re-appears in the blood having previously been requested in the bone due to a number of factors, such as fever. A child with lead ingestion will suddenly have markedly elevated blood lead levels during a fever; i.e., an acute toxicity on top of the chronic toxicity.

        Competition for receptor sites at nerve synapses by heavy metals seems to play some role.

        Diet may be another factor such as containing minerals that compete for binding sites in previously sequestered heavy metals. Also, way, way back when, prior to penicillin, the treatment for syphilis and trypanosomiasis was arsenic (neosalvarsan). Arsenic in trace amounts is an essential mineral and at higher doses? toxic.

        Much of the above is speculative on my part as after the successful lead campaigns, less research was directed at lead poisoning. The therapy for lead toxicity, chelation therapy, became the province of hematologists dealing with iron overload in patients with repeated and life-time blood transfusions.

        The observation of increasing loss of IQ points with a descending blood lead level below 10 may reflect sampling error, possibly due to timing (the sequestration/reabsorption issue) and not enough kids tested. Essentially a statistical quirk.

      • Might not be a quirk. There are mental benefits to mercury and lithium in very small quantities.

  43. David L. Hagen

    EPA’s Colorado Mine Spill
    The EPA’s internal structure is equally toxic to truth, prudent stewardship, and responsibility. See how the EPA caused the massive Gold King Mine Spill in Colorado on August 5, 2015. (In a “Red” state and “Out of sight” of most liberal newspapers.)
    EPA Mine Spill Could Have Been Prevented, Government Investigators Find

    Government investigators squarely blamed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Thursday for a 3 million gallon wastewater spill from a Colorado gold mine, saying an EPA cleanup crew rushed its work and failed to consider the complex engineering involved, triggering the very blowout it hoped to avoid. . . .
    The spill that fouled rivers in three states would have been avoided had the EPA team checked on water levels inside the Gold King Mine before digging into its entrance, Interior Department investigators concluded.. . .EPA documents show its officials knew of the potential for a major blowout from the Gold King Mine near Silverton as early as June 2014. EPA officials described the blowout as “likely inevitable” because so much water had built up inside the mine. . . .
    A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official who reviewed the report expressed “serious reservations” over the EPA’s failure to explain exactly how its communications broke down, or to justify why its officials were so insistent on starting the work without more information about the engineering complexities involved.

    Colorado Official Says EPA Lied About Gold King Mine Spill

    The Associated Press obtained a letter from Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, to the EPA claiming the agency was not telling the truth when it said state regulators approved a plan to unplug the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo.

    Colorado Mine Spill Dumped 880,000 Pounds of Metals into River, EPA Says

    EPA caused the Colorado gold mine spill, government investigators report

    The (Interior Dept.) report claims the EPA is operating with inadequate facts, figures, and funds. It also states the EPA and various other government agencies, which have differing standards, are incapable of determining the true risks involved in cleaning up the hundreds of thousands of spent mines in need of attention. Taken together, it is estimated that the total cost of this could potentially reach more than $50 billion.

    Compare the EPA’s Press Releases. e.g., August 7

    Initial estimates are that the release contained approximately one million gallons of water (estimated from the dimensions of the mine adit) that was held behind unconsolidated debris near an abandoned mine portal. . . .The large pulse of water dissipated in about an hour. Today the water in Cement Creek and the Animas River in Silverton is clearing. . . . Today, EPA is rebuilding settling ponds to treat these flows – the upper pond will be completed by early afternoon, and the lower pond by COB or early tomorrow.

    Contrast the US Bureau of Reclamation’s Technical Evaluation of the Gold King Mine Incident

    A critical difference between the Gold King plan and that used at the Red and Bonita Mine in 2011 was the use in the latter case of a drill rig to bore into the mine from above and directly determine the level of the mine pool prior to excavating backfill at the portal. Although this was apparently considered at Gold King, it was not done. Had it been done, the plan to open the mine would have been revised, and the blowout would not have occurred.

