Virginia Tech professor uncovered truth about lead in D.C. water
It happened for Marc Edwards, a lean, intense Virginia Tech environmental engineering professor. Drawing on what he called his own “world-class stubbornness,” he mounted a six-year campaign that succeeded last week in forcing the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to admit that it had misled the public about the risk of lead in the District’s drinking water.
The CDC, which is the nation’s principal public health agency, made the confession in a “Notice to Readers” published in an official weekly bulletin Friday. It came a day after a scathing House subcommittee report said the agency knowingly used flawed and incomplete data when it assured D.C. residents in 2004 that their health hadn’t been hurt by spikes in lead in the drinking water.
The events represented a full vindication for Edwards. He had embarked on the painstaking, solo investigation primarily because he was outraged that the CDC’s original report was being used across the country as a reason to relax concern about lead in the water. Now he has the House report to back up his research.
“Until yesterday, I didn’t really feel I had what I needed to prevent future harm,” Edwards, 46, said in an interview at a downtown D.C. coffee shop Friday. “I feel a sense of relief, and I’m appalled at how difficult it was.”
It’s not a final victory yet. Edwards thinks the CDC is still trying to “rewrite history” by refusing to admit that it consciously understated the lead risk in water. He thinks it did so because it was worried about distracting the public from another health risk, leaded paint, which has long been a CDC priority.