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One Flint water researcher files complaint against another

Mar 29, 2018

Dr. Shawn McElmurry (file photo)
Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio

A disagreement between Flint water crisis researchers is escalating.

Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards has filed a complaint against a Wayne State University professor over claims he’s made about research into a deadly Legionella outbreak in Genesee County.

Dr. Shawn McElmurry led a team of researchers looking into the Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed at least a dozen people between 2014 and 2015.   Many more people were hospitalized with the pneumonia-like illness.

The team recently published a study linking the Legionnaires' disease outbreak to the Flint River during the city’s drinking water switch.

That research has led to the Wayne State University professor being a key prosecution witness against state Health Department director Nick Lyon and state Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells. Lyon and Wells are facing a variety of charges, including involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Legionella outbreak.  They’ve been accused of not acting quickly enough after learning of the outbreak in early 2015. 

Dr. Marc Edwards (file photo)
Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio

But now, Shawn McElmurry’s credentials are being questioned outside the courtroom by another researcher.

Dr. Marc Edwards was among the first to reveal extremely high levels of lead in Flint tap water in 2015. His team of researchers has continued to test Flint’s drinking water. 

In a complaint filed with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), Edwards alleges McElmurry appropriated “ideas that were not his” for a federal grant, on which he also overstated his work in Flint.

“As the veil is now being lifted, it is becoming more and more apparent that Dr. McElmurry seems to be in the habit of making false statements that benefit his career,” Edwards writes in a web post. 

Edwards' disagreements with McElmurry also played out in court this week.

During separate preliminary hearings for Lyon and Wells this week, Dr. Edwards testified for the defense.  While on the stand, he insisted Lyon and Wells were not to blame. Instead, the Virginia Tech professor pointed the blame at the Department of Environmental Quality.

A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s office declined to comment on Edwards’ allegationsbecause this discussion is related to ongoing litigation.”

McElmurry says he stands by his work. 

It is very unfortunate when individuals resort to personal and unfounded attacks rather than relying on sound science and rigorous methods. Such attacks do not help us advance understanding or help the people of Flint. Sadly, there is a well-established pattern of distortions and misinformation by some of the researchers/investigators working in Flint.  Unlike some individuals, I have been working as part of a multi-disciplinary team of experts comprised of colleagues from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Kettering University, Colorado State University and Henry Ford Health System. Our work has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication in some of the most prestigious scientific journals in the nation. I stand by the quality of our science and the integrity of our work in Flint and deny the allegations recently raised.  The claims made against our group are false and they are examples of unprofessional and destructive conduct.