  44. http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/05/flints_population_falls_below.html
    “The Census Bureau report says Flint’s estimated population dropped from 100,412 in 2012 to 99,763 in 2013, continuing a trend of population loss decades in the making.
    Based on population trends Flint is below 99,000 population. In 1960 the population was 196,940. Regulation and competition drove out the manufacturing jobs that Flint relied on.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint,_Michigan
    In the mid-2000s, it became known for its high crime rates.[12] Since this time, Flint has been ranked among the “Most Dangerous Cities in the United States”, with a per capita violent crime rate seven times higher than the national average.

    Flint is a sad situation. However they are headed toward a Detroit style “city to farmland” conversion.

    Yeah, they have a lot of lead pipes… and other problems. And the other problems evolved before the lead problem.

    Half the city is unused. Replacing pipes in about half the city is a senseless waste of time.

    What is needed is to figure out how much infrastructure is needed to support the future population. The city has lost over half its population.. The areas that aren’t going to be supported should be identified and the people encouraged to move.

    It would be interesting if someone has a map of the contamination levels. What I suspect will be found is the high levels are in quasi-abandoned parts of the city at the end of long runs. The cheapest and most rational solution is make them move and terminate service to that sector.

    The city is dying and has gangrene in spots. Amputation will cheaper than investing in plumbing in the many areas that will return pennies of good for dollars invested…If the plumbing is this bad, the rest of the infrastructure won’t be much better.

    If the city ever starts expanding the pipes can replaced as areas are renovated. If the renovation can’t cover the cost of new pipes, sewer, electrical, etc. upgrades they shouldn’t be renovating.

  45. Iron=bad. Lead=bad. So water mains installed in the Southwest during the 1960s thru ’80s were often made of asbestos cement.

  46. Nope
    Does the herd see the cliff yet ?

  47. The problems in Flint are very serious and lead poisoning is very serious. However, sadly the left is trying to hijack the issue and turn it into a political football. For instance on 1/21/16 the New York Times had an opinion piece despicably entitled: “Republicans Ignore a Poisoned City”, trying to politically capitalize on the suffering of children and pin mistakes in governance on one political party. There were about 4 articles on the front page that day treating this as a systemic political problem associated with the right and not a case of a bad mistake made by elected officials.

    Before the left points a finger at Republicans it needs to look at its own house. For instance, Cleveland, a heavily democratic city has higher levels of lead in children than does Flint. “for years in Cleveland, far more children have been poisoned by the toxin: 2 1/2 times the percentage of kids tested here are poisoned than were in Flint at the height of the crisis.” See http://www.cleveland.com/healthfit/index.ssf/2016/02/cleveland_kids_poisoned_by_lea.html For more details about Cleveland’s inadequate programs see: http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/12/what_you_need_to_know_from_cle.html#incart_story_package

    Flint deserves a significant amount of attention. However, as a secondary matter, the problems there should not be permitted to be transformed into a systemic political attack against Republicans.

    JD

  48. City with decades of democratic party corruption/incompetence seeks Republican to take the fall.

    I’m shocked!!

  49. Open question to the posters at Climate Etc concerning this thread.
    Other than the propensity for scapegoating, is there any one thing in particular that you see “science” could learn from this experience ?

  50. As a Brit I am completely flabbergasted as to how this situation could have happened in th first place, let alone have been perpetuated for so long.

    Access to pure drinking water is surely a fundamental expectation and right. Who should have been investigating and regulating this? Is the EPA responsible. Or the governor? Or the city grandees?

    Has anyone been prosecuted?

    Tonyb

    • Tony, “As a Brit I am completely flabbergasted as to how this situation could have happened in th first place…”

      Tony between old lead paint and old lead pipes, there is a huge amount of lead that children could be exposed to in the U.S. All concerned have made the judgment that, below a certain level (exceeded in Flint), that the cost of totally getting rid of the lead is too high. All levels of government in the US have large amounts of incompetence, and those with responsibility for this matter have made many mistakes across the whole of the US. See my link to Cleveland above.

