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ASCE Member Prof. Marc Edwards – Leader in the cause for Clean Water in Flint, MI Opening Luncheon Keynote at ASCE-EWRI Congress, in West Palm Beach Florida.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Marc Edwards A February 12th "ASCE News" article features Marc Edwards' efforts related to protecting public health.  The Environmental & Water Resources Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers (EWRI of ASCE) shares in the nation's concern for all consumers of water from the Flint, Michigan water supply system whose health may have been affected by the recently reported water quality crisis.

The quality of our nation's water supply is one the most important achievements of the Civil Engineering profession in the 20th century. In 1997, "Life Magazine" said that the filtration and disinfection of drinking water represents "probably the most significant public health advance of the millennium."  In 2000, the National Academy of Engineering included safe water supply and treatment among the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th Century. In the United States, the vast majority of our public water systems routinely meet or exceed all federal standards for drinking water.

The failed decision process that led to the tragedy in Flint needs to be understood so that it never happens again and it is important to acknowledge that while our infrastructure is aged, the technical approaches to reduce exposure to lead and copper in water supply systems are well understood.  The Lead and Copper rule has been in place for over 20 years, and has been revised regularly to reflect changes in both administrative requirements and in our knowledge of lead and copper issues.  Potential causes of corrosion, and the technology to deal with these causes, are well documented

EWRI of ASCE agrees with many who call for a review of the technical, economic, and political decisions that led to the current crisis.  As the decisions to transition to the Flint River water supply occurred, there was a failure on multiple levels to effectively protect public health.  In some cases, authoritative voices raised concerns that were ignored by those with lesser technical knowledge.  As this situation continues to unfold, citizens need to understand how the technical, societal and economic system safeguards broke down in Flint, in order to restore their trust in public drinking water supply system.