By Dr. David Lewis, Science Director of (TLB’s) TOXYSolutions Environmental Justice Project
Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, recently appointed Marc Edwards, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech, to head a task force dealing with high levels of lead in Flint Michigan’s drinking water. Marc, who wrote the foreword to my book, Science for Sale, was the first to discover high levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water and sound the alarm. In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Steve Kolowich wrote that residents in Flint, Michigan had posted a note to government officials on a local landmark. It reads: “You want our trust??? We want Va Tech!!!”
Marc also discovered high levels of lead in Washington, DC’s drinking water. In both cases, the EPA, CDC and researchers at George Washington University and elsewhere initially claimed Marc was wrong. They even published fabricated data in scientific journals to undermine his research. Administrators at Virginia Tech, however, have been very supportive of Marc’s work. After he gained national attention for discovering the government-sponsored research misconduct, VA Tech selected him to inspire its graduating students by delivering the commencement speech.
Dr. Lewis’ article posted in The Oconee Enterprise – Click to enlarge
The University of Georgia took the opposite approach when Nature and other publications covered my investigations into fabricated data, which EPA gave UGA to publish so that it could dismiss cattle deaths linked to toxic chemicals on two Georgia dairy farms. “We’re dependent on this money…grant and contract money… money either from possible future EPA grants or [from] connections there might be between the waste-disposal community [and] members of faculty at the university.” That’s what my department head testified that he was told when UGA’s provost advised him not to pursue a tenured faculty position for me.
The cattle deaths suggested that an EPA regulation, called the 503 sludge rule, is flawed. It permits industrial pollutants in treated sewage sludges, called biosolids, to be spread on farmland at millions of times higher concentrations than they are allowed in air and water. When UGA published the data EPA provided, its press office issued a press release stating: “Some individuals have questioned whether the 503 regulations are protective of the public and the environment. This study puts some of those fears to rest.”
President Eisenhower warned in his Farewell Speech: “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.” He said we must make the kinds of sacrifices that “enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle.” Honest scientists continue to risk their careers by speaking out; and UGA needs to emulate the courageous leadership shown by VA Tech. Scientists who report research fraud, even when it involves UGA’s funding sources, should be honored rather than shunned.
David Lewis, Ph.D.
Former U.S. EPA Research Microbiologist
David Lewis is an internationally recognized research microbiologist whose work on public health and environmental issues, as a senior-level Research Microbiologist in EPA’s Office of Research & Development and member of the Graduate Faculty of the University of Georgia, has been reported in numerous news articles and documentaries from TIME magazine and Reader’s Digest to National Geographic.
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