      There are not enough jails in the US to house those whose incompetence has caused children to be exposed to unsafe levels of lead.

      JD

      PS See “International Union, UAW v. Johnson Controls, Inc. (1991)” which shows the potential complexities of this issue. “Johnson Controls, Inc. had a policy that barred fertile women from obtaining jobs involving exposure to lead because of the potential harm inflicted to fetuses as a result of lead poisoning. However, the company did not have a similar policy in place for fertile men, even though it was known that lead exposure could have dangerous effects on the male reproductive system. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the company could not discriminate with job positions based on gender.” http://www.criminaljusticedegreesguide.com/features/10-landmark-court-cases-in-womens-rights.html

    • Just the black guys. Haha.

      Just imagine all the boys who grew up making their own lead soldiers. They smoked the molds. They melted the lead. When the soldiers cooled off, they painted them with lead paint. Wonder if Einstein did that?

    • Let’s keep in mind what the root problem is. The problem is lead piping, lead fittings, and lead solder on household water pipes. The problem was triggered by switching from a water source with a relatively high pH value to on not quite so high. Above about pH 7.8 calcium carbonate from the water begins scaling up the inside of pipes. In some parts of the country, old pipes scale up so bad that they become nearly or completely clogged is calcium scale. Switching to a water source that was considered by chemical analysis a very good drinking water but with a slightly lower but still well into the alkaline pH range allowed some of that scale to start dissolving and sloughing off. That was the source of the bad colors and smells. Another effect was to release a small amount of lead accumulated from the lead pipes.

      Now, as for the lead levels in the children, keep in mind that those levels are below what was common for us baby boomers. I used to think that meant there is too much concern over lead levels. Watching the US presidential campaign news on TV lately might be changing my opinion on that. Maybe if our generation had not been exposed to so much lead, maybe the campaigns would not seem so dumb!

      • Gary

        The Romans used lead pipes. In the UK they were phased out from around 1970 .

        Surely the number of houses in flint with lead pipes or lead fittings must be tiny.

        Tonyb

      • My parents bought a house built in 1890. It had a huge lead tank in the attic that provided gravitational pressure. Dad bought a pump and sold the lead in the tank to help pay for it (before we moved in). But that house had steel water pipes, which he also replaced with copper. There was a lead sewer drain to the old bathtub. That was common until well after WW2.

        I personally have never seen a lead water pipe. Peeling lead paint in old apartment buildings and old houses was the major source for kids.

        So you think the lead in the scale came mostly from lead solder in joints for copper pipes? That went into every house built for decades.

      • Pb is amphoteric and a common natural element. You don’t need much of a source to create ppb concentrations if you alter the pH. This is especially true of old pipes of any kind that have an inner scaling (think pipe within a pipe). Once one sees rust coloring in their water, you can be assured that many metals have been mobilized.

      • Tony b, “Surely the number of houses in flint with lead pipes or lead fittings must be tiny.”

        Nope, the city estimates 15,000 to 20,000 lead service lines to homes. Lots of lead lines left in northern cities. Canada also has problems,

        http://globalnews.ca/news/2474102/lead-in-the-water-tens-of-thousands-of-canadian-households-still-have-toxic-pipes/

      • Jch

        I find it difficult to believe that a modern first world country has so much lead in its houses that it can have a material effect on public health via its water supply.

        Also, I still don’t begin to understand how this situation developed in the first place let alone continued for so long.

        Tonyb

      • Captain

        My flabber is gasted.

        So many lead lines. Presumably flint is a very old city and the lead lines are a legacy of that?

        Tonyb

      • tony b, pretty old but it had a housing boom prior to 1960. The biggest problem with replacing the lead lines is in that link I posted. If the city and homeowner don’t coordinated to replace both parts at one time it makes the problem worse.

      • A lead service line, scale went into the drinking water.

      • You never been to Flint, Tony. It has been a Democrat controlled workers paradise for decades. We are talking more like Venezuela, than your town

      • What would Trump do ?

      • ==> ” You never been to Flint, Tony. It has been a Democrat controlled workers paradise for decades. ”

        Lol. Yeah. Republicans lines up and reached into their wallets to rectify the problem, but Dem workers prevented that from ocurring.

      • GW:

        For Boomers a big source of Pb was leaded gasoline. The controversy over tetraethyl lead additives (for higher compression engine performance) goes back to the 1920s — workers died of acute lead poisoning.

        Eventually, you could estimate distances from major roads in America by mapping the declining soil-lead levels. Phase-out finally started in early 1970s (lead kills catalytic converters even faster than it kills people).

        Blood-lead levels, as you point out, have declined significantly since then. I believe it’s something like 80% lower today, on average.

      • When we painted the house as kids, we would wash off the lead paint with leaded gasoline. Go figure. I could probably have done better than Mensa :)

      • Tony, there is still a question as whether this will have a health effect. We don’t know at what levels and length of exposure it becomes a significant problem. Part of the problem seems to be that administrators didn’t see elevated lead as a problem since the water source would change in short order. They also seem to have willfully deceived themselves into thinking that because the average wasn’t high, households weren’t being excessively exposed. And they didn’t seem to realize that corrosion could lead to elevated lead even after switching to a milder source.

        I would suppose that levels are set excessively low and for long term exposure and high usage expectations. Being above for a while might not have any meaningful effect. But not being aware of the problem and localized effects of corrosion, a small number of people may have had very large doses.

    • Judith, I have a comment directed at Tony that has been in moderation for over 2 hours. Hope it can be posted. JD

    • Hi Tony

      There have been numerous lawsuits initiated and I imagine the individuals deposed will be many, many dozens. The state DEQ should have ensured corrosive controls were in place. At least one state official in DEQ told EPA the City of Flint had it in place. The back and forth between the the state DEQ and Flint is not at all clear as to what each party was doing or assuming.

      Beside lead, another health threat just getting covered relates to spikes in Legionnaires Disease in Flint perhaps attributed to water. The breakdown with this involved two local government units, the county and the city, as well as the State DEQ and Health Department.

      Sorting this out will take a very long time.

    • Tony, “As a Brit I am completely flabbergasted as to how this situation could have happened in th first place…”

      Tony between old lead paint and old lead pipes, there is a huge amount of lead that children could be exposed to in the U.S. All concerned have made the judgment that, below a certain level (exceeded in Flint), that the cost of totally getting rid of the lead is too high. All levels of government in the US have large amounts of incompetence, and those with responsibility for this matter have made many mistakes across the whole of the US. See my link to Cleveland above.

      There are not enough jails in the US to house those whose incompetence has caused children to be exposed to unsafe levels of lead.

      JD

      PS shortened previous post which was in moderation

    • This happened for the same reasons that Rotherham happened. Hope that helps with your British flabbergast.

    • Well, one reason you’re flabbergasted is that your government has set a lead exposure limit twice that of the US.
      https://www.healthunit.com/lead-and-drinking-water
      In the UK, there is lead in the water and they become “concerned” at 10 micrograms per liter. In Flint there is lead in the water and they become “concerned” at 5 micrograms per liter.
      Note from the link that the assumption is that high London lead levels are assumed to be quite common.

  51. Flint residents have voiced complaints about their brown and foul-smelling tap water since officials switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the dirty Flint River in April 2014 as a cost-cutting measure. ~CNN

    So, was anyone actually drinking the city’s tap water? But, let’s not let reality interfere with the country’s alarmism industry. So far no one has figured out a way to blame George Bush.

  52. Arch Stanton

    Yup, I’ve followed the debacle closely. Once the poo hit the fan, I observed that many of the players were eager to assert credibility by releasing preliminary data. I saw that as a sign that folks really do know what it means to be a public servant.

    While only a moment in time, the practice of being fully transparent could revolutionize how science is currently practiced.

    While I’m still holding onto the belief that such transparency is the path to the reestablishment of credible science, I am less positive that the lesson won’t get lost in the lust for heads on a pike.

    I often wonder about the above subject.
    Contrary to the popular film meme, people can handle the truth.
    In fact, they need it to evolve.

  53. … elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) ≥ 5 mcg/dl were detected among 2% of Flint children <6 years of age –i.e., from 2010-2015, in the 3rd Quarter of 2014 and 2015 (BLLs of ~7 and 6 mcg/dl, respectively). According to the CDPH, Chelation is "not recommended" in this BLL range," nor is it for BLL levels up to 19 mcg/dl, nor is Chelation "typically initiated" for BLLs as high as 44 mcg/dl.

    It looks like the city failed its duty to inform to the community about what it knew concerning the risks of drinking the local tap water. So, now that anyone with a brain knows not to drink the water, going forward, children <6 years of age who have elevated BLLs also have the additional challenge of growing up with idiots for parents.

  54. I wonder how many of the families will never accept that any level of lead in the DW. Right or wrong, I’d guess alot of families wouldn’t be content.

    This article is a few years old and when it came out I expected the public would be up in arms. They weren’t.

    http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/pharmawater_site/day1_01.html

    Science is lost in the woods folks. They fail at discussing risk. That failure is too often ceased upon by neer do wells.

    • ‘The Supreme Court action likely ends the regulations’
      possibilities of taking effect before the Obama
      administration leaves office. A federal appellate court,
      which had refused to put the regulations on hold
      itself while the legal fight was ongoing, has scheduled
      hearings for June 2.’ W.Po. 9th February.

      Much hinges on delay.

    • David L. Hagen

      =http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-court-obama-climate-change-20160209-story.html><a hrefSCOTUS hold on EPA's "Clean Power."

      The justices, by a 5-4 vote, issued an unusual emergency order that blocks the Environmental Protection Agency from moving forward with its effort to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 32% by 2030.

      The court’s order said the EPA’s “carbon pollution emission guidelines” for power plants are “stayed pending” a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, which will hear the case this summer.

  55. I think the main thrust of this post (from a CE perspective) is that there are real tangible environmental/health issues out there that our government regulators need to be dealing with and climate change pales in comparison with them.

    The EPA needs to get their sh_t together.

  56. David L. Hagen

    Unions & Democrats destroyed Detroit and Flynt.
    Demanding excessive wages drove car manufacturing OUT of Detroit.
    Manufacturing jobs declined ~65% from 320,000 in 2000 down to about 110,000 in 2009.
    Consequently Detroit School Enrollment Declined from 186,000 to 49,000.
    Detroit’s declining income caused the fiscal crisis and thus Flint’s piping problems.
    Detroit and Flynt have been ruled by Democrats since the 60s. Now they are reaping the consequences.
    After generations of Democrat politicians, people finally elected Republican’s to fix and rebuild.

  57. The basics are now known: the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, nullified the free elections in Flint, deposed the mayor and city council, then appointed his own man to run the city. To save money, they decided to unhook the people of Flint from their fresh water drinking source, Lake Huron, and instead, make the public drink from the toxic Flint River.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mayors_of_Flint,_Michigan

    It would be helpful if honest articles were used to support threads.

    Rick Snyder did not depose the elected mayor of Flint. That is a lie.

    Since 1975 a succession of Democrats (the office of mayor is nominally non-partisan) ran the city into the ground. None of them fixed the plumbing.

    One of them was recalled which made the city a dependent of the state under John Engler.

    Jennifer Granholm a democrat did an unsuccessful “catch and release” experiment with Flint. Which put it back under another incompetent Democrat who didn’t fix the plumbing.

    In 2009 the mayor resigned rather than be recalled. The City Administrator by charter took over as Temporary Mayor.

    When Snyder caught the sick lost animal that Granholm released the city did not have an elected mayor.

    http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/local/michigan/2016/02/04/flint-water-who-decided-what/79812614/
    Flint Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz refused to make the decision himself.

    The deposed is also in question. The biggest complaint the city council had about Ed Kurtz is he refused to make the water decision and forced them to vote on it.

    Further, Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley the man who made the Flint River decision is a black democrat and would not be regarded as Snyder’s “handpicked man”.

  58. From the article:

    Mayor Dayne Walling, a Democrat, led a cheerful countdown at the Flint water treatment plant to press the button moving the city over to river water. Walling and Darnell Earley, the Democratic emergency manager, even raised glasses in a toast and drank the water to show that it was safe.

    “It’s a historic moment for the city of Flint to return to its roots and use our own river as our drinking water supply,” Walling said. “The water quality speaks for itself.”

    Flint’s city council had voted in favor of the move 7-1. Despite claims about the power of the emergency manager, the switch could not have gone forward without that vote.

    Even once the problem had surfaced, the EPA knew and kept quiet. It was only once the crisis broke, that the Democratic establishment attempted to redirect the blame at Michigan’s efforts to fix broken Democratic cities like Flint using emergency managers. The war against the emergency managers is not about clean water; it’s about protecting the dirty Democratic politics that destroyed these cities.

    Flint’s dirty water had its origins in dirty politics. The Democratic Party had badly mismanaged the city.

    Flint was trying to cut costs, but not in the right place. Water rates were already murderously high, because around 40 percent of the city’s water was leaking out or being stolen. Water theft is routine in failed Democratic cities like Flint. And the thefts often come from the inside.

    Warren Southall II, a Flint city employee, illegally turned on water in exchange for bribes. Last year he was fined, but would not serve any jail time. Illegal water hookups are everywhere. Residents who have their water turned off can always find ways to get it turned back on again. The cost gets passed on to those who pay their bills. And the rates go up and more residents run away.

    From 2002 to 2010, Flint’s population declined by 18%. The poverty rate encompasses over a third of the population. Barely half the city works. The second largest employer in Flint is government. The third and fourth largest employers, healthcare and education, are heavily government subsidized.

    http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/261548/democrats-filthy-flint-water-daniel-greenfield

  59. I have a comment in moderation.

  60. The reality is that Demowits ran Flint into the ground. The Redimowits were stuck with a monumental mess to clean up. There’s a lot more to this story than Mr. Mooreon let’s on.

    http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/261548/democrats-filthy-flint-water-daniel-greenfield

  61. Unfortunately, the most interesting part of this whole thread comes down to the sources that Judith chose to use. Either she knows the massive credibility problems with using Moore and Vox, or she doesn’t. Interesting and telling either way.

    • The issue of interest to me is the perspective of these two scientists. The details of the politics don’t interest me particularly, which is why it only received one para in this post. I don’t pretend to assess the details of the politics in this post.

      • This is actually more than one paragraph:

        “In case you haven’t been following this story, here is a quick recap from triplepundit:

        The city of Flint, Michigan, switched drinking water sources from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money while a new pipeline was being constructed. The river water is 19 times more corrosive than the lake water and was not treated with an anti-corrosive agent. Over time, the water damaged the pipes, sending enough lead to qualify as toxic waste into the city’s drinking water and causing hundreds of people (including children) to get lead poisoning.

        Before getting to the profiles in courage part, lets first take a quick look at profiles in corruption and arrogance. Some background is provided in this summary of a Congressional Hearing on the water crisis. Michael Moore has a hard hitting article, excerpts:

        The basics are now known: the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, nullified the free elections in Flint, deposed the mayor and city council, then appointed his own man to run the city. To save money, they decided to unhook the people of Flint from their fresh water drinking source, Lake Huron, and instead, make the public drink from the toxic Flint River.

        When the governor’s office discovered just how toxic the water was, they decided to keep quiet about it and covered up the extent of the damage being done to Flint’s residents, most notably the lead affecting the children, causing irreversible and permanent brain damage. Citizen activists uncovered these actions, and the governor now faces growing cries to resign or be arrested.

        More information on the bizarre and toxic political situation in Michigan is revealed in this vox article.”

        The links that you suggest we read pretty pathetic for getting an accurate account of the situation.

      • Michael Moore is famous for being a liar from the Lenin school of liars. His movie giving a glowing account of the overwhelming superiority of Cuba’s healthcare system should have been a tip off. He’s so far into the insane left that he makes Bernie Sanders look like a John Bircher.

        There were lots and lots of different news sources that could have been used to give the facts and provide the perspectives of the scientists. The sources chosen are telling.

      • The toxicity of Flint water reminds us that real environmental contamination of the air, water and soil has direct, adverse impacts on human health, with the adverse impacts commonly borne disproportionately by the most disadvantaged people. Such horrible contamination can be present even in developed countries, with stringent environmental protection guidelines. Sort of makes hypothesized warming at the end of the 21st century not seem all that ‘dangerous’ by comparison.

        Well…

        1. Biomed studies are notoriously unreliable, as Amgen etc. have proved.
        2. The lead issue resembles global warming where they go back and rewrite history to produce false evidence.
        3. The common thread of the lead and global warming skepticism stories is that bureaucracy and institutional inertia tends to form an impenetrable phalanx and attack all who oppose it.
        4. Because of the massive decrease in population and aging of the water system much of the Flint problem existed before the water switch. Lack of a solid baseline of “pre” vs “post” conditions (much like global warming) makes analysis more speculatively than conclusive.

        I’m sure lead in some quantities is harmful. However the lead-harm studies should be seriously reviewed for signs of bias. There is a theory that low intelligence is due to poverty. If this were true Han Chinese where ever you find them wouldn’t have an average IQ of 105 (even in the US) and wouldn’t get discriminated against for university admission, and you could teach calculus to your dog if you feed him well and gave him good living conditions.. Low IQ causes poverty.which brings along its friend, bad living conditions.

        Scientists should present the facts as honestly and objectively as possible. Even if it is inconvenient. This is in theory what they are paid to do. Rowe Engineering apparently did their job and delivered bad news which was in everyone’s hands. The scientists would be expected to behave in a similar manner.

        Flint does have a problem. But the timing of its discovery, some of the claims, and the finger pointing is clearly political.

        I don’t have any problem with scientists presenting results honestly and objectively with supportable conclusions drawn from solid data. However there should be zero tolerance for spin and bias and it should be treated as misconduct. The scientist is not paid to make social value judgments and only present “good” facts and not “bad” facts.

    • Hopefully she did it so as not to piss off her colleagues even more. I will always respect her, no matter, for taking such a strong and public stand against climate change extremism.

    • Moore isn’t credible to Republicans, and Republicans aren’t credible to Moore. My guess is the credible is somewhere in between.

    • Stanton

      Perhaps. On the other hand, the subject matter afforded the opportunity to discuss how science can elevate the discourse by being transparent with its findings and not waiting till they have a narrative that fits the whoever’s storyline. Heads will be set on pikes as politicos spin the damage. Sources such as Dr J drew from are a point of departure … initiators. You’re an articulate fellow. I’m sure a simple google search satiated your own desire for other sources.

      An opportunity was missed here, but perhaps it will arise again.

      Science needs to be far more transparent to be the fully contributing part of society that it can be. What they know, don’t know and perhaps do about it are the begginning steps to an (r)evolution.

      It will be messy. There will be misunderstandings, but maybe, just maybe the general discourse of the public will be elevated.

    • Max Carey said:

      Moore isn’t credible to Republicans, and Republicans aren’t credible to Moore. My guess is the credible is somewhere in between.

      Both sides, nevertheless, believe that their side is the one being “scientific” and “objective.”

      A more fundamental question, however, is this: Do concepts like “objectivity” and an apodictic science actually exist in the real world, or are they mere ideals — myths cooked up by human beings?

      It’s a debate that’s been raging for almost four centuries now, first between Descartes and Montaigne, then between the Enlightenment and Counter Enlightenment thinkers, and more recently between the objectivists on one side and the relativists and constructionists on the other. The ongoing “Science Wars” are a long-running affair.

      David Hume famously said, for instance, that “reason is a slave to the passions.” If he was right, then of course no “objectivity” and no apodictic science is possible.

      As you say, the truth probably lies somewhere in between, but a great deal of recent research indicates that Hume was probably closer to the truth, and that man’s use of science as a truth-finding mechanism is a very iffy and imperfect affair.

  62. From above, re ulcers…

    “BM: “When you start off with a new idea like this, all your scientific pals set out to prove you wrong. That’s the scientific process. ”

    Used to be, rather…

  63. The commenter who asked about ppm asked the key question. According to a report from Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, of the Hurley Medical center, children were reported to have “elevated” lead levels if they had 5micrograms/dL. (See http://www.npr.org/2015/09/29/444497051/high-lead-levels-in-michigan-kids-after-city-switches-water-source). I’m sorry Judy, but that level is not “toxic”–in fact, it’s quite safe. (This is illustrated by the fact that none of the children are dropping dead, or suffering any other documentable symptoms; the silence of the media on that is like crickets chirping.) According to the CDC, roughly 90% of all children in America prior to 1980 had lead levels twice that high. (See http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5608a1.htm#tab1 (Table 1 at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5608a1.htm)).

    Indeed, 5microgram/dL is so low it is near the limits of our ability to reliably detect. According to the same CDC website, CDC-certified tests “might operate within an error range of 8micrograms/dL.” Id.

    Rarely have I seen such an hysterical response to something that is, quite literally, nothing.

    • I should also have mentioned that, even given the ludicrously low standard for qualifying as “elevated” BLL, only something on the order of 3-5% of children tested had “elevated” BLL. Worse, several percent of children were tested with “elevated BLL” before the water contamination “problem”–the delta is on the order of 2%.

  64. “The sad truth is that under the current laws, the greatest perils to the environment come from government agencies. It is hard for government agencies to learn that modesty is a public virtue. That will only happen when government agencies begin to focus narrowly on the serious threats to the environment—both public and private. ”

    http://www.hoover.org/research/flint-fiasco

  65. Another hero from the sciences takes on corrupt local government that is literally killing city residents. Media largely ignores- no Republican to blame and, hey, Michael Moore is never, ever going to call the local government unions lazy and incompetent.
    Julllette Saussy, medical director of DC has resigned noting that the EMS medics have little to no training, the union prevents assessment of their abilities, and unaccountability meant that an man who suffered a survivable stab wound died waiting 18 minutes for an ambulance.
    People are actually dying. Joshua to be along to shrug any minute now. Think this isn’t happening in Detroit? Please.
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/medical-director-resigns-calls-dc-fire-department-toxic/2016/02/09/c3b5640e-cf99-11e5-90d3-34c2c42653ac_story.html

  66. Once you begin to peel back the first layer of deception, you get to see more and more bizarre things. America has a heavy dose of peeling to do to get down to real priorities for its citizens. It will be painful, but it will be better off in the long run. The Great Depression did that for many. Let’s hope America is smart enough to not have to repeat that cycle.

  67. – “These people are unscientific.”
    The ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy. Carried to the extreme: No one who receives a paycheck for doing science is a true scientist, because she/he is doing it for the paycheck, not for the love of science and the good of humanity.
    Let’s just admit that there are many scientists who do what they do out of greed–for money, for fame, or just for an h-index that will get them their next award or endowed chair.

    The good news is that there is enough intellectual independence in many scientific communities to self-correct so that results are verified (or disproved) and so that the scientists in the trenches are able to eventually receive some kind of recognition and/or appreciation for good work.

    • Marc Edwards > When was the last time you heard anyone in academia publicly criticize a funding agency
      Hand, feeds, bite …

      TGBrown > No one who receives a paycheck for doing science is a true scientist … The good news is that there is enough intellectual independence in many scientific communities to self-correct
      How much self-correcting can you reasonably expect if this means you’ll just get defunded?